Friday, October 06, 2017

BLADE RUNNER 2049: Even More Of A Slow Burner Than The First One

Now playing at multiplexes from here to the off-world colonies:

BLADE RUNNER 2049

(Dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2017)


Now, for a long time I didn’t think that there would actually be a sequel to BLADE RUNNER. But then, I didn’t think there’d be more episodes of Twin Peaks, more PLANET OF THE APES movies, or another GHOSTBUSTERS, or…well, you get the idea.

So, yeah, I should know better than to discount what the studios might still consider viable commercial properties. So here’s the long-awaited BLADE RUNNER 2049, coming 35 years after Ridley Scott’s original, but, wait, it’s actually more the follow-up to the DIRECTOR’s CUT that was released in 1992, or maybe it’s the sequel to the 2008 FINAL CUT.

There has been much debate as to which version of the first BLADE RUNNER is the definitive one (we can disregard the International Theatrical release, the US Broadcast version, and the Workprint), mainly because there’s an argument as to whether or not the protagonist, Rick Deckard (Harrison ford), is a replicant (a human-like robot, for those not in the know), and which version confirms this (or not).

Denis Villeneuve (PRISONERS, SICARIO, ARRIVAL), working from a screenplay by Hampton Fancer, who co-wrote the original with David Peoples, and co-wrote this one with Michael Green; posits a new LAPD Blade Runner named K played by Ryan Gosling, who’s trying to solve a mystery involving a box he found on a mission full of the bones of a replicate.

The film tells us right off that Gosling’s K is a replicant, who may be a little conflicted about having to retire his own people as we learn in an opening fight scene with Dave Bautista (Drax in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies) as a runaway replicant.

Through some detective work, with his boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) breathing down his neck, K discovers that the remains belong to a replicant named Rachel, who died in childbirth. That’s the same Rachel – the replicant played by Sean Young that Deckard fell for and left Los Angeles with for greener pastures at the end of the first one.

Meanwhile, we see K’s homelife where he interacts with his love interest, an electronically produced hologram named Joi played by the fetching Cuban actress Ana de Armas, who really breathes a lot of life into this project. At one point, Armas secures a prostitute (Mackenzie Davis) for K so that she can engage with a surreal threesome with him.

By this point, one is probably wondering ‘what about Deckard? Where’s he?’ Well, get comfy as BR 2049 is two hours and 43 minutes and it’s well over half the movie before it gets to Ford.

In the meantime, we meet Jared Leto as the sinister yet zen-like Niander Wallace, who’s the films equivalent to the original’s Dr. Tyrell as he took over the corporation from him; Sylvia Hoeks as Wallace’s killer servant Luv, Carla Juri as Dr. Ana Stelline, a designer of the implanted dreams in replicants’ minds, and Lennie Jame as Mister Cotton, who runs a child labor camp, and helps K find Deckard.

K is led to believe that he may be the son of Rachel and Deckard, as there’s a memory of a wooden horse that he previously thought was implanted, but the date carved in it is his birth-date which is the same date carved in the tree where Rachel was buried.

Ford’s Deckard finally gets his screen-time in the last third, and it’s the lovably gruff, grumbling, rough and tumble performance we’ve come to expect from the 75-year old icon. It’s a shame he couldn’t have entered the movie sooner.

When I was 12 and saw the original BLADE RUNNER – the 1982 theatrical release – I wasn’t a fan at first. I found it to be very slow, dreary, and I disliked Deckard’s drab demeanor (I was expecting something more along the lines of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, I guess), but with repeat viewings it really grew on me. The 1992 DIRECTOR’S CUT really won me over, and I also loved THE FINAL CUT, though I’d be hard pressed to list what were really the crucial differences.

Upon seeing the trailers for this sequel, I knew one thing - even if the film is a disappointment story-wise, it’s was going to look amazing. And, sure enough, it looks fantastic. Cinematographer Roger Deakins’ Oscar worthy visuals beautifully capture Dennis Gassner’s production design which expands on the definitively dystopian world of the original, adding the vast orange vistas of the deserts outside of LA, and the gorgeously lit lairs of Wallace’s opulent palace.

You’ll have plenty of time to luxuriate in those sets, as the film stretches out for long sequences, between what few action scenes there are, where K is flying or walking through them to get to his various destinations.

While the visuals expand on the look of Deckard and company’s world, the narrative doesn’t expand much on the idealogy of the world Phillip K. Dick created in his 1967 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” because Fancer and Green’s screenplay predominantly focuses on circling back on the events of the previous installment.

Also circling back is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch jars throughout with otherworldly pulsing electronica that re-purposes the main themes of Vangelis’ soundtrack for the first one.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 has moments that are eye-poppingly immersive yet it also has moments that are dull as hell. 


To fully embrace the experience, it will definitely help to be a fan, or have at least seen the original. But it’s even more of a slow burner than the first one was. If you saw the original (or any version) and thought it was boring, then this one will bore you even more.

But Overall, Villeneuve’s take on the BLADE RUNNER is a fascinatingly flawed anti-epic that should delight the casual and the hardcore largely because it’ll give them something new to talk about.

However it
s received, I bet that decades from now, there’ll be a different version (BLADE RUNNER 2049: THE FINAL CUT perhaps?) that we’ll all probably prefer.

More later...

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Derivative AMERICAN MADE Gets By On Tom Cruise’s Confused Charm

Now playing at a multiplex near everyone:

AMERICAN MADE (Dir. Doug Liman, 2017)



Let’s be honest - this movie has been made many times before. It’s the GOODFELLAS model of a cocky guy who does corrupt things to get the good life, while his wife on the side initially disapproves, but then is wooed by all the money coming in. This all, of course, ends badly, but not before some flashy montages stuffed with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and some comical scrapes with the law.

AMERICAN MADE’s subject Barry Seal, buoyantly played by Tom Cruise, has even been portrayed five times before - mostly on the small screen by Dennis Hopper in the TV movie DOUBLECROSSED, by Theddeas Phillips in an episode of the Spanish language series Alias el Mexicano, by Dylan Bruno in an episode of Narcos, and by David Semark in the mini-series America’s War on Drugs.


