Spider-Man: Homecoming

No doubting from this that Tom Holland is an excellent casting choice for Peter Parker/Spidey. He has youthful enthusiasm and radiates a genuine desire to just do good things for his neighbourhood. Yes, he’s dazzled by the possibility of becoming an Avenger but at heart he’s just a teenager struggling with the usual high-school stuff while stopping petty-crime in the evenings.

And yet I was only just about satisfied with Spider-Man: Homecoming. It felt over-long, with some quite baggy special effects, and an alarming disregard for the development of its female characters.

And so many questions! Is the timeline between the fallout from the Chitauri invasion (Avengers Assemble), the airport fight (Captain America: Civil War) and the placing of events in this film really correct? Why does Spider-Man have to have his suit replete with voice like Tony Stark’s suit? Why has Pepper miraculously reappeared as if nothing has happened, only a short time after she broke up with Tony? Does Spider-Man have some kind of incredible healing powers, because after most of what he went through, that kid shouldn’t have survived … more than once!

Maybe I’m getting too old for this.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

You may recall that I did not like director Luc Besson’s previous feature film Lucy AT ALL.

But I had seen and heard the reviews, and I do like Jupiter Ascending, so I was prepared to give Valerian a go.

Good choice, Marie! Yes there are things wrong with the film, but I had real fun in its presence so :-p to you if you didn’t. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that I really, really liked, and also a few things that were unnecessary and whose inclusion I didn’t fully understand, but I almost feel like I need to watch it again to get the full benefit of the visual tapestry which Besson has woven for this world.

Things that I really, really liked:

  • The opening sequence set to the Bowie track
  • The world of Müll and its inhabitants – such vibrant colours, and that iridescent blue pearlised skin-effect was just beautiful
  • The sequence taking place in multiple dimensions – really well handled
  • The Star Wars meets Jupiter Ascending aesthetic
  • Ethan Hawke as a Space Pimp!
  • Rihanna, surprisingly
  • Cara Delevingne, even more surprisingly

Things that were, admittedly, a little puzzling

  • Laureline spends most of the film demonstrating that she is driven by her head and following orders. Yet in the end she tries to convince us that she’s the renegade? Whereas he’s been flouting the rules all along, yet won’t disobey orders JUST AT THE END WHEN IT’S OBVIOUSLY THE RIGHT THING TO DO according to the film’s world?
  • I haven’t seen Dane DeHaan in very much so I’m not sure – but does he actually talk like a cut price Keanu Reeves in real life or did he make this a strange decision to channel him? Coz that wasn’t necessary.
  • Staying Alive? Please.
  • Not sure what the food parade was all about.
  • Do we really need that complete explanation of everything which occurs at the end? I had already figured it all out by then, so this was totally unnecessary exposition as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, I liked it just fine thank you very much, and will be picking this up on Blu-ray when it’s released. So there.

Podcast episode: Who am I, I am me?

If someone invites you to talk with them about film on their podcast, and says you can choose the movies which are discussed, then why pick just one Jake Gyllenhaal when you can have two?!

In part one of a two-part series on identity crises, The B-Movie Podcast‘s Adam and I chat insecurity, infidelity and spiders (yuk) as we reflect on Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy – you’ll find a link to the podcast here.

Sea of Love (1989)

Rewatching for my The Complete Pacino list.

After the failure of Revolution, it was 4 years before Pacino returned to the cinema screen in this ‘thriller’. I recall at the time liking Sea of Love quite a bit, but I was less interested this time around. Perhaps because I knew who the criminal was?

Or perhaps because things which seemed so normal in 1989 (singles ads in print form, making phone calls from booths on the street, and Ellen Barkin’s amazingly body-skimming wardrobe) really date this film watching it in 2017.

I’ve never been much of a Barkin fan, particularly in this film – but then, I guess she’s not supposed to appeal to me in a role like this. Her character isn’t that well developed, and flip-flops between storming off in a huff and then placidly forgiving the lies she’s been told so she can get a shag. Anyone who will just jump all over someone the first night while still feeling the need to carry a gun around because of ‘all the crazy people out there’ really needs to re-think her lifestyle choices. And fondling the vegetables in the all night grocery wearing nothing but an overcoat is probably high on the list of things to avoid.

