Hard to tell how good or bad this is going to be. The trailer is great and feels period correct. It’s Tarantino so it’s likely to be bonkers, unwieldy, and probably bloody. I will definitely see it. A year in which we get a Tarantino movie, a Scorsese movie (featuring De Niro and Pacino) and a Star Wars movie can’t be all bad.
By Alan Yudman
To say that Alex Honnold is a complicated guy is an understatement as big as El Capitan is high. But that complication is what makes FREE SOLO an excellent movie, one that deserved the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.
Honnold is a roc k climber. That’s like saying Picasso is a painter or Mozart was a musician. Honnold breaks barriers and does things no sane person would or could do. The feature piece of the movie is Honnold’s quest to free climb the 3,000 foot monolith known as El Capitan in Yosemite. Free climbing is what it sounds like. The climber ascends the mountain by himself, with no ropes. So if you fall, you die. Crazy? Yes. Absolutely. Plenty of Honnold’s contemporaries and heroes have died free climbing. But Honnold seems different. He goes about this in a very scientific way. He’s not the wild man taking risks in every facet of his life. He is methodical. He plans every move, tries to take every possible scenario into account. He trains and trains, then trains some more. And if doesn’t feel it’s right he’s not afraid to stop. Honnold acknowledges the risk. He talks about it being scary and not wanting to die. But he also has a detachment from the risk. That is born out when he goes for an MRI and the technicians tell him his amygdala doesn’t fire. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s that his threshold for activating that flight or fight response is beyond their ability to test it.
FREE SOLO is also about relationships, or more precisely how Honnold doesn’t seem to feel they are necessary. He appreciates his girlfriend Sanni McCandless. I think he loves her, but emotions are more challenging for Alex than climbing a sheer face with no ropes. The movie does not shy away from these difficult relationships. When Sanni leaves right before he takes on El Cap (I wanna be hip just like these climbers), it’s heart breaking. She really believes Alex could die and it is tearing her up. The film crew that shot the movie are all Hannold’s friends. They know he is the most skilled free climber around and they want in on the adventure, but they also don’t want to see him die. Like Sanni, it tears them apart.
The movie also celebrates achievement and that spirit of adventure that used to be so common in the United States (a similar theme of APOLLO 11).
That’s the genius of FREE SOLO. It’s not just a portrait of a climber, that is also a beautiful postcard for Yosemite National Park. It’s an emotional story about a man who is not like anyone you will ever meet. It explores what drives him and how that impacts those that love him. Hannold may climb rocks by himself, but he is not alone.
By Alan Yudman
The first Marvel Cinematic Universe film featuring a woman as the main character is released on International Woman’s Day. Coincidence? Nah, probably not.
CAPTAIN MARVEL is not about empowering women. It is about a woman showing how powerful she is and how she doesn’t care how that fits into your narrative. While most MCU origin stories are about the person finding strength then becoming a badass, Carol Danvers is already a badass. From the trailer, we already know she was a fighter pilot, and now she is a Kree.. an alien race described in the trailer as a group of “noble warrior heroes”. I stupidly assumed that was true, completely forgetting the role Ronan the Accuser (a Kree) had in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I should have known something was up. The movie uses those expectations to provide a satisfying twist.
Here is where I’d normally offer a synopsis of the plot. As I started to try to explain what is going on, I realized it is too convoluted. Now, normally that is a terrible thing for a movie. But in this case, it works. You think the movie is going one way, when it turns on a dime and you wind up going, “whoa”! Danvers’ back story, who the real villains are, how this all ties into the greater MCU storyline. Those threads all tie together in the end and what could have been confusing becomes clear.
CAPTAIN MARVEL is full of satisfying performances. Brie Larson is great. She has the right attitude and brings just enough smart ass and humor to the role to make you love her. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is made younger through the use of digital effects, but it is barely noticeable and you can see how his attitude and swagger develop. Ben Mendelsohn as the leader of the Skrulls seems like a bad guy, but he is given more to do than in his other villain roles and it really shows off his talent. Lashana Lynch plays Danvers’ fellow Air Force pilot and best friend, Maria Rambeau. It is a necessary character and Lynch brings the goods to make her feel a part of the story, not just a character who helps with Danvers’ exposition. I guess they could have gotten any actress to play Dr. Wendy Lawson, but it was nice to see Annette Benning join the MCU. And Jude Law is serviceable as the Kree commander, but I didn’t think he brought much that was special.
I saw the movie in 3D and it was a great use of the effect. It really brings you into the movie and adds dimension to battle scenes.
We have to talk about the soundtrack and costume design. CAPTAIN MARVEL takes place in 1995. The music is a combination of grunge, R & B and rap. It mostly works. Mostly, not all. The costume design is great. They outfit Danvers in jeans, Nine Inch Nails T-shirt and flannel tied around her waist. Come as you are, indeed.
Oh, and yes.. it perfectly sets up AVENGERS: ENDGAME which hits theaters in about 6 weeks.
It is Danvers’ journey from human to Kree and back again that is the heart of the movie. She is fighting herself and her own power throughout. She finally realizes her full potential as CAPTAIN MARVEL when she embraces her humanity. That inner battle is also what places this film in the upper third of MCU movies. It’s not BLACK PANTHER, but it is great in its own way. And comparisons should be left at the movie theater door.