Category Archives: movies

Batman and Harley Quinn – A Review

batman-harley-quinn-2dI haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on ArkhamJustice League Dark and the second half of Batman: The Killing Joke. But everything else has left little impression on me. I miss the days of adaptations that brought different styles to each film, like All Star Superman or Wonder Woman. The new continuity driven films are stuck with boring stories and uninspired voice casting.

Considering my disdain for the Suicide Squad’s take on Harley Quinn, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of interest in this new entry. But, when I looked up pictures of Batman and Harley Quinn, I found myself getting excited. It looks like the WB years of The Batman Animated Series! They got Kevin Conroy back as Batman and they brought Loren Lester out of mothballs to play Nightwing! Wow! And Bruce Timm is involved? I’m back in, baby!

The biggest mistake I made with that excitement was actually seeing the movie.  I should have watched my dvds of the animated series or read a new Batman comic. Instead, I drove ninety minutes to the nearest theater showing the movie and saw what poison (ivy) can do to nostalgia.

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Batman and Harley Quinn doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s trying to be call back to the great, genre-defining show of the 90s. Sometimes, it’s wants to be the Adam West Batman show with the old cartoon’s setting. Sometimes, it wants to be a comedy. Sometimes, it wants to be a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited. Most times, it’s just bad.

As a comedy, it falls so flat you’d have to think it’s intentionally not being funny. Barely any jokes land and the ones that do are stretched out too far. Melissa Rauch plays Harley Quinn almost as a parody of the Arleen Sorkin. It’s a DOA portrayal, living in the same space of the original character but not breathing the same air. I’d be willing to accept it’s not Rauch’s fault though, as the writing is lazy throughout the whole movie.

Really, Batman and Harley Quinn is a shadow the 90s show, taking the goodwill from the past twenty years and punishing us for it. It makes me wonder if Bruce Timm isn’t as talented as I thought he was. Maybe, he needed all those other writers and artist to keep him from raveling in his inherent tackiness.

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We spend far too long in a dive bar with a bunch of extras, watching two twins sing “Don’t Pour Your Love” on stage, only for Harley to then do the same thing with “Hanging On the Telephone“. And, both songs are played in their entirety, because this movie is looking to waste as much time as possible.

The animation looks cheap throughout and closeups are worse. It really does look like a lazy episode of a cartoon from twenty years ago, if that was it’s intention, I don’t know what was. The ending is a dud, but, by then, what was I expecting? The whole affair can’t decided if it’s for adults or kids and is never fun for either. Considering that the 90s show did the whole thing better with “Harlequinade”, it’s hard to understand why anyone thought this movie needed to happen. There were no extra scripts lying around?

Look, if this is canon, I won’t accept it. I’m going to be unreasonable about this for the rest of my life. I’ve long ago said goodbye to the DC Animated Universe of old and I don’t need more of it in my life. Batman and Harley Quinn made sure of that by being the Superman: Braniac Attacks of it’s series. I won’t mourn again.

It’s Time for the Jurassic Park Movies to Go Crazy

jurassic-world-fallen-kingdomThe core concept of a dinosaur theme park that goes haywire has been done twice now. Both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World have done that story. Jurassic Park saw the park never open, while Jurassic World showed us why that was probably a good thing. Both are fantastic, the first being my favorite movie of all the time.

The problem is that you can’t open the park again. After two failed attempts, no one would go to that park again. It would stretch the disbelief a little too far. The Lost World: Jurassic Park came up with a good reason to get people back on the island, the idea that companies would try to pillage the remaining dinosaurs for profit or that our human curosity would be too much to not study them. Jurassic Park III, well, it’s certainly a movie, isn’t it?

I think that third film showed the problem with having a remote location to keep the dinosaurs locked away. I could watch people trapped on a dinosaur island every day for the rest of my life and never get bored, but you start running out of reasons to get them there. How many helicopters/planes/ships can crash with a crew of interesting characters who have skills able to keep them alive from Velociraptors? Five? Eighteen? It’s a finite number, I’m sure.

So, I think, you have two options. One is to set up permit residence on the island. Come up with a reason people are living on that island, despite the dinosaurs. That’s hard, because something has to go wrong, otherwise we’re watching Dinotopia, which would be my jam as well, but that’s it’s own franchise. In Jurassic Park, people have to get eaten. It’s important. To me.

The second option, which I would have never thought I’d be down for, is to let the dinosaurs loose in the world. And that’s what Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom sounds like it’s setting up, even if the “world” is just mainland military bases and neighboring towns. But, from there, the skies the limit!

