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Spider-Man: Homecoming – Review

15 Jul

It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached our 16th Marvel movie, and it’s finally one that stars my favorite superhero of all time: Spider-Man. In Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland was introduced as Peter Parker, also known as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It was really exciting to see a new iteration of the character that wasn’t awful (Yes, I’m looking at you Amazing Spider-Man). Now, Holland’s back and he’s front and center in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I have to say, I love the Web Head, and this was a really good movie that’s here to kickstart his own series of stand alone films. In that way, it works really well and I can’t wait to see it again, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in the end result.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) seems like a mild mannered teenager just struggling to fit in at school. His best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), is socially inept but lovable, but what Parker really can’t get his mind off of is Liz (Laura Harrier), the girl of his dreams who he fears he doesn’t stand a chance with. Seems like pretty normal stuff for a guy his age, but after school he also fights crime in anyway he can as the superhero, Spider-Man. He can’t seem to get too far in his crimefighting endeavors with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) constantly on his case about his safety and how his abilities have progressed. Things get even riskier when Spidey finds out that Chitauri weaponry is being sold on the streets of New York, and the culprit is one Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture (Michael Keaton). Peter is determined to get these weapons off the street and stop Vulture, but despite his good intentions and will power he still doesn’t have the full range of his powers nor his suit, which will make this particular mission very difficult to accomplish.

I had really high hopes going into this movie just because my favorite superhero was finally getting a proper MCU treatment, but also because of all the rave reviews I was hearing about from screenings before the official release date. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me and think I thought the movie was bad. That’s simply not the case, and I’d go so far as to say it was really good. Let’s get the negatives out of the way immediately so we can get into the good stuff later. My biggest complaint is that a lot of the story focused on Peter’s school. I understand that Spider-Man is a younger hero, especially compared to some of the other Avengers (that means you, Cap), and it is a good idea to show his interactions with kids his own age. All of the actors were very good, but it just wasn’t nearly as interesting as what was happening with Vulture and the Chitauri weapons. I’m also not thrilled when superheroes in their films don’t have full control over their powers. I know this is Spidey’s first film in the MCU and he has a lot of growing to do, but it was such a tease to see him webbing all over New York while I was thinking he was capable of so much more. I will say, however, that I’m excited to see the character evolve more in the movies to come.

Now that we got the negatives out of the way, it’s time to have some more fun. Let’s start with the cast. Tom Holland is clearly the best choice to play a young Peter Parker. He’s full of the nervous energy that defines Peter, but once you get him in that Spider-Man suit, he all attitude and brimming with that lovable arrogance that only the Web-Slinger could pull off. There’s also scenes that get pretty heavy on the drama and Holland also manages to pull those scenes off with relative ease. At this point, there really is no one else for this role. He completely owns it. Michael Keaton as Vulture was also unsurprisingly great, but what is surprising is just how well rounded Vulture was. The MCU doesn’t always have the strongest villains, especially since Loki in the first Avengers movie. Keaton gives what could be the best villain performance since Hiddleston. His character has some real depth and understandable motivation, but that motivation could have certainly been explored just a little bit more. Who surprised me the most out of the whole cast was Jacob Batalon as Ned. He had some of the funniest lines in the movie but he wasn’t there solely for comedic relief. He actually got into the adventure with Spider-Man/Peter Parker and it made his character all the better for it.

Let’s get to the action, since that’s something these movies rely so heavily on. Is the action in Homecoming fantastic? Sometimes. It definitely has its moments, but like I said before, Spidey doesn’t have complete control of his powers yet. Vulture’s suit does look awesome in these sequences though, and Jon Watts does have a good eye for directing large action set pieces, which is certainly not an easy thing to do. Adding to the pleasing aesthetics of this movie is Michael Giacchino’s excellent score that fits every piece of action, drama, and comedy perfectly. I’ve always liked Giacchino’s work and this entry into his catalogue is extra impressive. Finally, we have to take a look at how this movie fits in with the others of the MCU. Well, to put it simply, it fits very well. Tony Stark being in the movie works great, but the character that really pulled me into the world building even more was Happy. He provided some excellent comedic relief and also helped push the overall story of the MCU forward. This movie doesn’t just get me excited for more Spider-Man movies, it also gets me pumped for whatever comes next in this universe we’ve all gotten so attached to. Finally, and without spoiling anything, keep an eye out for some of Spider-Man’s most iconic villains that share some screen time with Vulture.

Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t quite the movie I wanted it to be. It focused a lot on Peter’s high school life while I could’ve used a bit more with the villains and their evil schemes, and even some more time with Tony and Happy. This is Spider-Man’s first feature length movie in this universe, so I understand the character building, but it didn’t excite me the way I wanted it to. Luckily, Tom Holland and Michael Keaton’s performances were outstanding and the action sequences along with the music were as thrilling as they could ever be. The Wall-Crawler definitely has a good future in front of him in terms of the big screen and I can’t wait to see the next installment.

Final Grade: B+

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Review

3 May

Sure, this is only going to be the biggest movie event of the year. No pressure. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become one of the biggest money makers in the last decade, and you can see why. Because it’s so fantastic, you can’t help but love it. Anyway, it’s time to talk about the movie that I’ve been most excited about for the past year, Avengers: Age of Ultron. After almost completely destroying New York City in the first film, there was a lot that had to happen in this movie to make it really stand out, and of course a lot of people have been saying it’s underwhelming. To those people I ask, what movie were you watching?

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After everything that’s happened since the last film, the Avengers are reassembled to finally reclaim Loki’s scepter from a HYDRA outpost. After calling the mission successful, the team is faced with an entirely new problem. Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) artificial intelligence program that has been in the works becomes fully aware and takes on the form of the arch villain Ultron (James Spader).  After seeing the fallacies of the human race, Ultron begins his plan to enact a mass extinction so the species can hopefully evolve into something better, but that doesn’t sit well with the Avengers, and it’s up to them with the help of a few others to end the Age of Ultron.

I sometimes feel the need to say this, and this is definitely one of those times. That was a very difficult summary to write, and I know for a fact that I didn’t do it justice. Let’s face it, so much happened in this movie. Like a ridiculous amount compared to other movies, but what do you expect? We’ve all come to love these characters and really care about what happens to them, and now they’re all in the same movie once again. This time, however, Joss Whedon takes the characters and gives them more to do and more of a backstory for us all to appreciate. Another big plus that really stands out is that Hawkeye gets way more to do in this movie, and in fact has become one of my favorite characters.

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As with the other film, the writing in this movie is spot on, but it’s also where my only complaint really arises. James Spader does an excellent job as Ultron. They really couldn’t have found a more appropriate voice. The thing is, is that he was too funny. I would have loved to see a much darker villain, but it was almost as if they were substituting him for Loki. Loki was funny and it was appropriate. I can’t really say the same for Ultron. Still, the humor everywhere else was great. All of the characters interacted with each other very well, and you could tell that they’ve been working together for a while. Even secondary characters from other movies were written in and written in well. These additions of other characters makes Age of Ultron feel like the biggest Marvel movie yet.

While this movie is very funny, it also works great with the dramatic aspects. Sure, there’s more than enough action, chases, explosions, and destruction, but what may be even more interesting than that is what happens to the characters. We see more of their private lives and what makes them tick and where they all came from. Even Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch get great backstories which makes the audience actually care about them. If they succeed at their mission, we feel great, but if someone gets injured or dies, we’re going to feel that pain as well. This is what really makes these Marvel movies stand out amongst summer blockbusters. The characters, no matter how fantastic they are, are so three dimensional and solid that we really do care and want to see them succeed.

To put it simply, Age of Ultron may not be as great as the first film, but still it’s an amazing movie. It felt so great seeing all of these characters come together again to duke it out against Ultron. What I want people to take away from this review is that these Marvel movies are about the characters. The action and special effects in this movie are amazing, but what really hits home are the Avengers themselves. I not only loved watching this movie, but I loved the feeling of excitement that came after when I began thinking about what was next. What a great way to start the summer movie season.

Iron Man 3 – Review

8 May

It’s so nice to see old friends again, granted the old friends I’m talking about are characters in a Marvel movie. But you know what, I don’t think that’s so weird. Through all the Iron Man films, I’ve grown really attached to Tony, Pepper, James, and even Jarvis. Here they are again, all returning for the highly anticipated Iron Man 3, the kick starter of the summer movie season. If this movie is any indication of what the summer’s going to be like, then it’s gonna be great overall, with a very punishing disappointment…

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Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) hasn’t been doing so well since the events of The Avengers, which makes a lot of sense since he went into a wormhole to set off a nuclear bomb and save New York City. The stress and anxiety has also took a toll on the love of his life, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), who can’t seem to take the nervous outbursts and distance of Tony. Their world literally seems to come crashing down with the threat of a new global terrorist, the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), as bombs begin detonating all over America. Tony wages a one man war against the Mandarin, only to realize that his past is back to haunt him in the form of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who adds another layer to the Mandarin threat that no one could have expected.

