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)

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: Into the Spider-Verse Movie Review

In the 21st century cinematic universe, the famed web slinger has been reinvented on a number of occasions – from Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield to Tom Holland. SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse is the first one that feels truly inventive. Anyone thinking this animated experience would be a sub par spin-off or money grab will find themselves sorely mistaken. This iteration of the iconic hero has a lot of heart, plenty of action, and a warped sense of humor that elicits genuine laughs. Directors Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (who co-wrote the screenplay along with Phil Lord) have drawn up what is probably the most satisfying Spidey pic on its own terms.

The picture posits the theory that our title character does his Spidey thing in multiple dimensions and in different forms than just Peter Parker. These characters are familiar to fans of the Marvel Comics and even includes Spider-Ham, representing the hero in pig form. He’s here and he’s fabulous. Our primary Spidey here is Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn teen with a police officer father and a potentially shady uncle that he admires. Miles attends a prep school and feels lost in his adolescence just like Peter Parker did. He’s a fan of Spider-Man, who is currently fighting Big Apple crime in the manner we’re accustomed to. That’s until bad guy Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) knocks him off, but not before Miles get a radioactive bite that gives him the well-known powers.

What follows is a visually splendid adventure where it’s clear that the makers really adore the character. At the same time, they take him in unforeseen directions that perhaps only the animated format could allow. Miles’s Spidey teams with an aging and out of shape Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) from a different “verse”, along with Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) and the aforementioned Ham version. There’s others, but part of the fun is watching them appear without me spoiling it.

Plenty of superhero movies take themselves quite seriously and many have succeeded with that tone. Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool introduced a different dynamic that is evident here. Yet SpiderVerse is not derivative. It manages to take one of the most repeated story arcs in the genre and cleverly turn it on its head. I enjoyed it immensely. The possibilities are many for this particular universe to continue and I’m up for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Over the past 16 years, we’ve witnessed numerous iterations of the famed web slinging superhero Spider-Man. From Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield to Tom Holland and two franchise reboots, the character has been omnipresent in our multiplexes. So the idea of an animated version might have seemed like overkill when Sony announced SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse, which creates a world in which multiple people can be the iconic character.

Critical reaction out today suggests otherwise. SpiderVerse stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with over 30 reviews in. Some write-ups claim it’s the best Spidey feature since 2004’s SpiderMan 2. Select others claim it’s the best of the whole bunch (this will be seventh stand-alone entry).

Will Oscar notice? It seems highly likely. That would mean a nod in Best Animated Feature. It marks a fourth near “sure thing “ in that race, including current box office champ Ralph Breaks the Internet and Isle of Dogs. The raves bestowed upon this suggests it could even stand a better chance at winning than those pictures. Yet it could be a tall order to overcome the Pixar juggernaut involving other superheroes – Incredibles 2.

Bottom line: SpiderVerse is into the Animated Feature mix in a major way. It’s out stateside on December 14. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Molly’s Game Movie Review

At its best, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is cinematic music. Like many distinctive screenwriters icluding Mamet and Tarantino, he has an unmistakable style. There’s a zippy and often whip smart quality present. We heard that melody in The Social Network and on “The West Wing” and large parts of A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. On occasion, there are heavy-handed and slightly preachy notes in his wordy tunes.

We know what we’re getting in a Sorkin screenplay. An unknown until now is how he performs behind the lens and Molly’s Game answers it. The frequent highs and more infrequent lows of his writing are present here. And he pleasingly proves he’s got some style in the director’s chair, too.

The film is based on the real life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who went from a wannabe Olympic skier sidelined by freak injury to underground poker syndicate magnate. It’s an improbable yarn where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Following her slopes related incident, Molly travels to L.A. and soon finds herself as assistant to a rich on paper and sleazy real estate developer (Jeremy Strong). He seems far more concerned with his high stakes poker game that involves celebrities and the West Coast wealthy – all male. Molly starts out basically holding their money. That doesn’t last long as her intellect soon has her running the show.