What I’ve been thinking is that, maybe, it’s time for the franchise to shake up the status quo. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes was releases, it presented the apes that gain intelligence as a localized occurrence in the here-and-now. In order for it to be conceivable that the planet could become theirs, there needed to be another force to lower the human population and even the playing field. The Simian Virus in that rebooted series shrunk the human population, creating a dystopia where a few hundred intelligent apes were dangerous and becoming the dominate species.

Jurassic World introduced us to the idea of extreme genetic manipulation with dinosaurs, creating the Indominus Rex. In the sequel, it sounds like humans, specifically the movie universe’s now seemingly evil company InGenaren’t done messing with DNA. What if, in doing so, they ended up creating a virus like that in the new Planet of the Apes films. What if humanity is no longer plentiful and dinosaurs roam the earth?

91qbvjtsgl-_ri_I love that idea.

To be fair, I probably love that idea because it’s not unlike Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. You’d have a reason why a T-Rex could be loose in suburbia and we couldn’t stop it. Sure, those humans that are still alive have weapons, but the world doesn’t work the same way anymore. And humans are panicky primates. If you have an assault rifle and a Spinosaurus started charging at you, I’d be surprised if you didn’t start running, fully loaded gun and all.

How far should this world go? Makeshift cars akin to Mad Max? The toys alone would be fantastic! Domesticated dinosaurs?  We’ve seen trained raptors, so why not? InGen could still be around, maybe as a paramilitary force keeping most people under their charge. Sure, that would start to turn them into the Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil movies, but even bad movies can have decent ideas.

Yes, doing any of this would change the franchise forever. But, with a title like Jurassic World, the concept of going expansion is set. And change is good. It’s chaotic, it’s evolution. The plots would be forced to deal with the human characters and their motivations, while still including the prehistoric carnage these movies have always been so good at delivering. We’ve had four (and probably five) movies set in a slightly grounded dinosaur populated universe. Let’s go big.

Free Fire – A Review

free_fire_ver17Free Fire is an intense scene of an action movie, stretched out to ninety minutes. It’s a shootout that takes place entirely in an abandoned warehouse, between different and splitting parties. By extending that premise to a whole movie, director Ben Wheatley explores the fun you can have with a limited scope. Unfortunately, he also discovers the problems you can run into when your concept isn’t backed up by writing or imagination.

It’s the 1970s and we meet a whole bunch of gun traffickers looking to close a deal. Of course, things go wrong, bullets start flying and not everyone is going to make it out alive. That’s the premise and I’m not too sure Wheatley thought more beyond that. The movie feels trapped in the warehouse and not in a good or suspenseful way. There’s just not a lot to do or see once the killing starts.

The action in the movie never rises above fine. Guns fire and shoot people but that’s it. There’s never a great, inventive moment of violence. Yes, the movie is low budget but other cheap action films have found ways to impress. Because the shootout keeps the characters grounded and seeking cover, it’s all very impersonal. When one character shoots another, it doesn’t feel connected. If the gun play was there to simply move the plot along, that would be easy to deal with, but when the whole concept of the movie is based around bullets going everywhere, it wouldn’t hurt for a little style. Heck, most of the movie’s posters have more style! Even the seventies setting is really only there for costumes and lack of cellphones.

le2x3o9uopj1jmcmkfdkq7mdbxbThe dialog never does more than it needs to do. The only reason characters come across as likable is because we have some fun actors on hand. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy are the straight men of the assemble, playing relatively grounded characters. Sharlto Copley brings his unique brand of insanity and detachment to the screen. He’s not a fantastic character, but Copley injects the role with much needed uniqueness. Armie Hammer, for the first time in his career, impressed me. He plays Copley’s bodyguard and he’s a character with skill and poise. In a movie set in the 1970’s, Hammer is the only one looking to have fun with the decade. His character might be the only stylistic choice with any impact. If he could play more roles like that, I might not think of him as the blandest face in film.

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I imagine that blurb might have started with “It could have been…”

Free Fire is adequate. It’s an easy, uninspired way to pass an afternoon. But it’s not going down as a classic. Maybe a curiosity, or an example of how far you can stretch an idea without bringing real life to it. Free Fire isn’t as stylistic as Smokin’ Aces and the characters aren’t as “out of this world” as that film either. Free Fire isn’t as clever as Reservoir Dogs, the movie it’s most likely trying to ape. The dialog isn’t as biting and it’s missing a soundtrack to breathe life into the the void. In a world where John Wick is the standard for brutality, Free Fire comes across as rather toothless. The characters take hits, but when they start dragging themselves along the floor, the movies slows down with them. There’s a twist here or there, but nothing that affects the plot or how you feel about the characters.

