Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the sixth “Spider-Man” film, and it’s easily the best since “Spider-Man 2” (from the original trilogy). The Spider-Man franchise has had a bit of inconsistency, starting strong but ending a bit weakly with the dreaded (but somewhat over-hated) “Spider-Man 3”; then, rebooted with 2 completely forgettable films and a forgettable Peter (played as dutifully by Andrew Garfield as possible). As reliable as Spider-Man is as an entertaining comic book hero, his movie franchise hasn’t been as dependable.

Marvel still wants to save their golden boy, however; they threw him in “The Avengers: Civil War”, and a young, boisterous Tom Holland was cast. His cameo was brief but fun, and gave enough of an excuse I guess, to give him a full feature length film.

But this time, the studio was smart to not reboot the whole story all over again, so that in the 3rd time in 15 years, we’d have a “Peter Parker origin story”. In “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, directed by Jon Watts (“Clown”), we already know Peter is Spider-Man, and he’s already fought with the Avengers. This allows the character to be exactly where he needs to be, and not re-introduced again.

Parker has returned from fighting the Battle of New York, and is ecstatic that he’s been able to cut his teeth with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., if you didn’t know that already) and the Avengers. He’s given the guise of being an intern to the Stark company, so no one suspects what he’s really up to. His Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) encourages him in his internship, and he seems to be the envy of some students at school. But Parker has his teenage problems: he longs for a shot at a girl named Liz (Laura Harrier), a brainy and beautiful girl that is keen to Parker’s attraction. He also has a little rivalry with the school rich kid Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Tony Revolori), who competes with Parker in the ‘mathletes’. And, unfortunately for Parker, school comes before superhero. He still has to do his homework.

The city has its share of thieves and criminals, but none more powerful than a mysterious villain referred to (in credits only) as the Vulture. He’s only known in the film as Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a contractor whose business is co-opted by Stark’s own Damage Control following the Battle, to clean up the after effects. Toomes, dismayed but not detracted, steals some of the artifacts himself and sells the exotic weapons at a high price to support his family. Toomes is a lunch bucket villain. He’s blue collar, not looking to take over the world, just looking for a piece of American Pie.

But this doesn’t sit well for 15 year-old Peter, who trails him and tries to stop him by himself. This bothers Stark, and Parker’s chaperone Happy (Stark’s colleague, played by Jon Favreau), and it gets Spider-Man in quite a lot of hot water.

For us, as an audience, we’re licking our chops to watch Spider-Man fight. And, like Stark, his suit is powered by AI, a bit of a SmartSuit. His AI, Karen (voiced by Jennifer Connelly), helps him out of jams both with the bad guys, and gives some sage life advice.

Also along for the ride is Peter’s school friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who wants to be “the guy in the chair”, the one behind the scenes who aids his super hero friend. At first Peter is hesitant; but after some run-ins, and Ned’s assistance, he agrees. Ned’s contributions are essential to Peter’s escaping certain doom, and proves his worth as his “sidekick”.

There are some breathtaking action sequences that string the film along, including one that takes place on the Staten Island Ferry; and the other atop the Washington monument. The Ferry sequence may remind viewers of the subway scene in “Spider-Man 2”; but it doesn’t feel like a rip off. This is actually the bread and butter of a Spider-Man story: he has to save a piece of New York City. In the 1st movie, it’s the Queensboro Bridge (in the reboot it’s the Williamsburg Bridge).

Most of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is watching Tom Holland eat up the Peter Parker role. He’s the youngest actor to portray the character, which works to its benefit. There’s a literal breath of new life into the character; and for some reason, it makes him more believable than previous incarnations played by Garfield and Tobey Maguire.

The strongest parts, like much of the MCU films, involve humor. There are a lot of quality laughs here, and it certainly strengthens the film’s entertainment value. Stark’s scenes are amusing; but it’s a lot more than that. RDJ doesn’t have to save this film. He’s just a piece. Keaton is exceptional as the ice cold Toomes, just trying to make a good living, but is also cutthroat. Batalon as Spidey’s BFF is also cute and charismatic. And, can’t forget Zandaya’s Michelle, or “MJ” (duh!). On balance, the whole cast provides good performances. Holland and Keaton’s stand out, but they all do well to round out the film.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” brings confidence back to the franchise, and sets up nicely for its own series. I want to see more of Holland as Peter, and watch him grow up a little. He already started to toward the end of the film. Now, as a future Avenger, we can see the character finally reach his full potential.

Just don’t go forcing Venom on us again right now, mkay?