Just last year, Michael Paré had a supporting part as Seal in the true crime thriller THE INFILTRATOR starring Bryan Cranston.

So yeah, Seal’s story has been touched on just a little bit.

We meet Seal here as a bored TWA pilot in the late ‘70s who is recruited by a smooth, scene-stealing Domhnall Gleeson (EX MACHINA, THE REVENANT, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS), as CIA operative Monty Schafer, to fly reconnaissance missions in Central America to collect counter-intelligence. Since when he tells his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) the name of the company he’s been offered to work for is called IAC, which stands for “Independent Aviation Consultants,” she says “that sounds fuckin’ made up,” he keeps his new job secret from her.

On one of his missions he is approached in Panama by the Medellín Cartel, made up of Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and Carlos Lehder (Fredy Yate Escobar) and Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía), to smuggle cocaine for them from Columbia to Louisiana. This results in one of the film’s most thrilling sequences in which Cruise, who did much of his own flying stuntwork (of course he did), has trouble clearing a short jungle runway and almost crashes into the trees.

Seal gets into running guns for the Contras and is given his own remote airport in Mena Arkansas, where he hires several pilots to help him on his many missions. There’s always got to be a slimy character that may screw up things for the wheeling and dealing lead and it comes in the form of Lucy’s brother JB (Caleb Landry Jones).

SP Seal has to contend with that along with the DEA, CIA, the Contras, the Sandinistas, and the Reagan White House, where we get cameos by Oliver North (Robert Farrior), and George W. Bush (Connor Trinneer).

While AMERICAN MADE, written by second-time screenwriter Gary Spinelli (the little-seen STASH HOUSE was his first), recalls the formula of the aforementioned GOODFELLAS, and covers the same ground that the also aforementioned THE INFILTRATOR, SICARIO, WAR DOGS, SAVAGES, and especially BLOW did, it’s an enjoyable romp that features Cruise’s most invested acting in ages (take that, THE MUMMY!).

Cruise delightfully puts a cynical spin on his TOP GUN persona of old, and carries the movie with his charm even when he’s mostly confused about how in over his head he is.

It may be an overly familiar ride that plays fast and loose with the facts, but it entertains for most of its running time, and it’s commendable that it doesn’t ape the Scorsesean style as extreme as AMERICAN HUSTLE did.

Though not as good as their previous film, EDGE OF TOMORROW, this film has director Liman and Cruise appearing to work well together, which bodes well for their proposed sequel to EDGE. Maybe that one will have a better, less generic title than their first two efforts.

More later...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

BATTLE OF THE SEXES Should’ve Been A Drunk History Sketch With The Same Cast

Now playing at theaters, surprisingly mostly multiplexes, near me:

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

(Dirs. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)


This is the time of year that we get movies like this. Star-studded dramatic re-tellings of historical or quasi historical events packaged as prestige pictures or, to use a more accurate term, Oscar-bait.

In this overly earnest one, Husband and wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, RUBY SPARKS) put Emma Stone and Steve Carrell through the true story motions of portraying reigning women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King and former champ Bobby Riggs, who faced off in a famous match in the early ‘70s.

King, who was 29 at the time, was challenged by the 55-year old Riggs, shortly after striking out on her own tennis tournament and union just for women after disagreements with the US Lawn Tennis Association about equal pay. Timely, huh?


The film juggles three strands - it’s the story of Carrell as the washed-up, compulsive gambler Riggs trying to get back on top, it’s the story of Stone’s King having an affair with a hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough) to the chagrin of her husband (Austin Stowell), and it’s the story of sexism in the burgeoning era of feminism.

But as promisingly rich as those elements initially appear, they only brush up against each other and fail to help form a compelling narrative. King is depicted as a driven, focused player; Riggs a goofy self-promoter, but they never clash in any impactful manner. There’s a lot of lip service given to the theme of women overcoming the idea that they’re the weaker sex, but the film lacks the passion to fully engage with its premise.

That’s perhaps, as with other recent true story prestige pictures such as SULLY, and LION there’s only really 20-30 minutes of story here. This results in long draggy stretches with little juice. Stone’s former Broadway co-star Alan Cummings comes in to add some sass to the project, but as much as I liked the mini-“Caberet” re-union, his role as a smirking fashion designer feels contrived (especially in his final lines) even though it’s based on a real person.

But I’m hesitant to blame writer Simon Beaufoy because he has had better experience with adapting true stories (127 HOURS, EVEREST, his Oscar-winning screenplay for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) before. The responsibility falls on Dayton and Faris for their lightweight and overly conventional approach to this material.

I think this movie would be an excellent segment of the Comedy Central show, Drunk History, with the same cast. If you haven’t seen the show, it involves celebrities (usually comedians) being filming while getting intoxicated and recounting historical events. For example, one episode features sloshed comic actor Steve Berg explaining the behind-the-scenes making of CITIZEN KANE, while in black and white recreations, Jack Black plays Orson Welles, and John Lithgow as William Randolph Hearst, act the scenes out, even lip-synching Berg’s quotes.

The fact that several comic actors – Sarah Silverman, Fred Armisen, and Chris Parnell (all SNL alumni) – appear in supporting parts, and the film is most lively when it goes for a laugh, makes me wish for a Drunk History version even more.

As it is, despite some invested acting by Carrell and Stone, BATTLE OF THE SEXES is a bland, formulaic trip through dated clichés and the expected tropes of a period piece soundtrack (bad timing including Elton John’s “Rocket Man” for obvious reasons), and the obligatory photos of the real people at the end. It’s a well-intentioned, and relatively well-made drama, but it’ll most likely be forgotten by the time the awards season comes around.

Also, while the concept of a hyped-up tennis exhibition helping to change things is an intriguing premise, when it comes to the climax of the match itself, the realization that tennis is among the least cinematic of sports is hard to escape.

And that’s even when the stakes were as high as they supposedly were in September of 1973 at the Houston Astrodome in an event that was watched on T.V. by millions of people.