But the highlight is most definitely the on-screen relationship between Al Pacino and John Goodman – they are great together as cops partnered-up to solve the murders, and I can imagine them continuing to do so long after the film’s story has ended.

My Cousin Rachel

Rachel Weisz is as captivating a screen presence as you could wish for. Beautiful, mysterious and beguiling, she has the whole audience in the palm of her hand, just as she does with young Philip (Sam Claflin), her cousin by marriage.

But Rachel is a complex character whose actions and emotions are open to interpretation, and this ambiguity creates tension from the moment she appears (which is a long way into the film, considering she is named in the title). Do we believe she is conniving or genuine, grieving or manipulating? It’s fair to say that I changed my mind a couple of times while watching, which adds to the fun and intrigue.

However, whereas Weisz provides a strong canvas on which to paint intrigue, her opposite number Claflin does not. He moves from blind hatred to puppy dog love without showing any graduation or confusion at all, rendering his first-act posturing irrelevant. And for the remainder of the story, his naïveté was then just an irritation, instead of being another layer to Rachel’s complexity. Such a shame, because du Maurier excels at tension, and Claflin’s boyish tantrums meant that once I’d made up my mind about Rachel, the tension was over.

It’s set in a beautiful part of the world, though, and so the outdoor shots look absolutely lovely; and I’d like to commend Holliday Grainger for bringing life to what is really a thankless role.

I’m not saying this is a disaster, but I sadly can’t bring myself to say it’s much more than average either.

Gifted

Chris Evans plays the struggling yet devoted uncle of a young, mathematically gifted girl who comes into conflict with the girl’s estranged grandmother over her schooling.

At first glance, this has Hallmark melodrama written all over it and I’m sure many people will be put off by the synopsis.

But if you’re in two minds as to whether to give this a try or not, I’d encourage you to give it a chance because it is actually handled very well, and is a delightful story of family ties, conflict, duty and love, without being at all schmaltzy.

The casting is key. Small children can often be really, and I mean really, annoying in films, but McKenna Grace is just perfect. She has the right amount of sass combined with the vulnerability of a young child who’s experiencing huge emotional stress, and her interactions with her uncle Chris Evans are just great. And I’m a huge admirer of Chris Evans as an actor. Seeing him playing a role such as Captain America/Steve Rogers, it’s so easy to overlook the fact that he is, actually, a good actor. You become more aware of this when you see him doing something else, and then realise how it’s not easy to play the perfect hero – I think the fact that he inhabits Steve Rogers so well in the MCU means that audiences miss just how good he is in other things – such as this. And Octavia Spencer’s character is one person you would not want to get on the wrong side of – a raised eyebrow is all it takes to convey ‘don’t you even think about it’ when defending her nearest and dearest.

I’ll concede a slightly convenient device in the final act which aided the denouement, but aside from this, the director Marc Webb balances the courtroom and personal dramas very well, without getting bogged down in either too much. It’s probably best described as a ‘quiet’ film, if that makes sense.

Please give it a try!

 

Baby Driver 

20 minutes in to this and I was totally convinced I was watching one of the best films of the year.

The opening scene is an amazing feat of car choreography – perhaps the best I have ever seen. And the follow-up long take accompanying Baby on the coffee run is a work of genius.

But having hit these peaks, the film never reached those heights afterwards. For a film about a driver, he does less and less of that as the story (such as there is) progresses. At one point he pursues his get-away by running, and by the end he actually isn’t driving the car anymore – someone else is and he’s in the passenger seat. From such a strong start, it was disappointing to see it fizzle out.

And that’s before we get to the topic of the female characters. The one woman who is part of the ‘gang’ is named Darling, for goodness’ sake, and is a terrible stereotype. The only other female role of note is that played by Lily James, as  – I kid you not – Baby’s manic pixie dream girl. She has no immediate family, she works in a diner, she waits for him even after he lets her down on more than one occasion. It’s a real disappointment that this is still happening.

