Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – Movie Review

spiderman homecoming

“If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Tony Stark to his intern, Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

If a superhero film such as Spider-Man: Homecoming can relay that being yourself is more important than being somebody, Director John Watts (director of the under-appreciated Cop Car with Kevin Bacon) and his crew of bright writers have succeeded. I don’t remember enjoying more such a focused, albeit young, Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tom Holland), whose emotional problems are those of any teen and not overly driven by angst over a girl, as Tobey Maguire so often portrayed.

While Peter experiences the challenges of teen love and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the film keeps it personal by having fewer explosions and more introspection. Emphasizing Peter’s existential responsibility to forge his own character makes this film a cut above even the estimable Wonder Woman

The spot-on humor is better than any other superhero adventure in memory, and I’m a big Deadpool fan. The difference is that Spidey humor is organic, emanating from the foibles and insecurities of a teen, while in Deadpool practically every other line is witty and seems the product of set pieces. In Spidey, for instance, Ned (Jacob Batalon) asks Spidey, “Can you summon an army of spiders?” That’s teen to teen with absurdity and worship as comedic ingredients.

In a fine bad-guy performance by Michael Keaton, playing Adrien Toombs, the writers give him the identity of Vulture, appropriate to an actor known for his portrayal of Birdman and reminiscent of Batman. Anyway, alluding to his most famous roles, the film has fun while enhancing the richness of the character.

At times it almost seems that Toombs is there to lend some gravity, albeit villainous, to the light-hearted proceedings. When he lectures his crew about the ruling-class indifference, he’s not just talking about Brooklyn; he’s referring to the world: “The rich, the powerful, like Stark, they don’t care about us! The world’s changed boys, time we change too!”

Spidey is not all laughs, however, for Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) tells Peter about adolescence while she unwittingly comments on his heroic burden: “You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Minions (2015) – Movie Review

minions

2013’s Despicable Me 2 has proved that people came back to this franchise for the striking popularity of the film’s comic relief characters, the Minions. So the studio basically made a spin-off mainly for them, which makes more sense than having these characters stealing the predecessor’s spotlight, thus leads to a result that can be good and mostly bad. It seems that the filmmakers don’t have much of a decent idea for the original character for a while, so it’s quite appropriate for them to stumble into these Minions while it lasts. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t find a compelling storyline for these antics to fit right through. While the gags are funny enough, it suddenly gets exhausting after a while. In the end, there is just nothing remarkable about it.

The Minions happen to be long-living prehistoric creatures that exist to serve any formidable master, in spite of their often incompetence. It’s a decent little origin story, even though we would rather assume them as an accidental science experiment. But this makes for a setup of putting them in desperation for having a boss after a number of failures of keeping them alive. Now that the actual plot enters the picture, the movie now takes place where supervillains are the ones who deserve them, with three of the Minions stumbling from one misadventure to another. The laughs are solid, though some can feel a little forced while some can be unexpectedly tasteless, but a joke works if the film actually finds an inspired humor within itself. But the main story itself doesn’t find any remarkable substance or any cleverness, at all. It’s just randomness after randomness, and it’s sometimes losing its steam until the film finally finds another occasional great joke again after ten minutes or so.

The comedic action on screen is undeniably enjoyable. The bright, playful visuals have always been helpful in these Despicable Me movies. The movie centrally takes place in a new environment and time, while adequately captures the era and location, though also making unimaginative stereotyping to the British culture, but anyway. Some dark humor sneaks in, as well, it gets a little too outrageous, but I believe it’s for the sake of establishing its world of villainy. The story eventually not gaining much of a center at all. These series of silly situations lead to the fate that we would all expect. Nothing more and nothing less. The voice acting is only impressive when it comes to the Minions, we all knew that already from the past installments. The rest of the cast are committed to go over-the-top as their characters are actually written.

In spite of extending the focus of these characters who are more popular than Gru, it’s still not quite a satisfying experience. Maybe the Minions aren’t meant to have a movie at all. It would have been a kid’s TV show being played in the morning or something. Or the story would have given itself more effort in sticking these comedic moments with coherency. It’s possible. Earlier this year, Aardman proved that physical comedy still works in this era of more verbal animated films and can be consistent in narrative. But the film seems too aimless to realize that. It’s only pandering the audience until they are interested with Gru again for the third Despicable Me, only if that sequel could offer more than this.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Robocop (2014) – Movie Review

When I saw that Robocop had been remade (or rebooted maybe?) my feeling was one of apathy. I have seen the original film quite some time ago now and for sure I wondered why they would remake something that is a shade over 25 years old, but I certainly wasn’t up in arms as if it was blasphemy – ultimately it is just another product to be sold and brand recognition is going to give you a good base to your marketing. This is also the reason it appears to have been remade – because the target audience really isn’t anyone over 25 years old.