More later...

Monday, September 25, 2017

Things I’m Glad Didn’t Catch On: Sequels With “Another” In Their Titles


N
ow, I acknowledge that this is a silly thing to harp on, but I’m happy that the idea of putting the word “another” in the title of sequels didn’t catch on.

This thought only came about because I stumbled onto the long forgotten follow-up to the 1982 Eddie Murphy hit, 48 HRS, on TV last night, which was lamely titled, ANOTHER 48 HRS.

This kind of titling is lazy as hell, but it’s actually truth-in-advertising because the film was a lame rehash that deserved such unimaginative labeling. The 1990 action comedy was a modest hit, but lambasted by critics (it stands at 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). There was actually talk of a third film for the franchise entitled YET ANOTHER 48 HRS, but thankfully that never materialized.

Three years later, Touchstone Pictures hedged their bets on a sequel to their 1987 hit STAKEOUT, and brought back stars Richard Dreyfuss, and Emilio Estevez, and added Rosie O’Donnell for some reason in what was dubbed ANOTHER STAKEOUT. Notice how similar to ANOTHER 48 HRS the type style for “Another” is:



This definitively inessential sequel flopped big-time and was largely panned (it’s at 14% on Rotten Tomatoes) during the summer of 1993, and it’s probably a movie you’ve never heard of. Hell, few folks today even remember the original STAKEOUT as I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a reference to it.

Anyway, the use of ANOTHER in a title died with ANOTHER STAKEOUT and that’s a good thing. Just saying the title out loud shows how awful an idea it is – you can’t help saying it after a sigh in a tired voice in italics: “Here’s ANOTHER…”

So they tried to make that happen twice, but there’s a device that’s even lamer that was only used once: putting MORE in front of the recycled titles, as in MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI.


So glad that didn’t catch on either. I mean, can you imagine how unbearable it’d be to see ads for movies like MORE HORRIBLE BOSSES or MORE ZOOLANDER?

It’s great that so many sequel titles these days don’t just slap a Roman numeral on the end, they have ampersands and subtitles ‘n all, because they really should at least try to disguise that it’s the same ole thing again, right?

The use of “another” appeared to imply that the studios were being cynically upfront about the shoddy quality of their recycled products. Here’s another one, kids! Collect ‘em all.

So this has been my look back at the brief era in which a badly chosen yet accurate word graced a couple of lame sequel titles.

R.I.P. ANOTHER 1990-1993

More later…

Friday, September 22, 2017

Ben Stiller’s Squirm-Inducing Midlife Crisis Continues

Now playing at an indie art house near me:

BRAD’S STATUS (Dir. Mike White, 2017)



“Dad, are you having some kind of nervous breakdown or something?” asks Austin Abrams as Troy, the son of the neurotic worrywart Brad, played by Ben Stiller.

Brad denies it, but looking over the recent filmography of the 51-year old comic actor/writer/director who portrays him, it sure does seem like Stiller is fond of having his midlife crisis play out over and over again on the big screen.

It can be traced back to Stiller’s 2008 satire TROPIC THUNDER, in which he starred as airheaded action star Tugg Speedman. In a clip of an interview with Access Hollywood, Tyra Banks puts it to Speedman: “You’re on the wrong side of 40. You’re childless and alone. Somebody close to you said, ‘One more flop and it’s over.’” Stiller’s Speedman responds, “Somebody said they were close to me?”

But the crisis really began in earnest with Noah Baumbach’s GREENBERG (2010). Stiller played the title role, a miserable misanthrope who sabotages every potential relationship with his miserable misanthropy after suffering, yep, a nervous breakdown.

After some forgettable commercial comedies - THE WATCH, TOWER HEIST, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY - Stiller teamed up with Baumbach again for a much more successful look at the neuroses around aging: 2015’s WHILE WE’RE YOUNG. In it Stiller plays yet another New Yorker, a documentary filmmaker who, with his wife played by Naomi Watts, befriends a young hipster couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) because he longs to be young and hip again.

Even Stiller’s ZOOLANDER 2 from earlier this year touched on this theme with Stiller’s Derek Zoolander and Owen Wilson’s Hansel being tricked into wearing garish red jumpsuits that say “Old” and “Lame.”

So that brings us to Mike White’s BRAD’S STATUS, which features Stiller as a guy who is tormented by thoughts of being a failure while on a trip to visit prospective colleges in the Boston area with his son, the aforementioned Abrams. Brad runs a non-profit in Sacramento, has a lovely wife played by Jenna Fischer, and a 19-year old son who could possibly get into Harvard, but he can’t help thinking about his college buddies who are all much bigger successes than him.

Brad feels not just “fleeting jealousy, but real pain” when he sees his old pal Craig Fisher, played with supreme smarm by Michael Sheen, on TV as a political pundit/ bestselling author. He feels the same about seeing that his former friend, a bigtime movie director played by the film’s writer/director White, has his house in Architectual Digest, and hearing that another buddy portrayed by Owen Wilson, is a extremely wealthy business man with his own jet. Oh, yeah, there’s also Jermaine Clement as a retired internet mogul who lives in Hawaii with two young girlfriends.

So comparatively, Brad feels he’s got nothing to show for his life of hard work, and that there’s no potential there for anything better, but learning that his son has a shot at Harvard may yet be the light at the end of the tunnel.

Abrams’ Troy is weirded out by his Dad’s behavior, but deals with it admirably. They go out to dinner with musician friends of Troy’s played by Shazi Raja and Luisa Lee, and Brad is smitten with these young ladies while cynical about their idealism, which he believes will fade like his has.

While Brad only speaks on the phone with his friends played by Clement, and Wilson, he meets Sheen’s Craig Fisher for a meal, but it doesn’t go well. In fact, after the Roger Moore-athon impression dueling in THE TRIP TO SPAIN, it’s the most cringe-worthy scene in an independent film this year.