This puts her in constant contact with an unnamed movie star played by Michael Cera. A quick look at the facts of Bloom’s true events would put Tobey Maguire as the actual actor. Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t dwell on the famous names that real Molly came in contact with, as apparently the subject’s book this is based on didn’t either. I will say this. If half the stuff about Maguire (err Cera’s character) is accurate, he’s not exactly your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

It also puts her in proximity with far worse types than bratty leading men. There’s the Mob, in Italian and Russian form. And that’s where it all gets truly dangerous. These individuals provide a risk to her personal safety, as do the drug fueled measures she takes on her own to keep the business rolling in celebrity, Mafia, and trust fund kid cash.

Molly’s Game is told in flashback as our central figure’s legal troubles mount. Idris Elba is her skilled and sympathetic lawyer. Kevin Costner is her hard charging dad – a therapist who is always seeking perfection from his daughter. It’s their dynamic that turns out to be the key one here and provides a window into Molly’s behavior. In some ways, it’s a relationship we’ve seen countless times onscreen before and this doesn’t add much freshness.

That said, when Sorkin’s writing is at its best, it’s an entertaining sound. Molly’s Game gives us plenty of long exchanges between particularly Chastain and Elba that qualify. We’ve seen the world of closed-door poker (in the solid Rounders for example) before, but not often. The writer/director frequently excels at displaying this fast-paced universe that just a minor segment of the ultra rich are privy to.

Chastain is present in nearly every frame and she provides another electric performance as a strong female getting it done in a male dominated universe. Elba offers sturdy support. Even though Costner’s subplot is the most routine, he adds some depth in the third act as the complicated dad.

Those familiar with Sorkin’s word games will find plenty to enjoy here. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Social Network, mind you. It does comfortably give me confidence that his dialogue works just fine with him also wearing the director’s hat.

*** (out of four)

 

Top Ten Summer Music Hits of 2007: A Look Back

Today on the blog, I continue on with my listing of the Top Ten Summer Hits from years past. I’ve already gone over both 1987 and 1997. If you missed those entries, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/07/07/top-ten-summer-music-hits-of-1987-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/07/11/top-ten-summer-music-hits-of-1997-a-look-back/

On this Throwback Thursday, we travel back a decade to 2007 to find what was burning up the charts in a summer where comedies like Knocked Up and Superbad were making us laugh, the Transformers franchise was just beginning, and Spider-Man 3 was overwhelming us with too many villains and Tobey Maguire dancing.

As I have with these posts before, I’ll rank them on my own (not exactly refined) musical scale of 1 (summer bummer) to 10 (summer fire) and let you know whether or not said song resides on my Apple Music playlist.

Let’s get to it!

10. “Make Me Better” – Fabolous feat. Ne-Yo

Brooklyn MC Fabolous starting making hits in 2001 and this Timbaland produced and string heavy track featuring Ne-Yo is one of his biggest. Timbaland always delivers good beats. It’s decent, though nothing too memorable.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

9. “Bartender” – T-Pain feat. Akon

Like many of Mr. Pain’s tracks, this is made for careless nights at the club and in that sense, it’s perfect acceptable. Like some of those nights, however, you may have forgotten it by morning.

My Rating: 6

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

8. “Makes Me Wonder” by Maroon 5

The first single from Maroon 5’s long-awaited second album, this was actually their first #1 hit (a bit surprising considering the smashes from their debut release). It’s a catchy as heck pop concoction with Adam Levine’s fine vocals.

My Rating: 8 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

7. “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston

Jamaican artist Kingston scored a huge one hit wonder here with this reggae tinged ode to a girl he loves. The lyrics are really quite disturbing if you think about them at all, but summer songs are all about enjoying them with the top down and this pretty much delivers.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

6. “The Way I Are” by Timbaland feat. Keri Hilson

Grammatical issues aside, the second single from mega-producer Timbaland’s Shock Value album is a synth heavy standout jam. My goodness – this man was on fire in the mid 2000s.

My Rating: 8 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

5. “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” – T-Pain feat. Yung Joc

And now for the lead single from Mr. Pain’s second smash album. It’s another club anthem meant for quick consumption on a night out and it’s a notch above #9 “Bartender”.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

4. “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s

The signature tune from these Illinois rockers, this track was inescapable a decade ago. The ballad’s rating here perhaps suffers from its overexposure, but it does get in your head.

