REVIEW: CAPTAIN MARVEL

Starring

Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island)
Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful eight)
Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One)
Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies)
Lashana Lynch (Still Star-Crossed)
Gemma Chan (Mary Queen of Scots)
Annette Bening (American Beauty)
Clark Gregg (Much Ado About Nothing)
Jude Law (Spy)
Mckenna Grace (I, Tonya)
Vik Sahay (Chuck)
Kenneth Mitchell (Star Trek: Discovery)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Chris Evans (The Losers)
Scarlett Johansson (Lucy)
Mark Ruffalo (Just Like Heaven)
Don Cheadle (Traffic)
Nelson Franklin (New Girl)
Patrick Gallagher (Glee)

Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)In 1995, on the Kree Empire’s capital planet of Hala, Starforce member Vers suffers from amnesia and recurring nightmares involving an older woman. Yon-Rogg, her mentor and commander, trains her to control her abilities while the Supreme Intelligence, the artificial intelligence that rules the Kree, urges her to keep her emotions in check.Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)During a mission to rescue an undercover operative infiltrating a group of Skrulls, alien shapeshifters with whom the Kree are at war, Vers is captured by Skrull commander Talos. A probe of Vers’s memories leads them to Earth. Vers escapes and crash-lands in Los Angeles. Her presence attracts S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, whose investigation is interrupted by a Skrull attack. In the ensuing chase, Vers recovers a crystal containing her extracted memories while Fury kills a Skrull impersonating Coulson. Talos, disguised as Fury’s boss Keller, orders Fury to work with Vers and keep tabs on her.Jude Law, Brie Larson, and Rune Temte in Captain Marvel (2019)Using her extracted memories, Vers and Fury go to the Project Pegasus installation at a U.S. Air Force base. They discover Vers was a pilot presumed to have died in 1989 while testing an experimental light-speed engine designed by Dr. Wendy Lawson, whom Vers recognizes as the woman from her nightmares. After Fury informs S.H.I.E.L.D. of their location, a team led by Talos disguised as Keller arrives. Fury discovers Talos’s ruse and helps Vers escape in a cargo jet with Lawson’s stowaway cat Goose. They fly to Louisiana to meet former pilot Maria Rambeau, the last person to see Vers and Lawson alive.Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)Rambeau and her daughter Monica reveal that Vers is Carol Danvers, who was once like family to them. Talos, arriving unarmed, explains that the Skrulls are refugees searching for a new home and that Lawson was Mar-Vell, a renegade Kree scientist helping them. Talos plays a recovered recording from Lawson’s jet, prompting Danvers to remember the crash: Lawson was killed by Yon-Rogg to prevent her from destroying the engine before the Kree could recover it. Destroying the engine herself, Danvers absorbed the energy from the ensuing explosion, gaining powers but losing her memory.Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)Danvers, Talos, Fury, and Rambeau locate Lawson’s cloaked laboratory orbiting Earth, where Lawson hid several Skrulls, including Talos’s family, and the Tesseract, the power source of Lawson’s engine. There, Danvers is captured by Starforce and interfaces with the Supreme Intelligence. During their conversation, Danvers removes the Kree implant that was suppressing her powers, allowing her to reach her full potential. In the subsequent battle, Fury retrieves Goose, who is revealed to be an alien Flerken. Goose swallows the Tesseract and scratches Fury, blinding his left eye. Danvers destroys a Kree bomber, forcing Kree officer Ronan the Accuser and his squadron to retreat, before overpowering Yon-Rogg on Earth and sending him back to Hala with a warning to the Supreme Intelligence.Djimon Hounsou, Brie Larson, Rune Temte, Gemma Chan, and Algenis Perez Soto in Captain Marvel (2019)Danvers departs to help the Skrulls find a new homeworld, leaving Fury a modified pager to contact her in an emergency. Meanwhile, Fury drafts an initiative to locate heroes like Danvers, naming it after her Air Force call sign, “Avenger”. In a mid-credits scene, set in 2018, the activated pager is being monitored by the Avengers when Danvers appears. In a post-credits scene, Goose climbs onto Fury’s desk and regurgitates the Tesseract.Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)This is actually one of the rare examples of a prequel that “gets it right”, and explains things that happens in later films while managing to tell its own story. It also explains why the highly publicized (and until now highly off-limits due to licensing) Skrulls are absent throughout the rest of the MCU’s history. It also manages to provide some color around Ronan’s obsession with power, even though he only has a few brief scenes.
All in all Captain Marvel is a solid film on it’s own, while still connecting itself to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Certainly worth the price of admission