BRAD’S STATUS is funny, but not laugh out loud funny, it’s more inner squirm funny. Stiller’s Brad has fantasies throughout the film about his friend’s charmed lives, and they are among the film’s most amusing moments, but the movie is best when it makes us nod and relate with Brad’s reckoning with his relevance. This comes in the form of Stiller’s voice-over narration, a device that is often overused, but White’s writing which within them takes on various relatable rationales and dark avenues of thinking, is pleasurably on point.

A thoughtful and witty indie that while it dances on the edge of being a downer, BRAD’S STATUS has as much of a hopeful gleam in its eye as its protagonist does when he cries at a climatic classical concert involving Raja playing flute to the accompaniment of Lee on violin. It’s a scene that’s as squirm-inducing as it is moving, but by that point in the film, you’ll be used to that.

More later...

Friday, September 01, 2017

THE TRIP TO SPAIN: Third Time Is So Not The Charm

Opening today at an indie art house near me:

THE TRIP TO SPAIN (Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2017)



So, just like in the first two TRIP films (THE TRIP and THE TRIP TO ITALY), it begins with a phone call between Welsh comedian/T.V. personality Rob Brydon and the much better known British actor/writer/producer Steve Coogan.

“Let’s do a series of restaurant reviews - this time, a trip to Spain for the New York Times,” Coogan suggests to Brydon and off we go for another round of immaculate meals at posh restaurants, where the dinner conversation consists of dueling celebrity impressions.

The traveling fine dining duo trot out their comical takes on the voices of Michael Caine (one of their specialties), Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, and Roger Moore, among others (this film is heavy on the Moore mimicry, which is interesting because it was shot in 2016, way ahead of the James Bond actor’s death in May of this year).

They take a road trip along the coast of Spain, stopping in villages and towns such as Getaria, Hondarribia, Santiago de Compostela, Sos del Rey Católico, Prejano, and Cuenca, Almagro, and Granada.

Now I had to look those places up (thanks to The Telegraph’s The stunning filming locations from the Trip to Spain), because they aren’t properly identified in the movie. Neither are the names of the restaurants they visit, which is odd because they are supposedly reviewing them, and they frequently cut to shots of the chefs preparing their food in the kitchen. Apart from that, there’s not many shots of the food either.

No, the scenery and foodie theme is just a backdrop to the impressions with each droll broke improvising bits and skits with their exaggerated characterizations.

This can get pretty annoying especially when the impressions falter. We learn that Coogan does a better Jagger than Brydon (Brydon even does Jagger doing Michael Caine at one point), Brydon does a better Sean Connery than Coogan, but neither of their Roger Moore voices is spot on, though Brydon’s comes the closest.

This makes for most cringeworthy scene in the movie, where Brydon rambles on and on as Moore while Coogan, and their lovely lady guests (Claire Keelen, Marta Barrio) sit by awkwardly trying to converse.

They have these meals, then retire to their hotel rooms and have phone conversations - Coogan with his agency, son, and girlfriend; Brydon with his wife and an agent claiming he can make him a big star. These suggest conflicts and some sort of plot development but not much comes from them, it’s always back to the impressions.

This is frustrating because Coogan has a possibly juicy storyline about a project he’s working on - a follow-up to PHILOMENA, which he starred, co-wrote, and produced – getting green lit, but they want to bring in another writer. Coogan starts off the film on a high from his success with PHILOMENA (something that he brings up often), but there are hints that his star isn’t on the rise anymore, while Brydon, happily married with kids, may be on the verge of a breakthrough but these ideas never go anywhere.

Instead we get scenes of these guys dressing up like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for a photo shoot, and making a stop at the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña in Jaca, Spain, which is fabled to be the resting place of the Holy Grail - something they, of course, riff on.

As with the previous films, THE TRIP TO SPAIN is the result of six episodes of the BBC TV series of the same name being edited together into a feature film. This makes me wonder if this material might be less tedious in its original format.

What we have here is a aimlessly talky travelogue, with these sad blokes doing endless impressions for an overlong running time (the film is one hour, 47 min). Despite some funny moments, such as Brydon’s Brando reciting Monty Python’s “The Spanish Inquisition” sketch, and incredible looking locations, this third time is so not the charm.


More later...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Summing Up The Cinematic Summer Of 2017


Reportedly this summer was the lowest grossing at the box office in many years. The low turnout can be blamed on franchise fatigue (more ALIENS, APES, CARS, TRANSFORMERS, and PIRATES, anybody?), the abundance of big budget bombs (THE MUMMY, KING ARTHUR: THE LEGEND OF THE SWORD, DARK TOWER, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS), and all the good TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Twin Peaks: The Return, Game of Thrones, and Glow competing for people’s attention. But whatever the case, despite several gems, it’s been an abysmal season crowded with bland blockbuster wannabes.

It started off promising last May with James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, a solid sequel to the big Marvel hit from three summers ago. GOTGV2 had a juicy role for Kurt Russell as the father of Chris Pratt’s character, Peter Quill (or Star Lord, if you prefer), a bunch of amusing action sequences and gags, and a stellar soundtrack going for it, and audiences responded by making it the third top grossing movie of the year. Read my review.


The next few sequels that followed - Ridley Scott’s ALIEN: COVENANT, David Bower’s DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL, and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES came and went quickly, with only PIRATES turning a profit despite bad reviews (it’s at 30% on the Rottentomatometer). I only saw PIRATES of these three, and I'm pretty tired of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack schtick so I didn’t care for it (read my review: PIRATES 5: DEAD MEN TELL NO NEW TALES), but at least I enjoyed the Paul McCartney cameo.

I wanted to see the latest ALIEN sequel on the big screen, but didn’t get around to it. I’ll probably catch it someday on Blu ray or streaming, but I’m not really dying to.

Early June, the summer was shaken up by the major success of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN, the first actually good movie of the new DC Extended Universe. 

The gorgeous Gal Gadot portrays the iconic superheroine in the WWI era adventure, and with the help of Chris Pine, and a supporting cast including Robin Wright, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis, she lassoed up a satisfying piece of entertainment (read my review). Now, I’m just waiting for Zack Snyder to get the franchise back off track with JUSTICE LEAGUE (also featuring Gadot) this November. 

