Spider-Man: Far From Home Movie Review

For the MCU superhero who spends the most time flying through the air, the two stand-alone Spider-Man pics often feel the most grounded. Looking back on my review of predecessor Homecoming, I used that same word and stated that it worked best in its scenes with Peter Parker out of the suit. It helps that Tom Holland is the most suited for the role over Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.

Nearly anything would appear more down to earth after the gargantuan epics that were the last two Avengers movies (in which Spidey appeared along with the full and massive roster of heroes). In Far From Home, the scales seem significantly smaller for a while. When Endgame culminated (and stop reading if you haven’t seen it), Peter’s mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man had once again saved the world but lost his life doing it. This is the first MCU title since and the planet is still mourning the Avengers head honcho. It’s more personal for Peter and he’s looking forward to a European class trip over the summer. He wants to hang up the Spidey gear and concentrate on capturing the affections of his crush MJ (Zendaya).

So when Peter trots off to Venice with MJ, his trusty best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and other classmates, he does so after ignoring persistent phone calls from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Yet Fury is a hard man to scorn and he tracks him down. It turns out Mr. Stark saw Peter as his ultimate successor (he’s gifted his glasses which serve other purposes besides looking cool). And there’s work to do as havoc wreaking creatures called the Elementals are endangering the populace. Enter a new character that goes by Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). He’s from another dimension (multi-verse if you will) and steps into the shoes of new mentor for our vacationing web slinger.

Naturally (and the trailers didn’t really hide this), Mysterio is not totally as advertised and that sets up more duties for Spidey when he’s just wishing for MJ’s love and some R & R. For the first half of Home, it feels light and even more so considering the stakes of Infinity War and Endgame. That’s not unwelcome as the chemistry between Holland and Zendaya is charming and appropriately awkward. Speaking of romance, Tony’s right hand man Happy (Jon Favreau) is back with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) eyeing him as her potential full time man.

The world, however, isn’t going to save itself and the second half is filled with the Marvel CG action set pieces we expect. Of course, they’re expertly crafted but they can’t help but feel a little smaller after the Avengers extravaganzas. There is some Doctor Strange style sequences that seemed more appropriate in that MCU offering.

Far From Home eventually hints at larger universes that we already know exist. Spidey will enter back into them and he’s fighting large scale battles here in the end. Just like Homecoming, the quieter moments work better and that especially applies to ones with Peter and MJ. The MCU does continue a winning streak of more than passable villains and Gyllenhaal seems to be savoring his crack at it. The MCU also has a trend of some sequels topping their originals (think Thor and Captain America). I’d actually put this a slight notch below its direct predecessor and that’s still enough to make this a suitably passable entry.

*** (out of four)

The Sisters Brothers Movie Review

Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers tries to be many things at once – a traditional western, a revisionist one, a comedy, a family drama, and a good fashioned hunt for gold in the mid 19th century. It never succeeds totally at any of them as it’s shifty in tone. That said, I couldn’t help but admire it, be mostly entertained throughout it, and be impressed by one performance in particular. There’s also a dynamite score by Alexandre Desplat.

Based on a 2011 novel by Patrick deWitt, we are introduced to Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) Sisters. They’re legendary (at least in Charlie’s mind) gunslingers tasked with killing a man named Warm (Riz Ahmed) who’s allegedly ripped off their boss who goes by the Commodore (Rutger Hauer, turning up briefly in one of his final roles). The Commodore also enlists the services of pompous detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) to deliver Warm to his judgment day. Unfortunately for the Sisters, Warm and Morris form a bond as the former has a formula that makes panning for gold an easier and therefore more lucrative enterprise. It’s also extremely dangerous as it burns the hell out of your skin.

The activity of living itself is extremely dangerous in this picture. Eli and Charlie being chased by bandits is just an everyday occurrence. Charlie seems to thrive off it when he’s not drowning himself in whiskey. Eli has grown weary of his outlaw existence.