REVIEW: TRAITOR

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CAST

Don Cheadle (Brooklyn’s Finest)
Guy Pearce (Memento)
Saïd Taghmaoui (American Hustle)
Neal McDonough (Legends of Tomorrow)
Jeff Daniels (The Martian)
Archie Panjabi (A Good Year)
Alyy Khan (A Mighty Heart)
Mozhan Marnò (Gimmie Shelter)
Lorena Gale (Battlestar Galactica)
Jonathan Walker (Red)

Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) is an Arabic-speaking Sudanese-American and devout Muslim. His Sudanese father was killed by a car bomb when he was a child. As an adult, Samir is first seen operating as an arms dealer. While negotiating a deal with Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) in Yemen he is arrested and thrown into a Yemeni jail. Later, Samir and Omar become friends and when Omar’s people arrange an escape, he takes Samir with them. They meet Fareed (Alyy Khan), a lieutenant in the al-Nathir terrorist organization. FBI Special Agent Roy Clayton (Pearce) suspects Samir has been radicalized and begins tracking him.
Joining al-Nathir, Samir uses the skills he learned as a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant with the U.S. Army Special Forces to bomb the U.S. consulate in Nice, France. It is revealed that Samir is working under deep cover for a US intelligence contractor, Carter (Jeff Daniels); Samir is devastated when he learns that despite Carter’s covert efforts, innocent people perished in the consulate bombing. Impressed with Samir, Fareed introduces him to leader Nathir, who discloses a plot to place suicide bombers on 50 buses in the U.S. during Thanksgiving, and instructs Samir to act as liaison to each of the al-Nathir sleeper bombers. Later, Carter unwittingly interrupts a meeting between Samir and Omar, and is killed by Omar.
Samir reveals his deep cover to Agent Clayton, who tracks him to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. While on board a cargo ship to Marseille, France, Samir kills Nathir and Fareed, and tells an enraged Omar that by targeting innocents they betrayed Islam. Samir then tells Omar that he switched the bombers’ emails and he placed them all on the same bus so all of them died without victims (except for the driver of the one bus). The Canadian police and the FBI break in, killing Omar and injuring Samir.
Later, underneath the ‘L’ in Chicago, Samir tells Agent Clayton he feels guilty for killing innocent people, and that the Qur’an says that to kill an innocent person is to kill all mankind. Clayton responds by noting that the Qur’an also says that by saving an innocent person, he has saved all mankind, and tells Samir he is a hero.
The story immediately grabs the audience’s attention and dramatizes the dynamics and issues relating to the government’s response to terrorism and provides an interesting take on the challenges associated with police work and undercover infiltration.

REVIEW: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

CAST

Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes)
Chris Evans (The Losers)
Scarlett Johansson (Lucy)
Chris Hemsworth (The Huntsman: Winter’s War)
Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy)
James Spader (Stargate)
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother)
Samuel L. Jackson (Snakes On A Plane)
Paul Bettany (Legion)
Don Cheadle (Traffic)
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass)
Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House)
Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker)
Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter)
Idris Elba (acific Rim)
Linda Cardellini (Scooby-Doo)
Stellan Skarsgard (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)
Thomas Kretschmann (Dracula)
Andy Serkis (The Hobbit)
Julie Delpy (Before Sunset)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Josh Brolin (Jonah Hex)
Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk)
Henry Goodman (Yes, Prime Minister)
Claudia Kim (The Dark Tower)