Another superhero favorite, Spider-Man, returned the next month, and restored the character to his former glory after Marc Webb’s forgettable THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movies with Andrew Garfield. Featuring a likable kid in the form of Tom Holland, who was introduced in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, the extremely fun (and funny) experience of John Watts
 SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING was embraced by moviegoers to the tune of over $300 million, and critics to the tune of a 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Read my review.

Another sequel that did well at the box office was Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, and Eric Guillon
’s DESPICABLE ME 3 (though not great critically – 61% on Rotten Tomatoes), but not being a fan of the series or the whole Minions thing for that matter, I opted out.

Of the other summer sequels, I took a hard pass on CARS 3 as the CARS series is my least favorite Pixar franchise, but I took in Matt Reeves THE WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, and found it to be a good not great entry in the rebooted series. It contains some powerful visuals, the enjoyable comic relief of Steve Zahn voicing one of the few talking apes who calls himself “Bad Ape,” and Woody Harrelson as the villain, a sinister Colonel who wants to kill off Andy Serkis’ ape leader Caesar and his army, but it’s never been one of my favorite franchises, and I’m not really itching to see more APES movies after it. 

As for the fifth TRANSFORMERS movie, which made over $600 million yet is still considered to be an underperformer - I have never seen one of the TRANSFORMERS movies all the way through, and Im not considering changing that.

One of the worst, if not the worst, movies of the summer was Alex Kurtzman’s THE MUMMY, which was primed to kick off Universal’s Dark Universe series, but its commercial and critical failure (here
s my pan) may cause the powers that be to reconsider things. Tom Cruise is bound to do much better in the Doug Liman
’s upcoming AMERICAN MADE, which is getting some early buzz, so don’t worry about him - he’ll be just fine.

The comedy genre fared horribly during the summer months with flops such as Lucia Aniellos ROUGH NIGHT (saw it - lame waste of a talented cast headed by Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon), Jonathan Levines SNATCHED (didn’t see it, but it looked lame - sorry, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn), Seth Gordons BAYWATCH (another I skipped for what should be an obvious reason), and Andrew Jay Cohens THE HOUSE (also didn’t see despite being a fan of both Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) which was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences.

However, in the world of independent film, there was a comedy this summer, a rom com no less, that did great business, and got critical acclaim to boot: Michael Showalters THE BIG SICK. The film, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan is the story of how Nanjiani met his later wife, and stuck with her while she was in a coma, while dealing with her worried parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. It’s a real witty charmer that has now played for over eight weeks at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh where I work part time. I haven’t seen a movie connect with audiences at our local indie arthouse like it has in a long time. My review.

A few other indies that didn’t connect as well: Trey Edward Shults’ IT CAME AT NIGHT and David Lowery’s A GHOST STORY. Of these, the former, starring Joel Edgerton as a man whose family is holed up in a house in the country while a plague ravages the land, had its edgy moments but was far from fully fleshed out, while the later, featuring Casey Affleck as a ghost - in a white sheet with eye holes, mind you – was just plain weird as I wrote in my review.

In the non franchise department, there’s Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER, a crackling crime thriller, with a great cast including Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, and an even better soundtrack. It wowed crowds and critics, including me as I declared in my review that it was the best film of the summer.

Another non sequel that I enjoyed was David Leitch’s ATOMIC BLONDE, starring Charlize Theron as a kick ass MI6 field agent on a mission in West Berlin during the waning days of the cold war. It’s a bit uneven and wonky at times, but has some excellent set pieces including a stunning fight in a stairwell, a sharp lead performance by Theron, and a well chosen ‘80s soundtrack. Hmm, that’s three films this summer with great soundtracks – not bad.

Up there with BABY DRIVER in quality is Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK, an immersive war epic that I’m glad I saw in 70 mm. I had a few issues with its structure, which I discussed in my post, Notes on DUNKIRK, but was overall impressed by Nolan’s work, his best since INCEPTION. I bet we’re going to hear a lot more about it come Oscar season.

Lastly, I hate to say I was disappointed in Steven Soderbergh’s late summer entry, LOGAN LUCKY, which many critics have praised.

I loved its premise – a hillbilly heist centered around robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway in my homestate of N.C. – and its cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and especially a bleach blond Daniel Craig – but the job is pulled off with very little conflict, the stakes don’t feel very high as folks can be broken out of and back into jail for the caper with ease, and none of these people are believably related to each other – Driver and Tatum sure don’t look or act like brothers, nor do Craig and the two hayseeds (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) who are supposed to be his kin. Still, there were some amusing moments, and I appreciate the effort by Soderbergh to do a variation on his OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies, even if I’m not a fan of those either.

So that’s the summer of 2017 at the movies. One could argue that a season that boasts the likes of BABY DRIVER, DUNKIRK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, WONDER WOMAN, and THE BIG SICK can’t be completely written off, but that’s only six films out of over 40, so sadly they weren’t enough to save the summer from sucking. The fall, where historically the films get better, can’t come soon enough.


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Thursday, August 24, 2017

And Now, The Top 10 Celebrity Diets Throughout History

Editor's note: This is a sponsored guest post by pop culture maniac Allan Dayfold:

The Top 10 Celebrity Diets Throughout History


A
s long as there have been celebrities, there have been diets. Whether it's for a movie role or simply to look good in the public eye, these ten celebrities have all taken different paths to take the weight off and keep it off.

10. Beyonce: The "Queen Bee" herself has recently taken to social media to proclaim herself (and her husband Jay-Z) a newly-born vegetarian, but that's hardly been the only diet she has gone on throughout the years. To prepare for her starring role in the 2006 hit film DREAMGIRLS, Beyonce famously went on a "Master Cleanse" diet, drinking an all-liquid diet of water flavored with cayenne pepper, with a cheat day of pizza and wine thrown in occasionally as well.

9. Marilyn Monroe: The curvaceous blonde bombshell that dazzled the media throughout the 1950s absolutely hated lunches. So much so, in fact, that she skipped it entirely. Her diet regularly consisted of two raw eggs in warm milk for breakfast, followed by a dinner of broiled liver, steak, or lamb plus five carrots. Monroe loved her desserts, however, usually polishing off a scrumptious hot-fudge sundae to finish her night.