I could start with what I really enjoyed about the movie and how it had some of the best moments than any of the Iron Man movies to date, but I think I’m going to start with something else. Yes, this part will contain spoilers, but it is absolutely essential for me to get this off my arc reactor.

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Ok, so halfway through the movie, Tony Stark finds the Mandarin’s hideout and goes there to kick some terrorist ass. Cool, right? The first meeting! It would be cool, except it turns out that the Mandarin is some low life, junky actor hired by Aldrich Killian to distract the powers that be from his nefarious plot. So… the Mandarin’s a joke? Is that it? He’s not real? Killian’s not the Mandarin, although he has some traits that can be attributed to the Mandarin. The real one isn’t real at all. What in the world were they thinking? At first I couldn’t take this. It was all just too much to handle, but as the movie went on I kinda got used to it and thought it was a little clever. There’s still this taste in the back of my throat that I just can’t get rid of whenever I think about how the Mandarin gets treated.

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The rest of this movie is really intense, though. In fact, I’d say this is the most intense Avengers tie-in to date. There are parts in this movie that really pull on your heart strings and remind you how much you really care for these characters. I can guarantee you that you will forget how to breath during a couple of Iron Man 3‘s more intense moments. Shane Black is an accomplished director who has a knack of creating action films that are charged with humor, his most popular being the Lethal Weapon series. My personal favorite of his is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This movie is loaded with humor, even at the heaviest of moments just to remind us that Tony has it under control.

But he really doesn’t have it under control. The most effective scenes are the intimate moments of weakness that we very rarely see with Stark. The past three movies that he’s been in, he’s been the overconfident one who knows how to handle a situation. In Iron Man 3, there were times where I really didn’t think he was going to make it through this whole thing ok. That’s what makes this movie so good. Stark’s character is built to such a degree that I’m really curious where they’re going to go from here.

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Is Iron Man 3 better than the first? It just may be, if not, it’s very close. There’s only one glaring, obnoxious problem in the movie that I’m still very unsure of. The rest of the movie is top notch summer entertainment. I can’t really let one thing bring the entire movie down. Proportionally, that just doesn’t make sense. As a start to the summer blockbuster, it’s great and puts me right in the mood for the new Thor movie. Let’s keep these superheroes coming.

 

A Scanner Darkly – Review

14 May

Living in a world where our every move could be closely monitored by the government without our knowing is a terrifying concept. For all we know, this may be happening already. I could be under surveillance as I sit here writing this review. Then again, maybe I’m just being paranoid; moreover, this paranoia is the essence of A Scanner Darkly.

Seven years into the future, nothing is secret and everything is questionable. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a police officer working deeply undercover amongst a group of junkies addicted to a new drug, Substance D. These junkies consist of the clever and possibly homicidal Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), the spaced out loser Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), the paranoid Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), and the dealer of the group Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Soon enough, due to a suit that hides the officers identity while at the precinct, Arctor is assigned to spy on himself, and deal with the junkie turned informant, Barris. As this vicious conundrum of identity and trust keeps unraveling, Arctor soon beings to lose control of who he is due to “cerebral cross chatter” and the other effects of Substance D.

The initial main drawing point of A Scanner Darkly is the bizarre and intriguingly surreal animation. After the film had been shot it was than edited over a period of 15 months using Rotoshop, which the director, Richard Linklater, had used in a previous film, Waking Life. This stunning use of animation gives the film an other worldly feel that I’ve never experienced before with a movie. It was realistic, than at the same time, was artificial.

With films like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting, the theme of drug addiction and withdrawal is not new. What A Scanner Darkly does differently is explore this theme with a deeper level of subtlety. The film doesn’t use eerie music or impressive camera techniques to make the viewer uncomfortable. The Rotoshop animation helps, but what I feel is the driving force of paranoia is the way the story is told. Up until the very end, the viewer has very vague impressions of what is real and what is not. The story is expertly told from both the sides of the police and the junkies, so when these worlds collide, it’s enough to make your brain split down the middle.