I think given a better director, Free Fire could have been a new classic. The ingredients are all there, but most people can make cornbread if they follow the directions. What Free Fire needed was funny, clever dialog between more unique characters in between interesting gun play. If you’re staring at a TV and Free Fire is on, I’d say let it play. But it’s not something you need to seek out. Watch John Wick: Chapter 2 or Hardcore Henry instead. They bring new life into all that killing.

Dunkirk – A Review

debs36zvoaad9xrDunkirk is the most stressful movie I’ve seen all year. It starts with a ticking soundtrack, with a loud, drawn out retreat from gunfire and then doesn’t stop, even for a second.

The movie takes place during the evacuation of Dunkirk, in World War II before America became involved. Over the course of the film, we follow four stories; fighter pilots coming to provide air support, civilian ships coming to help with the retreat, soldiers trying to make their own escape and officers trying to get as many people off the beach as they can.

Director Christopher Nolan uses a time shift throughout the movie, switching between stories, which then gives us multiple points of views of the same events. It’s a technique that allows for the most stress-inducing ways to to watch the movie, giving Nolan the ability to go back and forth between near-death experiences by the minute.

screen-shot-2017-05-05-at-12-40-00-pm1All the performances are strong, with most actors going for a minimalist style. It helps with the desperation, that all of these soldiers are so worn out from waiting for the next bomb to drop that emoting is a thing of the past. Tom Hardy, one of the pilots we follow, is behind a mask the whole time, forcing the actor to express everything with only his eyes. I don’t think I realized how much Hardy could convey that way, even with his take on Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy’s story is also the one I found the most heart wrenching. His choices and story lead to some of the most inspiring and frustrating moments of the movie. Mark Rylance gets to show a little bit more emotion, playing a man just trying to do his part in a hopeless situation. It’s Cillain Murphy who gets to be the most emotional, though. Murphy’s a soldier who almost gets away from Dunkirk but, due to Rylance picking him off a sinking ship, has to contend with heading back in that very direction.

I should point out that I have no idea what Harry Styles looks like so I can’t say if he was good or not. Since no one gave a bad performance, I can assume he did fine. He doesn’t stand out for those of us who don’t have his poster on our walls.

596fbd94198d7-imageNolan has a a clear and widescreen eye and he films a war movie that looks unlike anything that’s come before. Where other films have made us feel as if we’re following troops on the ground, Dunkirk also shows how tiny someone can appear during these great events. At the same time, Nolan does create moments where we feel on the ground but it’s different than something like Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan. It doesn’t feel like we’re following the characters through these events, but that we’re experiencing them as well. That’s one of Nolan’s great strengths, creating immersive movies that feel like events rather than just a viewing. I was stressed because I felt like I was sinking with the ships, like I was avoiding being shot down.

Helping create that experience is Hans Zimmer’s score. While he does use more traditional music every now and then, Zimmer employs a constant ticking throughout the movie, along with an ostinato of strings that somehow seems to only ever speed up. Alone, the soundtrack would make you anxious. With Nolan’s film, it’s almost too much. And, while other Nolan films may suffer from weird sound mixing choices, they only add to the Dunkirk experience. Bullets sound unstoppable, water sounds crushing, planes sound like harbingers of mercy or doom.

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Dunkirk is a perfect movie-going experience, though not a fun one. It’s a movie that should be seen in theaters so that you can be fully immersed in it’s story, in it’s cinematography, in it’s sound. I don’t know how the movie will hold up during a second viewing, as I’ve only ever seen Inception and Interstellar once each. But Dunkirk should be seen, if only ever once, because it will be an experience you won’t forget, It’s one of the best movies of the summer and will probably end up being one of the best movies of the year. If this is the future of Nolan’s career, I can’t wait for his next film.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – A Review

valerianWe shouldn’t compare Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to The Fifth Element, even if director Luc Besson is behind both of these films.

