Triple Scoop Reviews: Captain Marvel, Cast a Deadly Spell, and Bad Times at the El Royale

Captain Marvel

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other (Theater)
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Chocolate

Well, I finally did it; I left my house and got my ass down to the movie theater for the first time in, like, a bunch of months. I confess, I don’t know exactly where Captain Marvel fits in my Ultimate Marvel Movie Ranking, but I had a pretty good time: Brie Larson is a joy to watch, she has amazing buddy cop chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, and I really like her friendship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). I know some people were really into Carol/Maria, though personally, I can’t say I ship it myself. I didn’t quite see that type of chemistry, and besides, I’m (unsurprisingly) ecstatic that Captain Marvel a) features an important friendship between two women, and b) doesn’t waste time on a needless romantic subplot. That all being said, should Carol end up with, say, Nebula or Valkyrie in later films? I’m saying, I could be here for that.

I do feel like Captain Marvel starts a bit rough. I’m not totally sure why, either, just that I wasn’t super engaged with the first, say, 20 minutes of the movie? The second Carol lands on Earth, though, the whole story comes alive. Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson are comedy gold; I particularly enjoy seeing a younger, happier, cat-loving Nick Fury. Obviously, Goose is fantastic, too. And actually, I really like all the supporting players: Ben Mendelsohn steals half the scenes he’s in, Annette Bening’s character, Dr. Lawson, goes in a pretty neat direction, and I always enjoy seeing Agent Coulson pop up. Although. Whatever they did to his eyebrows? No. Just no.

What I really like about this one, I think, is that it’s just a fun movie with a badass female lead. There’s often so much pressure on women-led films to not only be flawless but also Significant; like, if the films themselves aren’t Perfect Feminist Victories, then they’re automatic failures that only prove how this “trend” of gender-flipped and/or women-dominated films are unnecessary, a PC ploy, etc. But that’s crap for a lot of reasons: for one, every damn movie has flaws or things that could be improved; for another, a film can be significant without having to be Significant. And for the most part, Captain Marvel strikes me as a fun, easy-breezy installment in the Marvel machine; it’s another superhero movie that just so happens to have a badass lady at the forefront. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly groundbreaking material; I would say that it’s a lot of fun, and it would’ve meant a lot to me especially if I could’ve seen it as a kid.

A few final notes:

A. Gemma Chan doesn’t have a ton to do here, but I like her and I’m interested in seeing more from her in other films.

B. I’m a 90’s kid, so obviously, I’m all about this soundtrack. Garbage! Hole! No Doubt! TLC! Surely I’d buy it if I didn’t already own a good chunk of the songs.

C. Any superhero who’s dressed in a NIN shirt for half the movie is a superhero I’d like to see more of.

D. I really do like Brie Larson a whole lot in this. I’ve loved her since Envy Adams and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and I’m eager to see her in Avengers: Endgame . . . even if I’m still not super pumped to see Avengers: Endgame itself.

E. There are lots and lots of great lines in this movie, but without a doubt, the most powerful one for me was “I have nothing to prove to you.” That’s already on a T-shirt, right? I need to buy it immediately.

Cast a Deadly Spell

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other (HBO)
Spoilers: Yeah
Grade: Strawberry

Look, I was five, mostly, in 1991, so there were a few things I missed out on. For instance, did you know that HBO made a fantasy-noir TV movie about H.P “Philip” Lovecraft, a private eye who refuses to use magic in a world where everyone else does? It’s true! Fred Ward plays our shamus; meanwhile, Clancy Brown plays a gangster, Julianne Moore plays the femme fatale, and David Warner the rich, shady client. And it’s not just witches and warlocks, either; there are unicorns, gremlins, vampires, werewolves, gargoyles, demons, voodoo zombies, and, of course, the Old Ones. This is full-on urban fantasy, set in a noir backdrop, and I can’t believe I had to wait almost 30 years to discover it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean this movie is any good. Oh God, no. There’s a reason film noir is so easy to parody: hardboiled dialogue is tricky to pull off naturally, and I’m not convinced Fred Ward quite manages it. The script has a number of issues, from problematic queer rep to problematic racist shit to forgetting the basic principles of Chekhov’s magical gun. And the special effects are . . . well, let’s just say HBO has come a long way in 30 years.