This story is definitely classified as science fiction, but a lot of what occurs in the film is funny. Robert Downey, Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are fantastic at playing the three most paranoid characters I may have ever seen. The way these characters handle themselves using the backwards logic of drug use is very entertaining, yet in no way condones the use of drugs.

The government in this semi-futuristic society only adds to the paranoia backing up the film. Sure, the characters are nervous, but shouldn’t we be just as nervous? I can honestly say that I have no idea just how deep the government, the FBI, the CIA, etc. can probe into the lives of everyday citizens. I wouldn’t call my uncertainty fear, but I would say that there is a good chance that we very well may be watched by “Big Brother” sometime in the near future.

I love how everything about A Scanner Darkly relates back to paranoia. The psychology behind Arctor, the drug abuse, and the overpowering government are incredibly fascinating.  As a film, A Scanner Darkly succeeds in making the audience feel strange and nervous, all while telling an intricate narrative. I’m definitely interested in going out and finding my own copy of Philip K. Dick’s original novel, which this story is based on, and seeing how Dick tells the story. For now though, I highly recommend A Scanner Darkly. It is a fantastic film.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Review

25 Apr

Unfortunately, there really is no way for me to say this next statement without sounding like a pretentious douche bag, but I’m going to give it a shot because it has to be said to preface the review for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. I’m absolutely sick and tired of the predictable, humdrum, and fearful styles that film makers implement nowadays, especially the Hollywood types. These familiar structures that are seen in many different mainstream movies are boring if not completely unoriginal. It takes a truly bold and talented film maker to take these conventions and manipulate them into something totally different. Shane Black does this with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and at the same time, mocks the overused mainstream formula.

As far as petty thievery goes, the world has seen better than Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.). When one of his attempts ends up with the police hot on his tail, he finds his escape through an audition to be in a Hollywood movie, and is actually considered for the role. He is flown to Los Angeles and put under the wing of Private Investigator Perry van Shrike, nicknamed “Gay Perry” (for reasons you can probably guess, in order to prepare for the upcoming role. He is soon mixed up in a bizarre web of crime involving a millionaire producer and his daughter, and the lovely girl from back home, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan).

Shane Black is most known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies and is arguably one of the forerunners in the modern day action scene, although he went awhile without making a film. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is his directorial debut, and it is clear that he has talent in both the writing and directing areas of film. The dialogue in this film is quick, witty, and sarcastic from beginning to end. Some of the humor is easy to pick up on, and some requires the viewer to be paying attention to get the joke.

As I said before, this film exists to entertain the audience, but also to call out modern film conventions and formulas, and make a mockery out of them in a clearly tongue-in-cheek way. From the get go, Harry Lockhart establishes himself as a terrible and completely unreliable narrator by forgetting something important to the story and needing to go back or simply by saying that a certain scene seems unnecessary. This film is also very self-aware in the way that a few characters talk to the audience and give them advice. It’s a really funny tool used by Black, but these are just a few ways this movie plays with certain formulas. This film also succeeds in calling out the Hollywood/Beverly Hills culture and making a joke out the way these people live, and the ruthlessness behind the film industry.

In certain sections, the film tries its best to be really cool, in the sort of Ocean’s 11 or Snatch kind of way. Unfortunately, this is the area where the movie is pretty weak. This film tries really hard to belong in that subsection of crime films, and it doesn’t really work very well. I went into the movie expecting something like the aforementioned movies, but got something totally different. Luckily for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, what I got instead was just as good, if not a little better, than what I was expecting, even though it had the potential to fall flat on its face.

The chemistry between Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer is fantastic and makes for some exceptionally hysterical bickering. This helps the audience sort of keep their head on straight and laugh while trying to make their way through the way too convoluted plot. I really enjoyed all of the scenes in the movie, but I don’t feel like I completely can wrap my head around everything that happened in the movie. There are so many twists and additional plot points that happen and the pace of the movie is so quick, you have to be paying very close attention to the characters and situations in order to firmly grasp the plot.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang may be convoluted and tries to hard to be cool, but the comedy, dialogue, and characters hit a home run and make this film a fantastic piece of self-aware entertainment. For anyone who is sick of the repetitive formula of most Hollywood films or if you just enjoy snappy wordplay, then Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is right up your alley. It’s are really good movie that I can’t wait to watch again!