8. Elizabeth Taylor: Famously called, "the most beautiful woman in the world," Liz Taylor certainly had a unique approach to diet. She regularly dined on things like cottage cheese with sour cream over fruit, or a peanut-butter smothered steak sandwich, to name a few. She even reportedly had what she called "controlled pig-outs," where she once consumed an entire pizza and hot-fudge sundae by herself.

7. Sarah Michelle Gellar: Talk about self-control! To keep her physique, Sarah Michelle Gellar went on an extreme diet that restricted most foods except cabbage soup. Sound bland? Not to worry, she made sure to spice it up with vegetables, fruit, milk, and yogurt, and even added lean meats and brown rice towards the end of the week. Yum?

6. Kate Middleton: To get ready for the royal wedding, Kate Middleton employed the Dukan Diet, a plan modeled by the French that incorporates straight protein and vegetables at the beginning, and then slowly gets less strict in the following weeks. Fortunately, the Dukan Diet allows you to customize your diet based on how many pounds you would like to shed.

5. Lady Gaga: If fad diets don't work, you can always return to your roots. I mean, way back to your roots, like pureed peas and carrots. Lady Gaga allegedly eats baby food for her first two meals of the day, followed by a health-conscious dinner. Originally developed by Tracy Anderson, other adherents include Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

4. Madonna: You might not be able to afford it, but for the "Material Girl" herself, eating a strenuous macrobiotic diet may just be the key to the fountain of youth. Good luck trying to afford it, much less hold to it, as the macrobiotic diet consists of eliminating all wheat, eggs, meats, and dairy completely, and only consuming "sea vegetables." I can only assume those don't come cheap.

3. Gwyneth Paltrow: After struggling with food allergies earlier in life, Gwyneth Paltrow has decided to eliminate everything "bad" such as bread, red meat, cow's milk, eggplants, and even tomatoes from her diet. To compensate, she starts every day with a green juice and eats a gluten-free, somewhat vegan diet.

2. Megan Fox: After exploding onto the scene in 2007's Transformers, Megan Fox has remained in the spotlight ever since, in part due to her athletic physique and chiseled body. She credits drinking copious amounts of apple cider vinegar for keeping her fit, but also leans heavily on The Five-Factor Diet, pioneered by Harley Pasternak. In case you haven't heard of it, the diet consists of making five-ingredient meals in less than five minutes. Perfect for the health-conscious, time-sensitive movie star.

1. Victoria Beckham: Leave it to Posh Spice to leave dieting up to science. Beckham is a fierce proponent of the alkaline diet, which aims to keep the body at an ideal pH level: somewhere between 7.35 and 7.45. Beckham claims it's not that difficult, and that by following a simple 80/20 rule of more vegetables and less grains and proteins. Although, if you really want to go full-on alkaline, it's best to get a urine test to check your optimal pH balance first. Hey, it seems to be working for her.

Of course to avoid the fad diets, a lot of people are turning to pre prepared meals. Services like Blue Apron are becoming more popular, as well as their diet variants like Nutrisystem for men which Pure Healthy Living breaks down here.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Elvis & STAR WARS: 40 Years Ago Today


Elvis Presley died on this date in 1977. STAR WARS was released earlier that summer. 

So the big pop culture question is: did Elvis see STAR WARS? 

Sadly, the answer from every source is no, he didn’t, but he wanted to. The day before he passed he was trying to obtain a print of the movie so he could watch it with his daughter, Lisa Marie. Three days before that, he had taken her, and his girlfriend Ginger Alden to see the then latest James Bond movie, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, the last film he saw at the cinema (the picture above is of them in his 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III coming back from the movie).

I posted the above blurb a year ago today on Facebook - the 39th anniversary of the Kings death - and doing new research now I see that I wasn't alone in wondering about whether he saw the hugely popular space epic. The STAR WARS blog, Episode Nothing, had a very similar post entitled Did Elvis see Star Wars?, and in 2014 the Elvis blog, elvispresleyexpert.wordpress.com, even asked “Could Star Wars have saved the life of Elvis Presley?”

As far back as 2005, the site everything2.com, also speculated about it, and pondered if the movie's director, George Lucas, ever saw Presley in concert.

It’s too bad that one of the biggest films of all time wasn’t seen by one of the biggest performers of all time. I, of course, can’t (or don’t want to) speculate on whether if it wouldve saved him, but I bet he wouldve loved it.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Notes On DUNKIRK (Three Weeks Into Its Run)



I
t’s been three weeks since I first saw Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic DUNKIRK, but I wasn’t in a good headspace then. My wife and I were having some major work done on our house involving installing hardwood floors so I was exhausted from moving tons of books, CDs, DVDs, records, etc.

I had mixed feelings about the movie, but I recognized some greatness there so I decided to see it a second time. But this time was in the way Nolan intended it to be seen - in IMAX 70 mm. The visuals were indeed impressive and the story threads came together better than my previous viewing, but I still felt a disconnect.

The film, which Nolan wrote and co-produced in addition to directing, follows three narratives – “The Mole,” about the thousands of soldiers stranded on the beach of Dunkirk, France over the course of a week waiting for rescue boats over the course of a week; “The Sea,” concerning a civilian (Mark Rylance) sailing his boat with his son (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his friend (Barry Keoghan) to help with the rescue effort over the course of a day; and “The Air,” which involves three Spitfires piloted by members of the Royal Air Force engaged in dogfights over the course of an hour.

Nolan’s attention to detail in recreating the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 is immaculate via the usage of restored boats and planes from the actual event, practical effects, and a minimum of CGI.

I’ve heard many folks complain that in the “The Mole” storyline the characters are hard to tell apart. Fionn Whitehead as a private named Tommy, who is pretty much the protagonist of the thread, and a fellow soldier played by pop singer Harry Styles do blend in with the masses on the docks, but perhaps that’s the point.

