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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
It's got charm, wit and style - just missing heart.
In Spider-Man's fifth appearance on the big screen they chose a very different approach for his character and it pays off greatly. Peter Parker is a humble teenager who just can't wait to be a superhero. His conflict is that he has been deemed by his hero and mentor,r Iron Man, as merely a "superhero in training". Taking influences from John Hughes movies of the past, Marvel tells a teen movie as best they can. The only issue is that it is too "super" to truly embody the spirit of John Hughes films. Director/writer John Hughes films succeeded because he so well understood the ethos of adolescence, from teenage insecurity to high school hopes and ambitions, John Hughes had an innate sense of how teenagers ticked and how to make his teenage characters emotionally relatable. Its hard to tell a story that is emotionally relatable when its about a teenage boy who has been recruited for something so great. It may be relatable to the likes of Lebron James, who couldn't wait to be drafted to the NBA out of high school, but for most audience members Spider-Man's conflict could come off as less-relatable - or at least less emotionally significant. And therein lies the biggest issue with this movie: it seems to lack heart. Spider-Man is driven by wanting to be taken seriously, by wanting to be a real superhero. In climatic moments his emotional motivation is just to not let down his hero Tony Stark - rather than being driven by any deeper personal commitments to loved ones or any intimate personal reasons. Its a main plot that does drive character development, but its so lightweight of an emotional anchor it seems like it would work better as a subplot. In some ways this is a nice change of pace for a superhero movie, but there are some scenes in which the film tries desperately to drum up emotion and hearken to the heart of the film, and its these scenes that just feel empty and shallow. But for the rest of the film its light on its feet. It is charming and Tom Holland and his supporting cast of teenage friends are a joy to watch. My only hope is that going forward they are able to find a deeper, more relatable emotional heart for Spider-Man's story.
CGI Action V Quality Storytelling
It's a shame this movie fails so profoundly at a storytelling level. It has a cast of good actors, although poorly directed, and some fantastic action moments, but the story, dialogue, and character arcs are so convoluted and disjointed it makes the action sequences nonsensical.
Before I criticize this movie's most basic cinematic failures further, I will say this, there are two awesome scenes in this movie. The first is Batman's infiltration of the enemy compound with choreography lifted straight from an "Arkham" video game. It gets close to some of the best Batman action on screen. Also, Superman's fight with Doomsday is nothing short of epic. In some moments it feels like a 90's Superman comic brought to life. Those two sequences were truly memorable moments on screen that I genuinely found enjoyable. It's just a shame that these moments are drowning in the sea of a poorly written, poorly directed movie.
At a very base level, this movie suffers from the same problem that Man of Steel did, which is character motivation. It's not clear why a lot of characters do what they do in that film or this. At times when character motivation glaringly needs to be addressed, a forceful beat will be thrown in that induces whiplash as it veers from the established narrative. This movie deals with misperceptions, manipulation, conspiracies, vengeance, and teamwork- all character driven concepts that are never established with much motivation at all. In fact the movie works hard to establish the motivation for the grudge match in between Batman and Superman, only for motivations to be switched, manipulated, and then discarded at the drop of a hat.
These terrible character arcs are done even more disservice by a disjointed, undeveloped plot. From start to finish this movie will have you scratching your head and even asking, "why did they put that in there?". There are countless misnomers, superfluous scenes, and straight up red herrings in the plot that are confusing and destructive to any semblance of a logical narrative. Jumps in time, dream sequences, subplot after subplot, and just random events with no exposition or explanation make this story as coherent as one of Jesse Eisenberg's speeches in the film. The existence of such bad plot and storytelling seems to be a product of the aforementioned flat character motivation. The plot tries hard to simultaneously create conflict and unity in between the two title characters, but it does so with the tact of a jackhammer, and the thoughtfulness of a goldfish. Add on top of that the countless other characters that are clawing for their own storyline and the mess just gets bigger and bigger.
The actors in this film do their best to make something out of nothing, that is make 3 dimensional characters out of 1 dimensional caricatures, but a bad script and poor directing leave all these actors out in the lurch. Jesse Eisenberg does make for an interesting performance as he combines a tad bit of Ledger's terroristic joker with an ADHD megalomaniac- but his performance becomes quickly tiresome as his actions continually beg the question of "why" and "what". Affleck is not the definitive Bruce or Batman as some may have buzzed. Instead he is a single note wrecking ball of vengeance that doesn't so much brood, but constantly boils with omnidirectional rage. Meanwhile, Cavil's Superman is a brick wall that, despite the brewing controversy over his god-like powers, is fixated only on Amy Adam's Lois Lane and an unrelated crime fighter named Batman in another city. At times Cavil's Superman addresses his public perception or the effectiveness of his heroism, but only as passing thoughts that almost seem out of place. Meanwhile Amy Adams is just bait for Superman, or at times convenient Superman apologist, and Gal Gadot's Wonderwoman is nothing more than a super-powered Deus ex Machina dropped from the sky that squashes any hope of this movie making sense.