My rating: :-)

The Amazing Spider-Man

July 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

I think you can mark this film as the official date when the comic book world of cinema has started to eat itself. With all of the remakes and reboots, Sony Pictures decided to join the fun because they still had the rights from the original trilogy that was directed by Sam Raimi. Instead of doing something original, though, they just re-hash the origin story and pepper in a few new details that are actually closer to the Spider-Man story. Some are interesting, some are just filler. The most disappointing part of the filler is the story of the fate of Peter Parker’s parents. It’s such a†muddled story and surrounded by mystery, that it really just feels tacked on and unnecessary.

Again, we are introduced to the shy, but precocious Peter (played by Andrew Garfield), and this time we’re given his true first girlfriend from the comics, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Gwen is a bit of a science nerd like Parker, and the two develop an awkward but affectionate love story that wedges into the mad scientist monster story that gives Spider-Man his villain.

All right, must I go through the plot? Let me summarize: the mad scientist (Rhys Ilfans) wants to create re-generation in humans to make them “perfect”. He and Parker’s father worked on it until Parker’s death. Peter wants to help the scientist, Curt Connors, but inadvertently turns Connors into a giant lizard monster because he gives him an equation that can help create the syrum that is supposed to re-generate limbs. Peter’s uncle dies at the hands of a gunman just like in the movie that came out only 10 years ago, and if you’ve forgotten what happens next in Peter’s story you really should regret that lobotomy you got.

The biggest problem with this reboot is that it has none of the joy or creativity of the Raimi films. Sure, “Spider-man 3” was overstuffed. But it at least had some entertaining moments. This movie has no sense of humor about its hero, it has no real sense of place…half of it feels like you’re in “Virtual Spidey World”, where you’re just swinging along with him getting all kinds of vertigo in the process. Parker’s anguished demeanor (for good reasons) throughout is a high contrast to his bubbly Spidey alter ego, and though that can be explained by him enjoying the endorphins released when flinging himself all over NYC, it still doesn’t really add up and winds up being a bit distracting even.

We also get another New York City to the Rescue moment. This was a bit painful in the original; here it is literally a Deus Ex Machina. We are fortunately spared a love triangle, though. There is no Harry Osborn–in fact we never even see Norman Osborn (but we probably will in the sequel).

One thing that kept going through my mind while watching this film was that it made absolutely no difference who directed it. In “The Avengers”, there is a real face on the film–Joss Whedon. Why? Because he takes the time with his characters and knows how to develop a good story and flesh them out. Raimi did the same thing with this franchise only a decade ago. But this has no face, no uniqueness. It is just simply an action super†hero movie. Big deal. Sure, it’ll make money because of the name, because of the franchise, because we want to see Spider-Man. And the shame is, Garfield does about a good a job as anyone could filling Tobey Maguire’s shoes. In fact, in some ways, I think he’s better equipped to play the part. But he’s given nothing to really work with, nor is Emma Stone who also delivers a fine performance.

Sally Field is wasted along with Martin Sheen, and Denis Leary is only somewhat useful as George Stacy, Gwen’s dad. The film doesn’t seem to want to be anything more than a glorified video game. It moves along very slowly at first, then when it gets to the action, we’re already unconvinced of the spectacle. It’s like watching people ride a roller coaster. Sure it looks fun for them. But you really wish you could be the one in the car, feeling the exhilaration. Instead, we’re just spectators to something that we’ve already seen before, and done better–even if the special effects are superior.

Oh, and Stan Lee delivers another cringe inducing cameo. But I hope you aren’t surprised by that.

My rating: : :?

The Social Network

October 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Movies

I guess you could pinpoint 2003 as the turning point in American mainstream internet usage to include “social networking”, even though it has been a part of computer usage since as early as the 1980’s and probably earlier than that. But the explosion of sites like MySpace and the lesser known Friendster brought it to the forefront and meanwhile in that snooty little college establishment known as Harvard, sniveling jerks were hard at work at revolutionizing easily the most prominent and vibrant internet social community we now know as Facebook.

Millions of people around the world use this site as a way of connecting, and reconnecting, with friends and family. It’s gotten to the point where you could very well see your own grandmother or great aunt “poking” you or “tagging” you in a photo. It’s kind of awkward and sick, but it’s the way things are now. So get used to it?