We shouldn’t compare the two because The Fifth Element had lead actors we liked, like Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. Valerian, on the other hand, has Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne. Dehaan, who was compelling in Chronicle, is a black hole of charisma in this film. As the action lead, he’s a failure. Too young to be taken seriously, too much of a snot to be likable, Dehaan’s portrayal as one of the galaxy’s best soldiers is hilariously off mark. Delevingne, who you might remember as the shaking, shadowy non-character Enchantress from Suicide Squad, fairs betters in the film but not by much. She has a flat, no-nonsense delivery that helps some of the lifeless dialog seem planned that way. But, she too comes across too young for the type of character she’s playing. If I’m supposed to believe either of these two have the field experience to be given any of the responsibility they have in Valerian, then consider me unconvinced. The only time I had any affection for them was when the two were dressed like characters from Final Fantasy X. Then they changed clothes and I lost all my positive feelings.

valerian_and_the_city_of_a_thousand_planets-hdWe shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because that nineties film had an energy that felt more like a comedy than a drama. It’s almost a scifi Rush Hour and not just because of a manic Chris Tucker. Valerian’s plot moves at a snails pace but I still found myself forgetting what our “heroes” were doing or if it had anything to do with the plot. The movie’s second act is a huge detour from anything that matters to the story and, when it finally gets back to the main plot, I had almost forgotten the goals and problems I was supposed to be invested in. A good example of why we shouldn’t compare the two movies is how The Fifth Element has that famous opera scene that connects to main plot. In Valerian, we had a strip tease from Rihanna that has little to do with the threat to the city (of a thousand planets). Sure, Dehaan needs her help, but only because of a sidequest that’s taking up forty minutes of the movie.

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There’s not much more to say about Valerian. It was an exhausting film and not in the way that War for the Planet of the Apes left me ragged. I was bored after the first half hour and was never won back. Clive Owen gives a performance that left me feeling bad for the guy. None of the supporting characters, alien or otherwise, were charming. While I complained about the reason Rihanna’s character is involved, she’s has an energy that the film desperately needs but then ignores. The alien race we follow from the beginning is too noble to be interesting and too passive to connect with. The film’s opening of humanity greeting hundreds of new races to it’s space station, all set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is charming but false advertising for the rest of the movie.

Yes, we should support original scifi (even adaptations), especially the ones that get bigger budgets. But, when the results are movies like Valerian, it’s hard to fault studios for not wanting to fund one hundred and fifty million dollar films, no matter how pretty they are. We shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because we still talk about that movie and Valerian will probably not last in the public consciousness. Heck, this review is running short because there just wasn’t enough on screen to talk about.

All the complaints people had about the Star Wars prequels apply here. Technical aptitude over plot, archetypes over characters, and stilted dialog over, well,, human dialog. George Lucas was torn apart by fans. Yet, for some reason, I’ve seen people trying to give Luc Besson a pass because he tried something big and grand and failed in the process. Maybe they’re just fans of The Fifth Element. But Valerian is no Fifth Element. Let’s not compare the two.

George A. Romero – A Brief Retrospective

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When I first watched Night of the Living Dead, I was fifteen. I had only gotten into the world of zombie fiction earlier that year when I watched the first Resident Evil movie. The very concept of zombies was relatively new to me, and creeped me right out. Even with that fear, as someone who found the first Alien movie not scary or that great, I wasn’t expecting to be put on edge by an older horror film,  no matter the monster.

Watching George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead made me check my attitude at the door. It didn’t matter how old the movie was, it was still unsettling. The zombies were still creepy and only grew in number throughout the night. The building tension was just as palpable as I imagine it was at the drive-in during 1968. It also showed me what zombie fiction was really about, the living. The whole movie is a boiler because the occupants of the house are flawed, sometimes destructive people and just because there’s a horde of zombies outside doesn’t mean the survivors are going to work together. Technically, it’s an amazing achievement of budget constraints and independent film making. While aspiring directors may look to Scorsese or Tarantino for inspiration, what Romero did is both attainable and impressive. It helps that Ben is one of the great movie heroes of all time and the shambling extras make for convincing zombies.

gaylen-ross-david-emge-ken-foree-et-scott-hDawn of the Dead is all of that but bigger. While not as focused as the laser-sighted storytelling in Night, the sequel is great and stands on it’s own. Less frightening, its an examination of consumer culture, as well as the struggle to survive in a world that will never get better. The opening raid in the rundown apartment complex is brutal, but so is watching the relationships break apart. I’ve watched both Night and Dawn multiple times and they both bring something new to table with each viewing.