At two and a half hours, this movie truly tests your patience as you try to follow the story, only to find that there isn't much a story at all to follow. The makers of this film were much more resigned to creating a seat-filling headlining bout and providing CGI spectacle than creating even the most basic of rational stories or characters. I once again can say, some of these action sequences are rewarding and greatly entertaining, but this enjoyment will quickly be pulled out from underneath you as the movie carries on and a character opens its mouth.
Is it Skyfall? No. But it's still one of the best Bond films
This film completes the genesis of the Bond world we knew before Craig, and there's good and bad that comes with that. Like Batman Begins, Casino Royale was a film that took an iconic franchise that featured more of a caricature than a character and gave them a grounded psychology. Casino Royale to Skyfall starred the great acting of Daniel Craig who took what has always been a two dimensional roll and gave it depth. From the beginning though, it seemed to be the goal of this reboot to connect the dots of new Bond to old Bond in some way. Why does Bond womanize, drink top shelf alcohol, fancy classy things, and get wrapped up with maniacal villains? It seemed that many of Craig's films were trying to find those roots in subtle and realistic ways, but what Spectre does is make the huge jump to bridge the rest of the gap. World controlling networks of villains, unstoppable henchmen, the elegant class in Bond's style, and a tight-knit MI6 that operates despite being an incredible liability are all classic Bond tropes that this film sets out to establish. In doing this, it loses a lot of the complex themes and character motivation the previous films had- a shortcoming that is inherent when trying to portray "classic" Bond. While trying to bridge the gap in between the two, it also doesn't take a leap far enough to completely feel like the campy but charming style of "classic" Bond. This can admittedly leave fans of either side wanting more.
After coming to terms with what the film is and isn't though, enjoying the film comes easy. The action set pieces are exciting, the plot intriguing, and the characters compelling. The film flows well, and appropriately keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. Don't expect any of the depth from Skyfall, it's just not there. But go to see all the traditional Bond tropes fall in to place as Craig edges closer to Classic Bond and starts living in the Bond world we all once knew.
The Wolverine (2013)
Enjoyment will depend on familiarity.
First and foremost I must say that I absolutely loved this movie. But as I will cover in my review it may largely be due to the fact that I have always held the source material of this film in very high regard. Having said that, I do recognize that their may be a sliding scale of enjoyability for this film. If you are a fan of the 1983 Claremont/Miller miniseries of Wolverine then this is the movie you have been waiting for. If you are fond of the character Wolverine and interested into delving deeper into his chronology and exploring his inner conflicts, you will certainly enjoy this movie. If however, you have no familiarity, or no desire to familiarize with the character of Wolverine, you may find yourself not caring about many of the slower moments and longing for a more evenly paced action film.
Fans of Claremont's Wolverine rejoice, this Wolverine does it right. The film does its best keeping characters intact while deviating from the comics in the sake of a self contained story and grander character development. There are several of the shots in this film that are near recreations of the comic's original panels, and although story lines have been shifted and shuffled in some places, its all there. Mariko, Yukio, Harada, Shingen and Viper may develop differently than in the comic series, but their relation to each other and contextual significance is intact. As a Wolverine fan it was also nice to see a meaningful relationship blossom between Wolverine and Mariko, unlike the comics where it really is love at first sight. Instead here Wolverine falls in love not entirely with the character of Mariko, but rather with the idea of being a protector, a take that is a welcome addition to the Claremont storyline. The characters of Silver Samurai and Viper undergo the largest facelift in this film, but it isn't entirely out of place. Let us not forget they were involved in the X Men issues directly connecting to the Wolverine miniseries. Although their characters have undertaken slight adjustments in order to incorporate ideas from the Fatal Attractions storyline, the plot does well to take from Wolverine's side of this storyline because it was one of the few times in the series where Logan did feel vulnerable. Many fans will recognize that the plot device and character of Master Yashida cannot be found in any of the original comics, but one must keep in mind it serves as a useful device to connect all the developments of Logan's journey. All in all I think its the best character study of Wolverine that any fan could ask for. Wolverine struggles with his animalistic urges and his commitment to reform, he grapples to find meaning in his endless immortality, and he ultimately finds purpose and resolution that he had not before. None of these developments are significantly or profoundly discovered, rather they are slowly revealed, which may turn casual movie goers off from enjoying this film. As a thoughtful exploration of Wolverine's character and a grand homage to incredible source material though, how can any Wolverine fan say no to this movie? It is the best X-Men movie and one of the best comic based movies.