My Rating: 7

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

3. “Party Like a Rockstar” by Shop Boyz

The first and only hit from these Atlanta rappers, “Rockstar” merged the sounds of hip hop and rock that first gained exposure two decades earlier with Aerosmith and Run DMC. It’s the most downloaded ringtone of 2007. It’s not “Walk This Way”, but it’s fun.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

2. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie

The fourth single off her debut album and the third #1 from it, Black Eyed Peas songstress Fergie slowed it down here with this ditty. Truthfully, it was never among my favorite tracks that were singles but maybe I just gravitated toward other hits like “London Bridge”, “Glamorous”, and “Clumsy”. Still it’s solid. By the way, if that guy Fergie is romancing in the video looks familiar – that would Milo Ventimiglia or Jack from TV’s “This Is Us”.

My Rating: 7 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

1. “Umbrella” by Rihanna feat. Jay-Z

Now we’re talking! One of Rihanna’s best cuts, this was actually rejected by Britney Spears. Oops. With a fine assist from Mr. Shawn Carter (who co-wrote), “Umbrella” features a towering beat and is one of the endlessly played tracks that somehow doesn’t get old. It deserves its accolades.

My Rating: 10

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

Well, that does it folks! The last ten, twenty, and thirty years of summertime hits. Next summer – get ready for 1988, 1998, and 2008. And hitting the blog within days will be reviewing the movie summers of 1987, 1997, and 2007. Stay tuned!

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the third reiteration of the web slinger franchise that began a decade and a half ago. It arrives three years after the first reboot with Andrew Garfield sputtered in its second entry. That franchise faded away being plagued by the same issues that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s trilogy suffered at its end – too many villains and generally trying to cram too much superfluous material. It’s a pleasure to report that Homecoming doesn’t suffer the same problems.

In fact, our third Spidey helping soars the most when Peter Parker stays grounded. Tom Holland is the title character, getting his stand-alone pic after a brief appearance in last summer’s Captain America: Civil War. Yes, Spidey/Peter is now part of the vast Marvel Cinematic Universe and he’s a pupil of none other than Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Well, sort of. After assisting in one epic battle in Civil War, Peter wrongly assumes he’s part of The Avengers. Yet Stark isn’t exactly quick to enlist him, tasking his trusty bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to keep tabs on him but not involve him in their day-to-day world saving activities.

That leaves Peter doing his Spidey thing on a much smaller scale, busting carjackers and ATM thieves in New York City while hiding his identity from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his high school buddies. That consists mostly of just one classmate Ned (Jacob Batalon), a fellow nerd. Peter also has a serious crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), the lovely captain of the academic decathlon team. There’s another female student, played by Zendaya, that you suspect will become more important as the franchise continues. Homecoming does something that other Spidey flicks never really bothered to do. It makes Peter Parker a credible high school student. Part of the problem in the first two series was that you never bought Maguire or Garfield as underclassmen. With Holland, his youthful exuberance and awkwardness sell it. Of the trio we’ve seen thus far, he is probably the best Spider-Man. He’s definitely the best Peter Parker.

One of Spidey’s busts while waiting for Tony Stark to call with bigger projects leads him to Toomes (Michael Keaton), whose backstory is explained in the opening sequence. He’s a former small business owner gone disgruntled after more powerful interests (Mr. Stark and his empire) took his livelihood away. Toomes retaliates by using some stolen materials to develop weapons. Just as Peter is an everyday guy who becomes a superhero, Toomes is a once normal Joe who becomes a super villain. With Keaton playing him, it’s a pleasure to watch. One often deserved knock on the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that a solid villain is about as common as a Marvel Cinematic Unicorn. As with Loki, this offers an exception and Keaton is the reason why.

The scenes in the high school are handled with a often light, humorous and believable touch. Our grand action set pieces are expertly handled, but not much different than anything else we see multiple times a year (one at the Washington Monument is pretty nifty though). Homecoming does a commendable job at remembering that our hero is a neighborhood Spider-Man. Even though we know a much larger universe awaits him, it’s a treat to watch him working in relatively more grounded reality.

*** (out of four)