It was by luck that I came upon Day of the Dead on TV.  I was hooked by that creepy synth playing over the calls for any survivors during the opening credits. The story is maybe less focused and maybe the budget wasn’t up to the Romero’s vision. Taking place in an underground military base, the movie does have a sense of claustrophobia akin to Night. New to the table is the idea that zombies can be domesticated, maybe brought back from the brink. Of course, being the dark film this is, it doesn’t work out but the journey is still entertaining. The end is one of the best shock/relief moments of the series as well.

261025-1For my money, one of the most underrated movies is Land of the Dead. It made money at the time, riding the wave of growing zombie mania, and most critics liked it, but no one talks about it like the previous films. The focus on rich vs. poor in the undead landscape is just as depressing as the zombies themselves. And Dennis Hopper’s character, ruling over the high tower, might have been too ahead of it’s time. If this movie was released today, it would be considered a political attack on the current administration. Luckily, the themes are relatively timeless. And it has some of the most impressive zombie carnage the series has to offer.

Romero would go own to make more zombie movies, such as Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead and he has a whole career of non-zombie films that are worth checking out. But what I find so fascinating with the man is that he created a genre of film, of storytelling, and then used it to make the movies he wanted to create. Others might have decided to focus on the lore of these new worlds or made them into action films, like World War Z or the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. But not Romero.

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Romero wanted to tell stories about people, politics, race, consumerism and classism. So he told those stories, tricking viewers with zombie horror and gore. Creating a brand new genre wasn’t enough for him, he had to perfect it and show how many layers could be found within it. Heck, Night of the Living Dead could be done as a stage play and it wouldn’t lose anything in scale and would be just as compelling as Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Because of that, Romero made movies that will outlive him and remain watchable and timely. Because, while zombies may someday fall out of fashion, the ideas that fill his films will always be relevant. They’ll continue to inspire hopeful directors, writers and viewers. And they’ll continue to scare those who think age has weakened their potency.

War for the Planet of the Apes – A Review

apesposterRise of the Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite movie going experiences of the last ten years. I wanted to see it, but in no way did I think it was going to be good. Even when the reviews dropped, I had no real idea what to expect. I was taken aback by the movie. The “NO!” moment of Rise made my jaw drop, it was so shocking and thrilling. It was, and still is, a fantastic film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a stressful one, because everything you want to happen goes wrong. The conflict between the fading humans and “dawning” apes of the movie felt like it was tipping over for two hours and was intense with little relief. It’s an impressive sequel, and darker as well.

And with that we come to War for the Planet of the Apes. The first thing to mention is that this third film is bleaker than the last two. This isn’t a triumphant, crowd pleasing series topper. It’s dark, depressing and the light at the end of the tunnel feels dimmer than one might hope to see.

The movie opens with a battle between human military and an ape fort. The military is out to end the ape problem once and for all, hoping to kill the simian leader (and hero of the series) Caesar. When Caesar offers peace once more and things go wrong again, it’s time for treaties to end. Caesar gets selfish and, of course, things don’t work out and the rest of the movie is about Caesar trying to amend his mistakes.

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Did I mention the movie is bleak? It’s winter, so the movie is full of dead landscapes and gray skies. The world feels like it’s fading away. The people left alive aren’t the best humanity has to offer. Even the apes feel directionless, trapped between annihilation or all out war.

The movie also spends a lot of time in a military base that really brings the dark. Cages, work forces, fanatics with omega tattoos. Director Matt Reeves seems to be channeling his best Spielberg with this set, with more than one allusion to Schindler’s List. And that won’t be the last movie referenced either. The film is built off of the blueprints of The Ten Commandments, Apocalypse Now and True Grit. 

While Rise was a boiler and Dawn was an all out blockbuster, War is character piece. It’s a contemplative film, more focused on Caesar’s journey than an actual war. This might put some off, as there’s very little in the way of action set pieces, save for the opening and climax. Nothing on par with the apes escaping in Rise or the raid on the human settlement in Dawn. The moments of action we see are more harrowing than thrilling. While I liked the film, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that the series ends on smaller notes. But it resonates at the end, in ways that Dawn didn’t.

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Woody Harrelson is a scary guy in the movie. He’s crazy, sure, but he’s focused. He’s in charge. His life is violence and he’s made tough choices, even if he wasn’t forced into them. He’s a bit like Patton, a bit of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. He hates the newly intelligent apes, but needs them. Like Caesar, his mistakes might threaten his own people.