The plot will be familiar to anyone who has seen the original film (and if you haven’t, you should) as we have a cop, near death, selected for a program of integrating robot drones with organic (human) material to make it more acceptable to be on the streets of the US as law enforcement. As a basic plot it has lots of opportunity for commentary, color, fun and excitement, because this is what the original had in spades. It starts well and it looks good enough to win me over early on and I did think “this is actually okay” – for a while. As the film went on, I was surprised by how little of everything there was below the surface. There was no commentary or satire in here, despite it being a massive open goal in terms of relevance today. However, this wasn’t as big a problem as the fact that there seemed to be no heart or spark to the film either; the plot felt flat, there was almost no sense of fun to it and for all the gun play, there was really no tension or excitement to it. Ignore the original, even on its own terms as a generic sci-fi action movie, it still didn’t work.

The effects and the production standards are high as one would expect, but director Padilha really doesn’t bring much grit or energy to the film. The focus seems to be all about making a safe product with no rough edges – and in this regard it achieves its goal, just making it bland as a result. The lead actor fits that mould and Kinnaman doesn’t make too much of an impression. This is perhaps not a huge surprise but it is a surprise to find that Oldman, Keaton and Jackson all are pretty much by the numbers too. Keaton in particular is no Ronny Cox and he never convinces. Oldman is at least reliable while Jackson is fun but has too little time and context to make it impact the wider film. Supporting turns from faces such as Jean-Baptiste, Williams and Dexter’s Garcia all provide distraction but are not used much beyond that. Haley is a good presence but not given the space to have real teeth.

Generally the film is bland and quite dull. It ticks its way through the plot checkboxes without ever really having much in the way impact, fun, thrills, satire or anything really. It is a product designed to sell, primarily off the back of the famous established brand, but also off the fact that there is really nothing in here that would offend any potential customers – the downside of this is of course that there is really nothing to be excited about either.

 

6 out of 10 stars

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) – Movie Review

Birdman is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (most known for the excellent “Amores Perros”) and stars Michael Keaton as Riggan, a washed up actor who used to play a superhero (Birdman) and wants to be taken seriously, which leads him to write a play for Broadway. In the midst of this, he is struggling to have a relationship with his daughter Sam (played by Emma Stone), and is forced to deal with an extremely demanding and overall hard to work with lead actor named Mike, who is wonderfully portrayed by Edward Norton.

As the title states, the film isn’t just about the making of this Broadway play. It’s about blockbuster movies, a superhero obsessed culture, it’s about pretentious film critics, and struggling to bond with your family. It’s about struggling to find purpose in your life. This film is a lot more complicated than a plot synopsis would have it appear, and the film and it’s messages, especially the ending, can be interpreted in thousands of ways.

Monologues are one of the first things that come to mind when I think about this film. Emma Stone delivers a seriously powerful one to Keaton, and Keaton delivers potentially the greatest monologue of all time (slight exaggeration, but one of the greatest) to a film critic. These monologues are a true testament to the ability of these actors and actresses. Like I mentioned earlier, Norton portrays the character of Mike extraordinarily well, in fact it might even be his best performance next to Fight Club. Keaton is amazing, much worthy of his Golden Globe win and his Oscar nomination, and Emma Stone is great, as always. It impresses me that these characters were able to remember their lines with such long takes. Speaking of which…

For those of you who don’t know, the whole film, besides the beginning and close to the end, is designed to look like one take. You can spot some places where they most likely used editing tricks to make it look like one take when really it was just a transition into another take, but other than that, the film is completely seamless. The one take cinematography makes you feel like you’re actually there with the actors, tagging along with them for the ride. “Rope” from Hitchcock pioneered this style, but Birdman nearly perfects it. This is truly a remarkable achievement in cinematography, directing, and editing.

The writing is fantastic in addition to all of this. With perfect comedic timing, excellent (previously mentioned) monologues, and just really good banter between the characters, the films kinetic directing perfectly matches the the energy of the writing.

The single flaw I have with this movie is the drum based soundtrack. It feels very out of place, and doesn’t have the same energy the rest of the film has. It kills some moments, but this is a very small price to pay for the scenes when it’s not playing, which are just incredible.

With wonderful performances by it’s excellent cast, a great comedic tone that blends perfectly with the drama, and some excellent direction, cinematography, and editing, this is a film that perfectly displays a mastering of the craft. The drum based score might be a bit “meh” but it’s a small price to pay for this profound experience.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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