I suppose it’s apt, then, that we find out the story behind the making of Facebook since it is so popular and mainstream now. And Hollywood spared no expense. David Fincher, who has made himself a household name with films like “Fight Club”, “Se7en”, and the recent Oscar nominated “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, brings us this story that was already adapted as a book in “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich who came to fame with “Bringing Down the House”, the story of MIT grads who took down Las Vegas casinos with their Blackjack skills. Just like that book, the story is stylized and sensationalized so that we skip all the geeky intricacies of how things like this can be developed and get right to the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that people clamor for.

Well, just like in the film adaptation of “Bringing Down the House” which was the surprisingly drab and banal “21”, “The Social Network” fails on every level it’s trying to succeed on. Not only boasting the Oscar nominated David Fincher, but they also brought in Aaron Sorkin to write the script, Trent Reznor to co-write the score, and got some hot rising stars like Jesse Eisenberg (“Adventureland”, “Zombieland”), Andrew Garfield (“The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”), and the already famous Justin Timberlake.

But these elements don’t come together as a slam dunk as it should have. Sorkin’s tired act of making every character sound like they have an IQ of 160 grows weary within the first 15 minutes, and he doesn’t develop the characters at all. We’re supposed to understand that Mark Zuckerberg, the “inventor” of Facebook, is cold, calculating and backstabbing. But he’s also somewhat misunderstood. Unfortunately, through Zuckerberg’s cold gaze, we never really get to know him at all. Even if that’s Sorkin’s point–why make this movie in the first place?

The film begins auspiciously enough with Zuckerberg and his girlfriend having a far more intelligent conversation than they probably should which involves him saying he wants to join a “Final Club” after getting a perfect 1600 on his SAT’s which got him into Harvard in the first place. He says you have to do something special to be in a Final Club. His girlfriend doesn’t get it. And he writes her off, and she gets mad. Later, when he’s somewhat drunk, he blogs about her publicly and then designs a web site comparing different female co-eds from different campuses. His site is a big hit, but he also further damages his relationship with the girl that he kind of wants back.

Now here you have a promising premise…that never goes anywhere. And that’s because the film jumps from that right into the law suits that Zuckerberg (played by Eisenberg to the best of his ability) is having with his former associate, Eduardo Saverin (played by Garfield in another strong role). He’s also involved with a law suit from twin Harvard students named Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (try saying that name 5 times fast) that claim he stole their idea for Facebook. The story from there is an overblown and curiously undramatic study in betrayal and backstabbing that leads to the demise of the friendship between Eduardo and Zuckerberg.

The problem is that the friendship itself isn’t well established, and Zuckerberg is so hard to read that you never know what his motivations are or why he does any of the things he ends up doing. The other problem is that the real story isn’t even close to what this sensationalized adaptation is, and if you’re going to get it wrong, get it wrong the way they did in “Braveheart” at least. Make it interesting! There’s absolutely nothing interesting about these characters, and you couldn’t care less what happens to them because you know in the end they all become multi millionaires anyway. There’s no sense of loss, no sense of real calamity–and worst, there’s no conflict. There’s no explanation on why Zuckerberg turns to Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake playing Justin Timberlake playing Sean Parker) except that maybe it’s because he’s Justin Timberlake, and how can you turn down an offer from Justin Timberlake? The guy’s so cool.

There are moments where the story could develop but Sorkin manages to dismantle his own story by his dialog getting in the way of actual plot development. What works so well in “The West Wing” or “Sports Night” is that the story is told through the characters, and the dialog is a rhythmic progression that is like music that moves the story along. Here, it’s used as a device to simply boast how smart Sorkin is as a dialog writer. It serves no purpose and winds up coming off as smug and aloof to what the audience wants to see–which is drama.

Nothing’s really at stake for these characters and so they come off as just spoiled rich kids–which is exactly what they are. Yes, they’re smart. Zuckerberg deserves the credit he gets for being innovative. However, not only did he have a lot of help–but it’s not like Facebook was the first social network that was popular. It’s just that it’s the most popular *now*. MySpace was all the rage in 2006, and back in the mid 90’s, BBS’s were the way to go for social networking.

But the movie never delves into the actual development of Facebook, what makes it so easy and accessible and why people are addicted to it. Instead the film boasts a lot of attractive people drinking Appletinis and loud thumping club scenes that not only probably didn’t happen in real life, but aren’t interesting to watch either.