But Christ, I’d love the opportunity to remake the hell out of this. I mean, I’d change a LOT. Our detective absolutely does not need to be named Lovecraft; seriously, fuck that guy. I’m keeping the Old Ones, sure, but HP goes. I’d also prefer our gumshoe had a better reason for abstaining from magic than condescending moral superiority. Everything about the queer couple (the gay guy is fat, sweaty, and pathetic; the trans woman is attacked both verbally and violently by our hero, both die badly, etc.) must fuck right off. It’d really be for the best if all the zombie slaves weren’t black, and if a virgin is going to save the day by losing her virginity before she can be sacrificed, it would help if a) she had more agency, b) wasn’t underage, and c) was actually allowed to be the hero. Instead, it’s the schmucky, adulterous, very adult cop who’s called a “hero” for having sex with her.

Still, if I could write an adult hardboiled noir urban fantasy series with or without Lovecraftian undertones for HBO today? Oh my God, that is the dream. Until then, I’ll just have to console myself with the fact that Hypolite (a witch, Lovecraft’s landlady, and presumed dead meat character) actually lives. Also? There’s a sequel. Starring DENNIS HOPPER.

I take it back. That’s the fucking dream right there.

Bad Times at the El Royale

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: ALL OF THEM
Grade: Vanilla

Man. I wanted to like this so bad.

It starts out great. The movie has a fantastic premise, a talented cast, and atmosphere in spades. I like Cynthia Erivo a lot, as well as Lewis Pullman and Jon Hamm. Hamm’s whole section–where he discovers 80 bazillion bugs in his motel room, as well as all the two-way mirrors–is particularly creepy. Unfortunately, the film also starts falling apart shortly after he dies. Specifically, I think it starts falling apart when Chris Hemsworth arrives on scene, which feels sacrilegious to say, I know. But it’s not an acting problem. The third act just desperately falls short of all the movie’s potential.

One problem, I think, is that cult leader Billy Lee (Hemsworth) doesn’t feel important enough to be this film’s chief antagonist. Creepy shirtless dancing aside, his presence and placement in this story feels a bit too random; he should just be one of the strangers at the motel with a secret agenda, not a Big Bad who strolls in thirty minutes before the end of the movie. He is, honestly, a little too boring to hold the whole third act. This story’s real Big Bad ought to be Management; they’re the villains that tie everyone’s stories together, or should, anyway. But Management is only briefly discussed, a vaguely nefarious non-entity who drops out of the movie entirely, presumably because the writers don’t know who or what the hell Management really is.

Or maybe they do know but don’t care–there’s something of a smug “we don’t have to tell you all the answers” vibe to this movie. Who’s on the film reel, for instance, and hey, I actually agree with that: we don’t need to know which famous dead person was filmed. Still, there’s a limit to how many times a movie can cheekily avoid giving you a straight answer before you wanna smack it right in the face, and Bad Times at the El Royale well surpassed that limit. Not to mention, there are just so many dropped plot threads by the end of the movie that you know it can’t all be intentional.

For instance, who murdered bank robber Nick Offerman? The movie sets it up as a mystery–we never see the killer’s face–but presumably it’s the third partner we barely glimpse in flashback, someone who’s only referred to as “the kid.” And wouldn’t you know it, desk clerk Miles (Pullman) certainly fits the bill: he’s roughly the right age, still working at this dodgy ass motel for some reason, and keeps trying to confess something that isn’t all the pervy spy shit to Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges). Except it turns out that Miles is not that guy, considering he’s literally the only character in this movie who actually thinks Flynn’s a priest–and, well, that’s it. The movie sets up a mystery in the opening act and then promptly forgets about it for the rest of the film. Also! Why the hell set a movie in a place where a literal line divides characters in different states if you’re not going to prominently use said line in an interesting way during some awesome climactic scene? Or, shit, at least figure out a way to tie it into some goddamn themes.

At 2 hours and 20 minutes, Bad Times at the El Royale is easily 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, with too much time spent on lengthy or unnecessary flashbacks. (Case in point, Miles’s incredibly last minute Vietnam War scene.) Despite all this, though, the movie is still totally watchable, especially if you, like me, are a sucker for these kinds of stories. Unfortunately, that only makes it more disappointing when what started out so promising turns out to be such a hot mess by the end.

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2 Responses to Triple Scoop Reviews: Captain Marvel, Cast a Deadly Spell, and Bad Times at the El Royale

  1. skhoot says:

    I have wanted to rewrite Cast a Deadly Spell for so many years, it’s not even funny. It fell flat even watching it in the era. I have my own ideas about the shamus, though. I wanted them called HP, (though not Lovecraft) as the tip of the hat, and I had what I thought was a reasonable reason to abstain from magic, other than “I’m better than you.”

    Nope. I just know what happens when I do magic.

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