MV5BMTk4MjI3NzY4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODY4NjA3._V1_In the Eastern European country of Sokovia, the Avengers – Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, and Clint Barton – raid a Hydra facility commanded by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who has been experimenting on humans using the scepter previously wielded by Loki. They encounter two of Strucker’s experiments – twins Pietro, who has superhuman speed, and Wanda Maximoff, who can manipulate minds and project energy – and apprehend Strucker, while Stark retrieves Loki’s scepter.MV5BMTk4NTc1NTc0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDQ4NjA3._V1_Stark and Banner discover an artificial intelligence within the scepter’s gem, and secretly use it to complete Stark’s “Ultron” global defense program. The unexpectedly sentient Ultron, believing he must eradicate humanity to save Earth, eliminates Stark’s A.I. J.A.R.V.I.S. and attacks the Avengers at their headquarters. Escaping with the scepter, Ultron uses the resources in Strucker’s Sokovia base to upgrade his rudimentary body and build an army of robot drones. Having killed Strucker, he recruits the Maximoffs, who hold Stark responsible for their parents’ deaths by his weapons, and go to the base of arms dealer Ulysses Klaue to obtain Wakandan vibranium. The Avengers attack Ultron and the Maximoffs, but Wanda subdues them with haunting visions, causing the Hulk (Banner) to rampage until Stark stops him with his anti-Hulk armor.1
MV5BMTU1NzA3OTI1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjg4NjA3._V1_A worldwide backlash over the resulting destruction, and the fears Wanda’s hallucinations incited, send the team into hiding at a safehouse. Thor departs to consult with Dr. Erik Selvig on the meaning of the apocalyptic future he saw in his hallucination, while Romanoff and Banner plan to flee together after realizing a mutual attraction. However, Nick Fury arrives and encourages the team to form a plan to stop Ultron. In Seoul, Ultron forces the team’s friend Dr. Helen Cho to use her synthetic-tissue technology, together with vibranium and the scepter’s gem, to perfect a new body for him. As Ultron uploads himself into the body, Wanda is able to read his mind; discovering his plan for human extinction, the Maximoffs turn against Ultron. Rogers, Romanoff, and Barton find Ultron and retrieve the synthetic body, but Ultron captures Romanoff.
MV5BNjczNjAzNjgwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQzMTUzMg@@._V1_The Avengers fight amongst themselves when Stark secretly uploads J.A.R.V.I.S. – who is still operational after hiding from Ultron inside the Internet – into the synthetic body. Thor returns to help activate the body, explaining that the gem on its brow – one of the six Infinity Stones, the most powerful objects in existence – was part of his vision. This “Vision” and the Maximoffs accompany the Avengers to Sokovia, where Ultron has used the remaining vibranium to build a machine to lift a large part of the capital city skyward, intending to crash it into the ground to cause global extinction. Banner rescues Romanoff, who awakens the Hulk for the battle. The Avengers fight Ultron’s army while Fury arrives in a Helicarrier with Maria Hill, James Rhodes and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to evacuate civilians. Pietro dies when he shields Barton from gunfire, and a vengeful Wanda abandons her post to destroy Ultron’s primary body, which allows one of his drones to activate the machine. The city plummets, but Stark and Thor overload the machine and shatter the landmass. In the aftermath, the Hulk, unwilling to endanger Romanoff by being with her, departs in a Quinjet, while the Vision confronts Ultron’s last remaining body.MV5BZDRkOGQwNWItZjQ1ZC00MjU0LWJiZTUtZWIwMjZkMTdhNWM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI3MDk3MzQ@._V1_Later, with the Avengers having established a new base run by Fury, Hill, Cho, and Selvig, Thor returns to Asgard to learn more about the forces he suspects have manipulated recent events. As Stark leaves and Barton retires, Rogers and Romanoff prepare to train new Avengers: Rhodes, the Vision, Sam Wilson, and Wanda. In a mid-credits scene, Thanos, dissatisfied by the failures of his pawns, dons a gauntlet2 and vows to retrieve the Infinity Stones himself.MV5BZmQ0YmE1MTMtYWQ2ZS00ZDNhLWIzOTctNjk4YTQ1YmQzZDZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI3MDk3MzQ@._V1_The Avengers: Age of Ultron is solid entertainment and best experienced on the big screen. Long-running trappings of shared movie universe storytelling remain, and the novelty of seeing iconic comic book characters together onscreen is just as impressive as it was in The Avengers.

REVIEW: IRON MAN 3

CAST

Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder)
Gwyneth Paltrow (A Perfect Murder)
Don Cheadle (Traffic)
Guy Pearce (Prometheus)
Rebecca Hall (Town)
Jon Favreau (Daredevil)
Ben Kingsley (Lucky Number Sleven)
James Badge Dale (World War Z)
Stephanie Szostak (R.I.P.D.)
Paul Bettany (Legion)
William Sadler (Roswell)
Dale Dickey (My Name Is Earl)
Miguel Ferrer (Robocop)
Ty Simpkins (Jurassic World)
Shaun Toub (Lois & Clark)
Mark Ruffalo (Just Like Heaven)
Joan Rivers (Spaceballs)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Rebecca Mader (Lost)