What I would’ve liked to have seen, and what this movie totally lacks, is a clear perspective. We’re never sure why Zuckerberg needs to create this social network–is it because he’s lonely because it’s so hard for him to make friends with someone because he’s so insufferable as a person? Sure that’s touched upon, but it’s never really paid off. Make this into a story about Zuckerberg’s personal toil with his own introverted nature and anti-socialism and what he lacks with people…and then ironically creates the most popular social networking site, possibly of all time. The film nicks and nibbles at this theme but it never fully explores it. It leaves it hanging in dead air.

While Facebook may have brought to light something that many were unaware of and revolutionized something in our culture, “The Social Network” did not.

My rating: :(

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

I’m not always sure how to review a Terry Gilliam film. These days, I think it’s safe to say it’s an achievement for him to even get one made anymore. After projects coming together, then falling apart (“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, “Good Omens”), and with this one even being in question after the main star had died during production (do I even have to say his name?), the fact that this film is FINISHED can be given a thumb’s up, no? But this is the film critiquing business and I still have a job to do. Even though I’m not paid for it and nobody really reads these anyway. I still believe in myself. So there.

I’d have to start off by saying if you enjoy Gilliam’s earlier works, you will most likely enjoy this. If you’re not a fan, this won’t make you one. It keeps within the visual styles and narrative themes that he and his co-writer Charles McKeown have been making for decades now. In this film, the theme is self-indulgence and selfishness, and it’s presented in a typical, Gilliam way.

The “Imaginarium” is a world beyond a mirror that you can be taken to for a donation, as a traveling “circus” like stage moves about towns, seeking customers. Anton (played by Andrew Garfield) is the attractor. Valentina (Lily Cole) is the beautiful temptress to lure the men. Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) merely sits on the stage in a zen-like way, waiting for those who want to come into his world.

It looks like a cheap parlor trick, but inside the Imaginarium is literally a fantasy world. In it, your wildest dreams come true. But there is a price. Actually, there is a choice. The devil, known as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), is waiting in the Imaginarium to seduce you as well. As the plot continues you learn that the two of them are battling for souls, as part of a bet that Parnassus made with him long ago.

But Parnassus is not made out to be God, or god-like. He’s a simple man with simple pleasures and simple desires–and he’s an alcoholic. He is accompanied by a dwarf named Percy (Verne Troyer) who tries to keep him in line (“What would I do without you, Percy?” “Get a midget.”) but Parnassus is consumed with himself. He made a deal with the devil that if he doesn’t win, he loses his daughter to him. His daughter, nor Anton, know about this and Anton is in love with her.

The plot thickens when they encounter a hanging man that they bring back to life, who’s revealed as Tony (Heath Ledger, among others). They’re not sure where he’s come from but he bears strange markings on his head, and he’s dressed in a suit. Tony, meanwhile, cannot remember anything, not even his name. Parnassus gets a few tidbits from Mr. Nick (though they’re “enemies”, the two have a relationship) and Parnassus convinces Tony who he is and what he was doing (he was hosting a charity event). But Mr. Nick swears that Tony is “not his”, nor sent by him. Tony feels obligated to pay Parnassus back, so he joins their traveling show and woos women into coming into the mirror. This allows Parnassus to possibly win the bet and get his daughter back. He needs 5 souls.

But problems arise once Tony is sucked into the world himself. He transforms, becomes other manifestations of himself. He grows increasingly selfish about it, and is revealed to be somewhat of a bad person. It is in this world that brings other performances by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell into the film, as Tony. Each one delivered is a good one, and in some way resemble Ledger’s Tony. This is what saved the film. It would not have been finished without this happening. However, it makes perfect sense in the narrative for it to happen regardless. In fact it strengthens the theme because of how much Tony “changes”.

While I enjoyed the theme and the look of the film, it was actually the performances that I found the strongest element of it. Andrew Garfield is perfect as Anton; Waits is a pure delight to watch, and Ledger & Co. are all entertaining, especially Jude Law.

The film bears striking resemblances to earlier Gilliam works as well. I’m not sure if I’d call it a weakness, but it certainly doesn’t possess the uniqueness that some of his older work has. For instance, the “street” scenes with Parnassus are straight out of “The Fisher King” and “12 Monkeys”. The character of Tony is extremely reminiscent of Brad Pitt’s Jeffrey Goines. Parnassus himself reminds me of Baron Munchausen. Some of the disjointed and disorganized dialog and presentations in the Imaginarium are straight out of “Brazil”.

All of that being said, however, the film is fun to watch and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Its climax and ending are very satisfactory, and I left with a smile on my face.

I’m sure this is not the last film we see from Gilliam. But I hope his next venture isn’t as much of a hassle. I won’t hold my breath, though.

My rating: :-)