Of course, it’s Caesar who owns the screen. Ever since the first in this new reboot series, Caesar has carried these movies. Surrounded by character actors, Andy Serkis continues to be the most compelling actor on screen and makes Caesar a hero to root for. The work begun with Gollum has been refined to perfection. Caesar is now one of the great movie characters of all time.

ltxlrsiw1tvsuzmnv47lLike this year’s Logan, which left me depressed in all sorts of ways, War attaches itself to you and ruins your day. I don’t know how rewatchable a film like that is, as blockbusters don’t do that too often. The Hunger Games and it’s sequels had a stronghold for a while on depressing, big budget dystopias. The “fun” of Rise is gone in this third chapter and replaced with something that’s a bit more meaningful, but less enjoyable. It’s a movie that’s good for you, it tricks you into eating your vegetables with large scale storytelling and CGI apes. But you wouldn’t want to see this every weekend at the movies, it would be horrible for your good mood. A fun time? Not really. Recommended? Absolutely.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Review

spider_man_posterThe first Spider-Man movie came out in a day and age that has long past, one that you might not be able to recall. Spider-Man was a big deal, a massive event in theaters that got me to buy my tickets in advance for the first time. All the showings of it’s opening night were sold out. It was the post-9/11 movie we needed at the time. It was also fun and exciting and the first time the character had ever been on the big screen. It’s hard to put into words the energy that film created.

Now, that movie almost feels archaic. It’s a single, self-contained character story that takes place during the most important time in the hero’s life. Yes, it has plot-threads for a sequel, but when you look at the mess that is Amazing Spider-Man or it’s sequel, the first Sam Raimi film almost looks shy about presenting a sequel. It was a different world, one where a film had to actually be released and do well at the box office for it to get a sequel.

But we’re in a brave new world now! And while we’ve had many Spider-Man films since that first, landmark entry, we’ve never had a fifteen year old Peter Parker in a world of superheroes. So, now we have a Spider-Man who gets to interact with Iron Man and potentially join the Avengers. If he looks bad doing super heroics, it’s because other, better heroes have set the standard. And while Spider-Man: Homecoming tackles this, it’s not the area where the movie shines. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. are fun and quippy. But it’s where the movie feels less exciting.

spiderman-homecoming-3Peter was in high school for all of ten minutes in the first Tobey Maguire film and the Amazing Spider-Man failed to deliver on that front (as well as many others) even though it was greenlit for that very reason. So while it might seem like a repeat to put the kid in school, it’s not something we’ve actually seen in full effect before. And besides, it’s the story Spider-Man: Homecoming wants to tell anyway. The supporting cast in Peter’s life are memorable and funny and, if the series wanted to go that route, Marvel could set a whole film around just a week of Peter in school, no super heroics, and it would still be entertaining. I mean, I still turn out whenever a kid is bemoaning popularity status or attending parties, but that’s because I hate high school. But, I think that says something to the charm of the movie that I actually cared about Peter’s sophomore life, at least, most of the time.

It helps that Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker. He captures the youth, the enthusiasm, the awkwardness and the strength of the character. He does a great job being over his head and enjoying this new life at the same time. He likes being Spider-Man, which is an important part of the character that can be forgotten when responsibilities abound.

zendaya-in-spider-man-homecomingJacob Batalon’s Ned is hilarious and a great teammate for Peter. Zendaya’s Michelle has a promising future, made brighter by how many laughs she gets in a layered performance. Marisa Tomei doesn’t get the most screen time, nor does her Aunt May really shine, but she’s a pleasant addition. 

Really, the only character who the movie fails is Liz, Peter’s crush. I wish I could tell her more about her, but the movie didn’t so I’m at a loss. I think the shadow of Mary Jane looms over all the films that have come since and Marvel hasn’t entirely solved the issue just yet. Liz is nice, she’s smart, but she’s only there to be crushed upon. While the end of the movie does promise a solution to that, it doesn’t change the fact that we spent two hours with a character that doesn’t seem to matter to the writers.

Michael Keaton’s Vulture is… well, he’s fine. It’s hard to beat the scenery chewing of Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin or the visual splendor of Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. Keaton’s fairly actuate to the comics, visually frightening at times and physically up to the task of being the villain of the movie. But he’s not very interesting as a character and I was never waiting for his next scene. To be fair, in the comics, the Vulture is the second super villain Spider-Man ever dealt with and since we don’t want to see him go against the Chameleon or try to replicate the previous movies’ villains, he does make a certain amount of sense to include. If we have to stick to villains that haven’t appeared in films, I’d prefer Mysterio or Kraven the Hunter.

spider-man-homecoming-webbing-ferryThe action is never incredible, nothing in this film comes close to the train battle from Spider-Man 2 or even the crane rescue from the Spider-Man 3. But, there’s a kinetic energy to the scenes here and they move well. The idea in Spider-Man: Homecoming is that Peter is still new to all of this and not very good at the job. He’s got heart, but little coordination. What might normally be a car chase becomes a run through the suburbs. What normally would be a battle over a crowded ferry becomes an attempt to just do as little damage as possible. So, no, the action isn’t spectacular, but it works because Peter isn’t spectacular at being Spider-Man just yet.