Gyllenhaal and Phoenix’s characters think they’re most sure of themselves. One trying to be a civilized gentleman in a world that’s crude and unrefined. One who thrives on being crude and unrefined with a myopic focus on wearing the most important black hat. Reilly and Ahmed’s roles have more dimension and are a bit more intriguing. That applies especially to Reilly. He’s a gentle soul in a rough setting. And Reilly’s take on him makes him a fascinating watch. Eli’s interplay with a lady of the night is unexpected and it’s probably the best scene of all. Phoenix doesn’t have as much nuance to work with, but he certainly brings his talents to the game. Gyllenhaal’s Morris is quirky in pleasing ways, but there’s not enough screen time for him to really get rolling.

The Sisters Brothers won’t be remembered as excelling at any of the genres it attempts. It has enough solid moments in all of them to keep it engrossing as it rides along.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Spider-Man: Far From Home

SpiderMan: Far From Home opens on Tuesday next week with solid reviews in its corner. With a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, many critics are calling it an improvement on its direct predecessor – 2017’s SpiderMan: Homecoming.

When it comes to Oscar’s history with the Spider-Verse over multiple features, there is past and very recent occurrences. The first two editions of Sam Raimi’s Tobey Maguire trilogy garnered nods. 2002’s SpiderMan nabbed Sound and Visual Effects nominations. Its 2004 sequel won Visual Effects, in addition to Sound nods. Since then, the four live-action features (one more with Maguire, two with Andrew Garfield, and Homecoming) received no awards love. However, last year’s animated and acclaimed SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse was the winner of Best Animated Feature.

Far From Home is, of course, part of the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe. If the studio pushes for Oscar votes, their attention in 2019 is likely to focus on Avengers: Endgame. So even with sturdy critical reaction, I would anticipate this being the fifth non-animated Spidey pic in a row to go empty handed. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Spider-Man: Far From Home Box Office Prediction

Peter Parker’s European vacation goes awry and Marvel looks to have its third massive 2019 blockbuster in a row when SpiderMan: Far From Home opens next week over a long holiday weekend. The sequel to 2017’s SpiderMan: Homecoming finds Tom Holland returning to the title role after appearing in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame in between. Jon Watts is back directing with familiar MCU faces Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, and Jon Favreau among the cast. Returnees from Homecoming include Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, and Jacob Batalon. Newbies to this cinematic universe are J.B. Smoove and Jake Gyllenhaal as main villain Mysterio.

The sequel should benefit tremendously from the MCU’s hot streak. Endgame and Captain  Marvel stand as the top two grossers of the year so far. Homecoming was well received two summers ago with a $334 million domestic haul. Advance word of mouth is strong.

Spidey flicks have a history of debuting over the July 4th frame. 2004’s SpiderMan 2 also had a six-day rollout and earned $180 million in that time frame. Same goes for 2012’s reboot The Amazing SpiderMan with $137 million from Tuesday to Sunday.

Far From Home gets underway on Tuesday and I believe earnings approaching $200 million is doable. I’ll say this manages a bit under $100 million from the traditional Friday to Sunday frame with just under the double century mark over the holiday.

Spider-Man: Far From Home opening weekend prediction: $92.5 million (Friday to Sunday); $190.4 million

For my Midsommar prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/26/midsommar-box-office-prediction/

Velvet Buzzsaw Movie Review

There’s a moment in Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw where one of the vapid SoCal characters walks past a pile of garbage and declares it an inspired work of art. He doesn’t realize it’s just plain garbage. The writer/director has his eye trained on the reviewing class here in this satire fueled with intermittent gore. Items are junk or priceless because critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) says so. His opinion matters and his choices influence. When he has his eyes dilated after an eye appointment, someone asks if those flimsy and disposable sunglasses he wears after are the new designer craze.