“The Air” narrative which has Tom Hardy, and Jack Lowden on a mission to take down German dive bombers over the infinite ocean may be the most exciting of the three intertwined scenarios, but several times Nolan cuts away right as the scenes are getting the most compelling. Lowden almost drowning because he can’t get his cockpit open after crash landing in the sea deserves to be seen in full, but Nolan can’t help but dive back into another thread, and the momentum gets lost.

The most emotionally grounded storyline is “The Sea” as a stoic Rylance holds steady to his goal to save as many men as possible, even when a shell-shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy that his boat picks up violently tries to get him to turn his boat around. Murphy, a veteran of a few Nolan films (BATMAN BEGINS, INCEPTION), is only credited as “shivering soldier,” and that about sums up his role.

Kenneth Branagh, as a British Naval Commander, brings a touch of dignified gravitas to his part, but mainly just stands around on the pier watching what’s happening around him.

So basically, don’t go in expecting fully fleshed out characters. There may be precious little dialogue, but there’s plenty of genuine suspense, gripping action, and incredibly vivid cinematography (thanks to Hoyte van Hoytema’s 54-Pound IMAX Camera) to make up for it, and to make up for the failings of Nolan’s previous film, INTERSTELLAR.

DUNKIRK is engaging to a considerable degree, but not as immersive an experience as it could’ve been as its fractured narratives bog it down. Hans Zimmer’s intense score, which at times beautifully blends with the scary sound of attacking dive bombers, does a lot to tie together the three strands, but they still clash in ways that was at times frustrating.

I still would recommend Nolan’s work here because there is a lot of power in the imagery and the depiction of touching humanity, which, as I said before, is most present in Rylance’s storyline.


It may fall short of being a masterpiece, but it comes close – especially when seeing it a second time in IMAX 70 mm. Maybe the third time will be the charm?

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Friday, July 28, 2017

A Lot Of A GHOST, Not Much STORY

Opening today at a few theaters near me:

A GHOST STORY
(Dir. David Lowery, 2017)


I walked out of this extremely weird movie in a daze. I wasn’t sure what the hell it was that I just watched. I mean it’s a movie about a ghost who appears as a guy in a children’s Halloween costume - that is, seriously, a white bed sheet with eye holes.

Let me backtrack - the film begins with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a couple living in a house in semi-rural Texas who appear to be preparing to move. Affleck gets killed in an automobile accident and we cut to Mara identifying his body at the hospital. After she places the sheet back over his head and leaves, Affleck sits up and then walks through the building’s halls unseen by anybody because, you know, he’s a ghost now.

He makes the journey back to their house and stands there motionless watching Mara as she mourns. He watches her eat a pie. A whole pie. This scene feels like it goes on forever. Mara eats until she goes to the bathroom to throw up in the background.

Time passes and the ghost stands motionless watching Mara pack up and move away. A new family made up of a single mother and her two kids move in and he watches them. One night in a fit of anger (I guess) he throws and smashes dishes in the kitchen which scares them and they move out shortly after.

Then the house appears to be taken over by hipsters who have impromptu parties with pretentious discussions. Singer/songwriter, and friend of director Lowery, Will Oldham delivers a speech about mortality and the futility of time (I think) that perhaps spells out the movie’s meaning but I dunno.

At some point, the ghost waves to another ghost (identical bed sheet situation) through the window of the house next door and they speak in subtitles with no sound (the ghosts get subtitles but the Spanish-speaking mother and her kids don’t). The other ghost says he’s waiting for someone, but he forgets who. All through this, Affleck’s ghost scratches at one of the walls trying to retrieve a tiny note that Mara’s character wrote and left in a crack.

More time passes, and the house gets demolished by bulldozers, and a shiny, modern building is built in its place where the ghost stalks the glass halls. Then we go back in time two hundred years to when European settlers were taking over the land. He stands and watches as history repeats and ends up watching Affleck and Mara again, then he watches as Affleck becomes a ghost, who he watches from behind.

I wonder how much Affleck actually visited the set because for the bulk of the movie it could’ve been anybody under that sheet. Especially since you can’t see eyes behind the holes – just darkness.

The self conscious artsiness of this film, which is all told in long, stationary shots in a square aspect ratio, makes me think that Lowery is trying to get as far away from the commerciality of his last project, PETE’S DRAGON, as he possibly can. Horror fans will likely be baffled by it because, except for the moment the bulldozer comes crashing through the wall, it’s not a scary experience. Haunting is more what Lowery was going for, but while it does indeed have some effective eeriness, it just goes on and on without a truly meaningful point to be made.

There’s maybe a good 20-minute or so short film that could’ve been made with these elements that would spare us all the existential tedium. The only story here is the passing of time, and that was
nt enough to keep me engaged.

But it is a gutsy move for A24 to release a film such as A GHOST STORY during the overcrowded dog days of summer - I admire that - but I can only recommend this picture to people who like being weirded out – very slowly.

More later...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

THE BIG SICK: A Delight Through And Through

Now playing at many indie art houses, and opens wide Friday at many multiplexes:

THE BIG SICK (Dir. Michael Showalter, 2017)



This is one of the most buzzed about independent movies this summer, and it’s for good reason because it’s a real charmer.

It’s not your typical rom com as it’s a love story with an autobiographical bent, and it mixes in a considerable amount of emotional drama between its abundance of laughs.

The film concerns Pakistani Kumail Nanjiani, best known for his role as acerbic programmer Dinesh on HBO’s Silicon Valley, as a stand-up comedian/Uber driver who falls for Zoe Kazan as a woman based on Nanjiani’s wife, Emily V. Gordon.

Gordon, who hails from Winton Salem in my home state, North Carolina, and Nanjiani co-wrote the screenplay which depicts their early relationship when begins when Kazan’s Emily heckles Kumail during his act at a small Chicago comedy club. Actually she yells “Whoo!” but, as Kumail explains to her at the bar later, “heckling doesn’t have to be a negative.”

