Friday, March 15, 2019

Nosh 145: 'Captain Marvel,' 'Apollo 11' & More

David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.
Note: Nosh 146 will appear on Friday, March 29.

APPETIZER (Reviews: Captain Marvel and Apollo 11)   

Captain Marvel
Every star career, from Brando to Danny Trejo, is about luck and talent, options and choices, zig and zag. For Brie Larson, formerly Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers (French-Canadian parentage) that means: novice recognition in a comic skit on Jay Leno’s show, then theater, more TV, acclaimed work for indy movies (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle, Room – the last earned her an Oscar). Larson is a committed feminist and activist, but even young, sexy, Oscarized stardom’s gotta eat, so on to: Kong: Skull Island. And now, at 29, the giddy embrace of what Comic-Con fans call the MCU, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (what we yawny retros call Marvel Comics).

Larson’s Captain Marvel is a lab sample of pure MCU. Late Marvel founder Stan Lee beams in the opening logo, and has a cameo inside the story. By not buying the film’s Entertainment Weekly “collectors issue,” I denied myself deep research, but a ticket will do just fine. Here is the gaga saga of buff but peachy Carol (Brie Larson), who star-gazed right into America’s advanced stealth-plane program as a “girl” pilot. Alas, Carol crashed but was (shazaam!) Marvel-ized to the planet of the Kree, haughty empire builders fighting lizard-skinned and bat-eared enemies. Now called Vers, and given voltage-blast hands, she joins Kree commandos led by Jude Law (very game but possibly hankering to be back in the smarter sci-fi dream of Gattaca, or the more pictorially exciting Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow).

Carol’s past Earth aviation mentor Wendy is also the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree, which makes sense only because she is Annette Bening. Also named Mar-Vell (clever!), Bening appears to have been digitally “youthed” (expect more of that magic with the aging stars of Scorsese’s The Irishman). Her “How’s my hair?” after crashing seems like a tart dart at Larson’s lustrous, evolving hair. Ben Mendelsohn is a mighty hard case, un-Earthly but sporting Ben’s rock-dude Aussie growl. Reliably the king dude is Samuel L. Jackson as Earth cop Nick Fury, whom Jackson played in past movies and a TV series. Nick bonds with Carol/Vers, but more happily with a tabby cat, while swinging his Jackson 5 voice (that is, five times hipper than anyone else). Wolfing down a fat sandwich, he gurgles “Mmmm, we goin’ t’space?”

After whopper blasts and Marvel mutations, it feels good to get back to the home planet, circa 1995 (typically, Marvel chose to symbolize  the decade with a Blockbuster video store). Earth is called “a real shithole,” a writers’s giggle poking Trump’s infamous “shithole countries” remark. There is some humor, also vivid zips from Larson and Jackson (no one is quite bad here, just decal shallow). In essence, the Cinematic remains Comics. Every plot advance heads generically to super-powers violence. Every “mythic” hook draws on past movies, TV or comics, while seeding its own sequel. We want better: Rise of the Ruths: A Gender Odyssey, starring RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85) and DRW (Dr. Ruth Westheimer, 90). Premiering on Venus, 2022.  

Apollo 11
Captain Marvel is a gaudy space donut next to the reality feast of Apollo 11. The real deal about the Right Stuff, Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary has big-screen power (frame ratio 2:1, first shot 65 mm. for an abandoned NASA film). The subject may be the most daringly successful science experiment ever. From July 1969: the massive preparation; the fiery launch of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins; on site-viewers (mostly regular folk but also ex-President Lyndon Johnson and actor Hugh O’Brian); the near-glitches (a broken warning light, a leaky valve); Walter Cronkite intoning about “the burden and the hopes they carry for all mankind”; the huge tech team at Apollo Mission Control in Houston (almost all male, heavy on crewcuts, white shirts and Slim Jim ties); the Earth orbit like a sling-shot for the 240,500 mile trip to the moon, then back; our planet a diminishing blue oasis, while the glowing target rises as never before; the laid-back astronaut talk (“Hey there, sports fans”); the huge suspense of the little landing craft peeling off to put Armstrong and Aldrin on the surface (Neil’s flat eloquence: “one small step for man …,” Buzz’s plain awe: “magnificent desolation”); the planting of Old Glory (the U.N. flag was vetoed); and the stunning return, with a fiery re-entry at seven miles a second. All like clockwork, raised to a higher human power of courage and expertise. President Nixon’s speech was not bad, for the Dickster, but no rival to (also seen) JFK’s speech launching the dream. The film is a complete, beautiful experience. We no long make such history, but the infinitude beckons.   

SALAD (A List)
A Dozen Visionary Space or Alien Visitor Movies
From best to less (with director and year): 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick 1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg 1977), Blade Runner (Ridley Scott 1980), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel 1956; Philip Kauffman 1978), Forbidden Planet (Fred M.  Wilcox 1956), The Martian (Ridley Scott 2015), War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin 1953), Apollo 13 (Ron Howard 1995), The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise 1951), Silent Running (Douglas Trumbull 1972), Moon (Duncan Jones 2009) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (Haskin 1964).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson Welles didn’t have much use for sci-fi after his fabled War of the Worlds gig on radio. Peter Bogdanovich once asked, “Did you like 2001?” OW: “Bet I’ll love it.” PB: “You’ll never see it.” OW: “I will, too –when and if a shorter version is released. I won’t see anything that keeps me in a theater seat for more than two hours.” Somehow I doubt that he saw it, or if he did, much loved it. (Quotes from the compelling interview book This is Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“Sam Peckinpah relished Mexico in the studio-broken Major Dundee, even better in his masterwork The Wild Bunch. He was a full-blown alcoholic and his affair with Mexico ‘went south’ in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, a deadly corrida for his dreams of Mexico and lost women and booze-bonded friendship and filming as a manly crusade. (Critic) David Thomson lamented that ‘the style turns to vinegar the way it can in wine,’ but Alfredo is more tequila de sangre than vinegar.” (From the Bogart/Treasure of the Sierra Madre chapter of my book Starlight Rising, available via Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)   

DESSERT (An Image)
A fine movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Robbie the Robot, seen here with Walter Pidgeon, became the surprise star of the sci-fi hit Forbidden Planet (MGM 1956; director  Fred M. Wilcox).

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