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man Three (2013)As the start of “Phase Two” of Marvel’s ever-expanding film lore, Iron Man 3 picks up shortly after the events of The Avengers, where Tony Stark (RDJ) played a crucial role in stopping an other-worldly invasion in New York City. Shaken by the experience to a point of acute panic attacks, Stark finds himself obsessed with his mechanical tinkering, creating and modifying suits in the hours where he can’t sleep or spend time with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), now CEO of Stark Industries. During that time, a bearded fanatic known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) claims responsibility for curiously evidence-free terrorist activities through hacked television broadcasts, backed up by cryptic “lessons” about American indulgence, artifice, and claim to territory. In a fragile state of mind and dealing with the reemergence of a momentary colleague from his past, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), whose radical plans for human advancement (and his attractiveness) draw Pepper’s attention, Tony flexes his Iron Man muscle by publicly provoking The Mandarin.Ben Kingsley in Iron Man Three (2013)Before that, Iron Man 3 offers a glimpse nearly fifteen years into the past as a quasi-preamble, before Stark made his reputation as a public hero. Outside of Black and co-writer Drew Pearce’s evident character reasons for doing so — namely introducing Killian at a younger age, as well as the beautiful, brilliant scientist Maya Hansen (played by Rebecca Hall) and her invaluable yet unstable work in organic regeneration — this also serves as a reminder of a Tony Stark before he stumbled into the duties of a narcissistic hero in a near-impervious suit of his design. Thus begins a personal journey for Stark: complete with voiceover directed at an unspecified listener (you find out who in the post-credit sequence) that transitions to the present era, the strain on his persona created by a near-death sacrificial decision in New York flirts with the comic-book’s famous “Demon in a Bottle” story arc … without ever mentioning alcohol.Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man Three (2013)The script from Black and Pearce expands on that internal crisis by finding a way to leave Stark without his gear, his girl, and his support structure at a pivotal point, where he’s abandoned in the middle of nowhere with only his wits and scientific knowledge (and a boy essentially embodying a young engineering-savvy version of Tony Stark) to guide him. Some will find this change of pace refreshing, a return to those moments in the Afghanistan cave where he constructed the first rudimentary suit; once again, he’s using only his inventiveness to weave in and out of tricky situations and get Iron Man in fighting shape. Others will find the lack of higher-octane action and similarities to other recent “fallen, morale-damaged hero” storylines frustrating, and that’s partially due to circumstances that are wobbly even for comic-book logic. The pressure rests on Downey Jr. to convince those watching of his fraught situation, and his charisma — now with the added touch of Shane Black’s humorous edge — keeps the attitude upbeat, hectic, and faintly mythic, bolstered by scenes such as Tony literally dragging the weight of his armor over his shoulder across a snowy field.Iron Man Three (2013)As  the film approaches a climax full of Iron Men, fireworks, and plenty of Hail Mary leaps within a dangerous shipyard, backed by a reliably fierce performance from Guy Pearce as his role in the Extremis program comes to fruition. What surprised me the most about the ending, once the smoke clears, is how final and cathartic it ends up feeling, as if it very well could be the bookend to Iron Man himself if they decided not to move the series forward. Giving closure to Stark’s tribulations as a self-focused hero and his rocky relationship with Pepper Potts, it’ll make the eminent day when the Avengers come knocking on his door again all the more intriguing.

REVIEW: IRON MAN 2

 

CAST

Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Contagion)
Don Cheadle (Traffic)
Scarlett Johansson (Lucy)
Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest)
Mickey Rourke (Sin City)
Samuel L. Jackson (Jackie Brown)
Clark Gregg (When A Stranger Calls)
John Slattery (Mad Men)
Garry Shandling (Over The Hedge)
Paul Bettany (Legion)
Kate Mara (Fantastic Four)
Leslie Bibb (The Skulls)
Jon Favreau (Swingers)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)_
Olivia Munn (Zoolander 2)
Seth Green (Family Guy)
Helena Mattsson (Guns, Girls and Gambling)

Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2 (2010)After the initial trepidation followed by the overwhelming box office success of the first Iron Man film, a second was a foregone conclusion. However as part of a larger trilogy, not to mention a subsequent Avengers film, the challenge of advancing some of those storylines along with giving people what they liked in the first one would be difficult, to say the least.Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2 (2010)Jon Favreau returns to direct the second film, based on Justin Theroux’s (Tropic Thunder) screenplay. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes) and his businesses continue to thrive, in part because as Iron Man, he’s promoted the longest stretch of global peace in quite some time. There is a small cottage industry that tries to capitalize on Stark’s success, with the main one being Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). Hammer tries to mimic Stark’s technology and gain an advantage over it, but the results seem to wind up being disastrous. It’s as if he’s the Wile E. Coyote of defense contractors who want to make their own Iron Men. However the biggest threat to Stark’s Iron Man may be Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler), a Russian whose father worked with Stark’s, and may be as familiar with the technology of Iron Man as Tony is.Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man 2 (2010)Not knowing of Vanko, Tony continues to live the good life. He continues to get along well with his assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow, Se7en), despite the addition of the younger and equally attractive Natalie (Scarlett Johansson, He’s Just Not That Into You) into the fold. Despite these women sparring for Tony’s affections, he has bigger things to be concerned about. The arc reactor device in Tony’s chest is slowly turning his blood toxic and in effect, killing him. He doesn’t tell the women, or his best friend Lt. Col. Rhoades (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard from the first film). And when Vanko confronts Tony, in Monaco of all places, it leaves Tony with a sense of doubt and a lack of purpose that might have long-lasting ramifications.Iron Man 2 (2010)With Favreau juggling the different storytelling balls, including an increased role from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction), he gives the audience new and different ways to enjoy the action and fighting sequences. And I have to admit, they’re exciting and damned fun to watch, starting from the opening sequence when Tony jumps out of a military plane into his “Stark Expo” highlighting his company’s ware. He twists and turns through the night sky, avoiding fireworks and other air obstacles to make his grand entrance. The confrontation with Vanko is also entertaining and keeps you on the edge of your seat.Don Cheadle and Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2 (2010)It’s ambitious in what it wants to accomplish, and it succeeds on many levels.

 

REVIEW: TRAFFIC

CAST

Michael Douglas (Wall Street)
Amy Irving (Alias)
Benicio del Toro (Sin City)
Erika Christensen (Swimfan)
Topher Grace (That 70s Show)
James Brolin (The Amityville Horror)
Jacob Vargas (Get Shorty)
Albert Finney (The Bourne Legacy)
Catherine Zeta Jones (Entrapment)
Dennis Quaid (Jaws 3)
Clifton Collins Jr. (The Bad Pack)
Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2 & 3)
Luis Guzman (McBain)
Miguel Ferrer (Robocop)
Peter Riegert (The Mask)
Benjamin Bratt (Demolition Man)
Viola Davis (Suicide Squad)
Salma Hayek (Ugly Betty)
Emilio Rivera (Venom)
Michael O’Neill (Transformers)
Majandra Delfino (Roswell)
Rena Sofer (Heroes)
John Slattery (Iron Man 2)
Jack Conley (Angel)
Harsh Nayyar (Gandhi)

a Steven Soderbergh Traffic Michael Douglas DVD Review PDVD_004

Scripted by Stephen Gaghan, Traffic is adapted from the famous British miniseries Traffik and takes a hard look at the illegal drug trade from multiple perspectives. All sides of the issue are explored via a series of intersecting storylines. On the front lines, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) witnesses the rampant government corruption that facilitates the smuggling of drugs across the U.S. border. In the halls of American power, a politically ambitious judge (Michael Douglas) is picked as the new Drug Tsar and quickly runs into obstacles implementing new policies.

In fact, even the judge’s own daughter (Erika Christensen) and her privileged rich kid friends experiment with freebasing and begin the downward spiral of addiction. In the netherworld between these two extremes, a DEA agent (Don Cheadle) in California attempts to take down a drug running ring but finds the effort futile; even if he succeeds all he’s done is clear the way for new competition to move in. Meanwhile, a society wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whose husband is indicted on trafficking charges is forced into taking over his smuggling racket to pay their debts and protect her family.

The movie has a huge cast of other recognizable faces (Dennis Quaid, Albert Finney, Luis Guzman, Amy Irving, and Miguel Ferrer among others), but it’s Del Toro who stands out in a star-making turn; he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor but actually carries a big chunk of the movie and proves he can be an effective leading man. The story has an ambitious reach and a complicated structure. Soderbergh juggles all these elements with masterful control, maintaining a steady tone that emphasizes the tragedy of the situation without overstepping into preachiness, overwrought theatrics, or heavy-handed sermonizing. The movie asks many questions but is frank that it can deliver no answers. It takes no political stance either for or against our government’s policies other than to point out that they clearly aren’t working. The war on drugs is a self-generating, never-ending cycle of corruption, hypocrisy, and hopelessness with seemingly no possible solution.