For those who would not consider themselves fans, but are rather moviegoers intent on enjoying a superhero epic, be warned. This film is a character study, it does not grapple with any conflicts outside of Wolverine's internal struggles. The world is not being threatened, and not many lives outside of Logan's are even being threatened, so the storyline does not crescendo in epic suspense like the Avengers or the Dark Knight. So for those not invested in Wolverine's personal self discovery, some of the action can seem unmotivated and the pacing an obstacle to satisfaction. The film does its job in providing action sequences, but it intersperses several moments of symbolic soul searching, cryptic metaphors and relationship building that serve as pavement for Wolverine's self discovery. This movie can still be enjoyable without interest in Wolverine's inner conflicts however. With an outstanding supporting cast, a beautiful setting, and gripping and intense action sequences, it plays a lot like a token Bond film for those unfamiliar with Wolverine.
Whether you are familiar with the original comics or not, this movie will certainly provide entertaining thrills and intriguing themes. If, however, you are a fan of the original comic books, this film is a wonderful achievement.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Chaotic, frantic, and emotional with heavy handed imagery. Exactly how Gatsby should be.
I hadn't read any critic's reviews on this piece before seeing this movie, I finally did the right thing and saw a movie for myself without letting pretense, opinion or bias of another individual interfere with my experience. But going into the movie I did understand that many critics' reviews were not favorable. After seeing this movie I am absolutely baffled at how this could be so.
First off, this movie is a fairly accurate representation of the novel. All of the key moments of the book are left nearly intact and if changed they are simply subject of stylistic interpretation. Which brings me to my next point: stylistic choices. I can only assume this is where this film lost favor with the critics. The style of this film is gaudy, hectic and downright blurred with chaos at some points. I found this to be a wonderful choice for the film as it compliments the tone of much of the film perfectly. The editing shows great attention to pace as the film dazzles with decadent splendor, taking care with appropriate segues of narration, and drawing out pace as the film's mood takes a dive into desperation. At times the film nearly bludgeons the audience with emotion and it attempts to brainwash you with the novel's famous symbolic images, but this was something I expected, however, as this was the experience I recalled from when I first experienced the novel.
The performances are not without their notability either. The charming yet tortured character of Gatsby could not be portrayed by anyone better than Leonardo Dicaprio. As for Tobey McGuire, he conveys Nick Carraway's self conscious journey amongst the nihilistic American bourgeois in a careful and precise manner. I cannot imagine any two pair of actors playing these parts better than these two.
In the end I believe that anyone who is a fan of the novel will be a fan of this movie. This movie does not suffer from any fundamental film making short comings. If one finds fault with this movie its most likely because they are at a disagreement with some of the director's stylistic choices. Heck, it may upset people to hear hip hop so often interjected into a period piece, but as it cross-fades with many interesting jazz tunes it must be recognized as yet another stylistic choice. I sincerely appreciated the entertainment value as well as the artistic endeavors of this film. It conveyed a unique interpretation of the novel that I found emotionally poignant and thought provoking. The film maybe a gaudy blur, but in the end it accentuated the most memorable images and lines from the original novel and it reminded me why the Great Gatsby is an American classic.
The Three Stooges (2012)
The Three Stooges just how you remembered them
If you still watch the old Three Stooges Shorts from way back when and appreciate their humor, there's no reason you won't love this movie. The setting is contemporary, with iphone's and the jersey shore and what not, but this setting is only used to further punctuate the timeless humor of the stooges. All three actors who portray the stooges do a flawless job and make you actually forget that they are not the originals halfway through the movie. It's as if Larry, Curly and Moe have been pulled out of time and placed into today's society getting into the same type of trouble and running the same type of gags they always would. There really isn't a better way the Three Stooges could have been portrayed in this day and age. The Farrelly brothers do an incredible job doing the character of the Stooges justice, weaving a fantastic Stooge-esque plot and transporting these lovable nitwits into the present day. Heck the Farrelly brothers even made sure to include the classic title slides seen before every Stooges short. It's for this reason I give this movie an extremely high rating, not because it's a profound comedy, but because it had one goal: recreate the enduring humor of the Three Stooges, and with that goal in mind this movie overwhelmingly succeeds.
The Hangover (2009)
Funny with Friends
This movie certainly is a funny comedy, and deserves to be the comedy of the summer since no other film in its genre has yet to compete with its series of humorous events. But having said that, this movie seems to have gained a buzz that has transformed into a drunken mania. Filled with several WTF and OMG moments with quirky characters, this film leaves many reminiscing on their own drunken experiences with a great since of nostalgia and a thirst for their own crazy nights. In fact most members of the audience leave with one comment amongst their friends, "We need to go to Vegas". But behind the series of unfortunate and humorous events, when one analyzes the "Hangover" in sobriety, its not hard to see that its much like the movie, "Dude Where's My Car" but with a bigger budget. Perhaps when this movie is available for households and viewed far from the friends who remember those nostalgic party nights, some of "The Hangover" hysteria will fade, and sobriety will set in.