These small moments provide some well-placed humor as Gilroy dissects his power-hungry characters one by one. The setting is Los Angeles, the same locale from his 2014 effort Nightcrawler (which happened to be my favorite film of that year). Gyllenhaal starred in that as well. His portrayal of Louis Bloom was a desperate figure looking to climb the ladder of his chosen profession. In Buzzsaw, Morf already has made it. The Bloom figure would be Josephina (Zawe Ashton). She works for an art gallery run by Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and she’s trying to make her mark. Josephina gets that chance when a tenant in her building dies and leaves behind a vast collection of paintings. No one knows much about the dead man’s background, but his works are immediately deemed masterpieces.

It takes a considerable amount of time for people to discover that the paintings have a mind of their own. A violent mind for anyone who dares to exhibit them. Or perhaps they’re just blinded to it because they see the dollar signs involved. Everyone in this piece judges art by that monetary standard only. Whether it’s an image that could harm you or whether it’s literal garbage, it’s valuation is what counts.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a bizarre and hit or miss concoction filled with stuffy self-important individuals to root against. You may find yourself cheering on the paintings to do their grisly thing. The cast is sprawling with Gyllenhaal adding another peculiar part to his repertoire. Russo (who’s married to Gilroy) is as ruthlessly profit hungry as she was in Nightcrawler (though her part isn’t as memorable). Her background here does provide the title as it’s the name of a punk rock band she was in decades ago. Toni Collette is a curator looking for her best angle to get in on the new craze. Natalia Dyer (of “Stranger Things” fame) is an opportunistic assistant who gains the unfortunate distinction of finding lots of dead bodies.

The artwork comes alive in visually arresting ways from time to time. The main difference between this and Nightcrawler comes down to this – I was constantly enthralled by the disreputable populace of the latter. It’s a more rare occurrence in the former. Velvet Buzzsaw won’t be mistaken for trash, but it shouldn’t be hailed as a sensation either.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Velvet Buzzsaw

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival just before its Friday debut on Netflix is Dan Gilroy’s latest picture Velvet Buzzsaw. The horror satire reunites the writer and filmmaker with his Nightcrawler lead Jake Gyllenhaal in a film said to mercilessly mock the world of art critics and collectors. Several movie critics seem quite impressed. Others are more mixed. The current Rotten Tomatoes score is 82%. Costars include Toni Collette, Gilroy’s spouse and frequent collaborator Rene Russo, and John Malkovich (who must have office space at Netflix with this, Bird Box, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile).

Reviews suggest Buzzsaw could be quite polarizing. It may have a tough time breaking through with Oscar voters nearly a year from now. That said, both of the director’s previous works nabbed one nomination. 2014’s Nightcrawler was recognized for its Original Screenplay. In my view, it should’ve received more nods than that (especially Gyllenhaal). 2017’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. saw Denzel Washington garner a lead actor spot.

If Velvet has enough strong boosters, another screenplay nomination isn’t totally out of the question. Yet there’s a long road ahead to see whether that’s a possible outcome. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Sisters Brothers

Two notable Westerns have had their debuts an ocean away at Venice and Oscar attention could be questionable for both. The first is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the latest effort from the Coen Brothers. Today brings us The Sisters Brothers, The first English language project from acclaimed French filmmaker Jacques Audiard (whose titles include A Prophet and Rust and Bone).

Said to be a violent romp with comedic touches, the cast includes John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Riz Ahmed. The performance getting the most attention is Reilly’s. Could the Academy honor the venerable actor 16 years after his sole nod in Supporting Actor for Chicago? Like any other nominations in the major categories, it’s likely a long shot. Even though Venice reviews have been pretty sturdy, I just don’t envision this as a player for Oscar voters.

Two exceptions could be Cinematography and the Original Score from Alexandre Desplat, an Academy favorite who’s won twice already for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water.

Bottom line: despite solid buzz, don’t expect that to translate to significant awards chatter for The Sisters Brothers.

The film opens stateside on September 21. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…