My only other major gripe might not bother many other people. And it might be a minor spoiler, but I doubt it. The movie replicates a fairly iconic moment from Spider-Man comic history, one that Stan Lee wrote himself. In the comic, Peter triumphs because he thinks of all the people counting on him and everyone he loves. He can’t fail them. He overcomes a great challenge because his responsibility is great. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the scene is replicated from panel to screen, but the motivation is lost. Peter overcomes because he wants to be a superhero. He needs to prove it to himself. Normally, that would be fine as motivation, but for those of us who read Lee’s early comics, we know the scene has been done better. There’s a power to that moment that was lost in translation.

Other than that, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun time. It’s colorful, it’s zippy and it makes me excited to see this version of Peter Parker again. I know I’ve referenced the original trilogy multiple times in this review, but I do think this new entry is the first film to differentiate itself from what’s come before. It successfully stands on it’s own. It has personality, a vision and it makes for a pretty good Spider-Man movie.

Baby Driver – A Review

baby-driver-posterWho the heck is Ansel Elgort and why is he so entertaining? Because I don’t think I knew he existed until Baby Driver but that’s just one of many reason why I’m glad Baby Driver exists.

The movie is fast. It opens just as a bank robbery is starting and then immediately hits us in the face with the concept; crazy car chases set to an eclectic playlist of music. The first chase might be the best, but that’s not a knock against the the ones to come, just a comment on how the film starts at 90mph and doesn’t slow down.

It’s in this opening that Elgort’s starts with the charm as Baby, singing his favorite tune while waiting for the hired guns to do their work in the bank. It’s a wacky couple of minutes, with him throwing a personal dance party in the front seat of the car, but it’s delightful nonetheless.

From there, we meet the people that make up Baby’s world. The deadpan Kevin Spacey, Baby’s stepfather (grandfather? I don’t think I picked up on it), the adorable waitress Debora who finds Baby’s strangeness appealing, and a assortment of ne’er do wells who rob while Baby drives.

baby-driver-1It’s a fun movie with a lot of heart. The action is violent and R-rated, sure, but Baby has a conscience and it’s getting to him. He’d rather just leave with Debora and never look back, but he’s the best driver Kevin Spacey’s Doc can find, so it’s not so easy to get out of the business. In the midst of all the action and car chases, Baby tries to keep the body count low, sometimes to his own detriment.

I don’t want to spoil too many of the twists, though their fairly basic. Plot-wise, Baby Driver doesn’t bring much new to the genre. And that’s because it’s all in the execution. The car chases are choreographed like dances and I was constantly amazed by how much of it felt too chaotic to have been planned.

And there’s a shootout or two that have the same style. That shouldn’t be surprising for anyone who’s watched Edgar Wright’s The World’s End or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Both had crazy fist fights that felt more like dances than anything else. And while Baby Driver scales back the absurdness, it doesn’t skimp on the fun.

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Jon Hamm is good as a semi-father figure, semi-tragic crook but Jamie Foxx steals the spotlight whenever he’s on screen. He’s an intense figure and everyone else seems in danger by just being around him. There’s some scenery chewing, but Foxx uses it to great affect. You don’t trust his character, but you like him anyway. Spacey, on the other hand, uses his low-key, monotone take to steal small moments left and right. He has one of the best jokes in the film and it’s so quick you might not even realize how great it was.

So, to summarize and not break the spirit of Baby Driver by dragging on, the movie is great. It’s fast, fun and is reminiscent of the thrill that was Mad Max: Fury Road. I won’t be surprised when it’s on everyone’s Best of the Year lists come December. I also won’t be surprised when Edgar Wright’s next film is fantastic as well, since I can’t think of a bad movie he’s directed. So, go see the movie, tell your friends and lets keep this guy working.

The Mummy – A Review

the_mummy_poster_2What do we want with a Mummy movie? Do we want an action-adventure like 1999 Brendan Fraser movie? Do we want a horror film? Period piece or modern day? European, American or Egyptian location?