The two hit it off and hook up that night while watching THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD back at his place that he shares with fellow comedian Kurt Braunohler. Emily and Kumail, despite that she says she’s too busy studying to be a therapist, begin dating, while his parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) try to set him up in an arranged marriage.

Emily discovers this when she comes upon a cigar box of headshots of the many Muslim women that are vying for his hand (“Are you judging Pakistan’s ‘Next Hot Model?
), and after an emotional argument they break up. 

Shorty after, Kumail learns that Emily is in the hospital and has to be put into a medically induced coma, and he waits with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) who he’s never met before, and who know that the couple is broken up. Awkward!

Gradually Kumail and Emily’s folks bond with them even attending one of his stand-up slots. The scene turns ugly when a frat boy douche yells “go back to Isis” at Kumail, and Hunter’s character Beth goes off on him.

Since we know that in real life Emily came out of the coma, it’s no spoiler to say that that’s what happens here, but I’ll refrain from going further about the plot.

Nanjiani makes for a witty, likable lead who can hold his own in the well executed dramatic moments that dominate the second half of the film. Kazan is equally appealing, quickly quipping through the couple’s courting and effectively exhibiting more layers during her recovery. Although she spends the bulk of the film motionless in a hospital bed, Kazan shows in her awake scenes that she’s no “manic pixie dream girl” (Nathan Rabin™), and the chemistry between her and Nanjiani is palpable.

Hunter and Ramano nail their parts as Emily’s concerned parents, and there are short but sweet turns by the supporting cast including SNL’s Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, and Braunohler as Kumail’s fellow comedian friends, and Kher (a Bollywood legend who’s been in 500 films) Shroff, and Adeel Akhtar as Kumail’s brother.

THE BIG SICK is a very amusing and heartwarming love story that proves that there’s life left in rom coms. The genre appears to have died out at the multiplexes, but with help from producer Judd Apatow, this indie refreshens the formula. As I’ve written on this blog before, director Michael Showalter in such films as THE BAXTER and THEY CAME TOGETHER, seems to have a thing about deconstructing rom com tropes, but it appears that he’s best here and in his last film, HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS, when he keeps the narrative grounded in relatable reality.

This is Showalter’s best film, the best comedy I’ve seen this year, and a winner all around for Nanjiani and Gordon and everyone involved. It’s a big success at my local indie art house, the Rialto, where I work part time, as I’ve heard a lot of loud laughter from the crowded theater every time it screens. A delight through and through.

More later...

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

SPIDER-MAN Brings It All Back Home

Now playing at a multiplex near us all:

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

(Jon Watts, 2017)



So I guess we’re supposed to pretend that those two Andrew Garfield AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movies never happened, right? Well, with this shiny new reboot that establishes the character as a player in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) that’s incredibly easy to do.

We were introduced to the new web-slinging kid, Tom Holland, in the superhero-studded CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR last summer, and this film recounts that event from a different perspective via Peter Parker’s video diary of the event.

So we get to see just how Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. in his eighth appearance as IRON MAN) got Peter to Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany, outfitted him in a cool new suit, and put him in place to steal Captain America’s shield at just the right moment.

But Tony doesn’t think that Peter is ready to be an Avenger yet, but our boy can’t wait to prove himself. He constantly calls Tony’s driver/bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau in his fourth film in the part), hoping that he can get in on some world-saving action but to no avail.

Meanwhile, the film’s villain, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is building weaponary, including a mechanized flight suit that turns him into The Vulture (a character that dates back to 1963), out of the ruins of the alien tech from the attack on New York in the first AVENGERS movie.

Peter/Spidey comes across Toomes’ men robbing an ATM (all wearing Avengers masks) and in a gripping fight scene he is able to take them out, that is, until they start battling him with their alien laser gear. Despite this occurrence, Peter still can’t get Happy to return his calls so he sets off on his own to stop the Vulture’s evil doings.

Now that’s the superhero stuff, but there’s another movie here – a teen coming-of-age high school rom com in which Peter falls for one of his classmates, M.J. (Zendaya), and pals around with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who finds out his secret identity early on.

These genres smoothly intertwine with a lot of thrills and laughs throughout, and a some stellar action sequences including a Washington Monument set-piece that’s up there with the best scenes from the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire SPIDER-MAN movies from well over a decade ago. This is indeed the best movie featuring the iconic comic book legend since 2004’s SPIDER-MAN 2, and maybe the funniest MCU movie since ANT-MAN.

Holland makes a likably angsty mark as Peter/Spidey, carrying the movie through both its high octane spectacle and its adolescent hi jinks with relatable charm. Keaton chews through scenery with a fever that will make you forget BATMAN and BIRDMAN (well, actually it’s hard not to think of BIRDMAN as the costume looks like a metal version of his attire in that excellent Oscar-winner).

As much as he brings star power and his patented charm to the project, I’m not sure it was really necessary to have Downey Jr.’s IRON MAN around for this film, but as there’s no Uncle Ben, it seems the kid does need a mentor/father figure around and Tony fulfills that role fine. I was hoping for more of Tony flirting with Peter’s Aunt May (Marissa Tomei), who seems to have been cast to make the character a MILF.


It's also kind of funny to see Donald Glover in a small part as a criminal involved with Toomes as he was once rumored to take on the role of Spidey himself at one point.

Director Watts, whose third film this is after CLOWN and the Kevin Bacon thriller COP CAR keeps the pacing from dragging, working from a screenplay he co-wrote with a veritable committee made up of Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks!), Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING won’t win over folks who hate superhero movies (or can't stand tons of CGI, no matter how flawless it is), but fans of the genre will eat it up. It’s a fun, and very funny piece of pure escapism that lovingly re-ignites the exciting spark that was missing from the last few entries, which, I’m sorry, I meant not to mention again.

Now that Sony, Marvel Studios and Disney are in bed together for this new run of Holland-starring SPIDER-MAN movies (including sequels and appearances in the AVENGERS series), it’s great to see that they’ve successfully brought it all back home.

As usual - stay for the after credits stinger (one of the funniest so far), and look out for the Stan Lee cameo - as for the other MCU callbacks, you are on your own.

More later...