I ask these questions because I feel like The Mummy isn’t very itself. While the previous trilogy of films had a clear vision, that doesn’t mean it has to be the blueprint for a new movie. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t seem to have a blueprint of it’s own.

The film starts off well, once it gets past the cold open with Russell Crowe. We have Tom Cruise in trouble, stuck in a lost cause of a shootout. He discovers a tomb, is joined by a boring blonde, they grab a mummy and then the mummy’s curse starts messing with people.

Breaking the film down in thirds, the first is by far the strongest. It seems to have a vision, a hectic pace with both action and horror and it’s here Tom Cruise seems to be the most game. My appreciation of Cruise as an actor has grown over the years, in going back to his earlier work and enjoying some of his new output. These days, it seems like the he and the audience have the most fun when he’s getting beat up. Whether he’s being thrown around, punched, dragged, stabbed or chased, Cruise has a way of making his pain amusing and thrilling at the same time. I can’t think of another actor who’s as fun to watch get knocked around.

There’s some genuine horror that’s stylish and small scale. Even though the plane scene has been shown nonstop in all the trailers, it’s still a cool sequence and it’s actually creepier in the film itself. Cruise’s interaction with the movie’s mummy, played by a fantastic Sofia Boutella, is fun and flirty. He’s definitely over his head with this monster. There’s some early scenes at a church and later in a forest that fit a smaller scale horror movie that has some action to keep the excitement going. Unfortunately, the movie is soon derailed by it’s second act.

I mentioned needing a blueprint earlier and the one this movie decided to borrow was Marvel’s. Except, when Marvel made Iron Man back in 2008, they made a movie first and world-built second. If you re-watch Iron Man now, after all the Marvel films that have come after, it’s surprising to see how standalone that film really is. If there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe, that movie would still be self-contained, even with S.H.I.E.L.D. showing up to help the plot move along.

dr-jekyll-mummyThe end credits scene in Iron Man, with Nick Fury mentioning the Avengers Initiative, worked because it was short and not part of the movie proper. We get the tease and then can only speculate what’s going to happen in the future. Now imagine if, in the middle of Iron Man Nick Fury showed up and spent a whole act explaining S.H.I.E.L.D. and super heroes and how the world worked and… well, I guess we’d have Iron Man 2.

The Mummy has that middle chapter as Russell Crowe spits out exposition while trying to chew as much scenery as possible. As Dr. Jekyll, he’s fine, I suppose. He’s not as compelling as he was when playing Jor-El, but he gets the job done. As Mr. Hyde? Yeesh. Supported by neither compelling effects or accent changes, he’s a dead stop and the movie never recovers. Prodigium, this universe’s S.H.I.E.L.D. is dull, ineffective and wastes the time given to it. I have to believe there was a better movie here at one point, one with a more suspenseful and exciting middle chapter, but it’s not the one we’re being shown.

Maybe a different color pallet would have helped liven things up. As it stands, the movie is gray. Every location, even those that take place in the desert, are filmed in a gray hue. And I don’t mean to hue-shame, if that’s what’s in the director’s heart. But. when most movies, even Captain America: Civil War, have that unoffensive, neutral color scheme of parking lots, a little bit of red and yellow stand out. The Mummy goes for gray in all things; sets, skies, even Sofia Boutella is made-up in gray costumes and makeup. It makes for a dull picture, to be sure.

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The third act of the film tries to right the ship, but it’s already taken on too much water. If the movie had kept the tone set by the earlier reel, the smaller scale climax wouldn’t feel like such a letdown. After all that Prodigium exposition, we need more than the one-on-one conversation between hero and villain. There’s a brief moment when the movie seems like it’s going bigger, but it just equates to flying glass and a bus stunt (flying debris hasn’t been exciting since the car chase in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). If the movie had stayed the course, all of that would have been a cool raising of the stakes. And then, when it went back to the the more personal ending, it would have fit with what came before. Instead, we have a movie that crawls to the finish.

The Mummy is disappointing. Disappointing in terms of what the franchise has been before, in what it could have been and, since we already know Universal wants a spanning franchise of monster films, disappointing in what’s to come. I would love a bunch of new Universal monster movies but this does not leave me with hope. Maybe, if the next film downplays or completely ignores Prodigium, we can have a more standalone movie. Maybe Bride of Frankenstein will have it’s own tone and style. Maybe general audiences won’t connect this movie with The Creature of the Black Lagoon. Maybe Universal will change that stupid Dark Universe logo.

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