I mean, I enjoyed Baby Driver while I was watching it, and I can see what Edgar Wright was trying to do, but I would probably watch the first 20 minutes again if it screens on television and then happily go to bed.

Okja

Why is Bong Joon Ho so obsessed with Tilda’s teeth?

This first came to my attention in the director’s previous film, Snowpiercer, which never received a cinema release in the UK but which I purchased on DVD when travelling in New Zealand in 2015. And as a commentary on how western capitalism is eating itself, I think Bong Joon Ho’s earlier film works better than Okja.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy about Okja. The performances from Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija, and Hee-Bong Byun as her grandfather are delightful, Paul Dano is … well, sweet, actually, and without the usual creepiness, and Jake Gyllenhaal is ludicrously note-perfect as the TV animal expert trying desperately to save his career. His is a performance that I guess is likely to divide, and I can understand that. But I loved the campy, over-the-topness of his characterisation, and the fact that he appeared to revel in it.

I wish I had the same affection for Tilda’s character(s) however. They were too much of a caricature to be taken seriously, with Tilda delivering her lines in a manner more reminiscent of a poorly written soap opera, and nowhere near her best work. And what a waste of the talents of Giancarlo Esposito. His character feels like he had a much broader part to play but which has been trimmed down to that of personal assistant.

The mix of Korean rural culture and New York business is an interesting one, and Bong Joon Ho uses his idiosyncratic style to fuse the two in a way which conveys his message. For a global platform such as Netflix, maybe this is the start of a genuinely universal method of film making, which doesn’t involve shooting a random scene in Shanghai to please Chinese investors.

However I would have been happier to have had it even darker, to make less of a comedy out of Tilda’s character(s), and less of the vaguely hopeful ending, which would have had a stronger, more lasting effect. True, the dark scenes are truly awful, and I have heard from others how it has genuinely challenged their view on the food they eat. But I’ve not eaten meat for almost 30 years, and already appreciate the theme, so I don’t need convincing of the message.

Wonder Woman

A lot of good things about this, even though I didn’t love it quite as much as others obviously have.

The opening section is one I loved. The colours and action put me in mind of Christopher Reeve’s Superman, and took me back to my childhood. The training sequences set up Diana’s combat ability for future events, showing us that she hasn’t just inherited a range of superpowers, but she has also worked damned hard to be able to fight with such skill. We learn about her inherent belief in right and wrong, which underpins her choices later in the story. And we learn the backstory to her community via a really creative exposition sequence in which, for once, the voice over didn’t get in the way.

The second act has a good mix of cultural commentary (on women’s position in the early 20th century, on the rights and wrongs of war) and action, and the sequence in which Diana climbs out of the trench and into the battle is outstanding. Her naïveté is both comical and understandable, in the same way that Thor is – their interest in this new world and the trials they face to comprehend it and assimilate are charming, funny and genuine.

But the third act is where everything began to fall apart. The colours darkened, the Big Bad is revealed, and the showdown reverts to DC mayhem *yawn*. Even before this, I’ll admit to struggling with the relationship between Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and Diana – something about it just didn’t convince me, and I think on reflection it was Pine, or the writing of his character at least. I haven’t seen him in too many things, but I am a Star Trek aficionado and think he was far too Kirk most of the time. And by the time we reached the finale, all that “I believe in love” stuff had me cringing.

But I adore Gal Gadot, and I love what she’s doing with this character, and this is definitely going to be rewatched.

The Christopher Nolan thing

I’ve long believed that Christopher Nolan has no clue as to how to write female characters.

But it seems he’s solved this problem by choosing to make a film with no female characters in it.

OK, I lie.  IMDb lists two female characters. TWO. The first is 24th on the cast list, and she’s a nurse. The other is 43rd on the list and she’s … a nurse.

So at least he won’t have to worry too much about writing interesting dialogue for two military nurses who are clearly less-than-minor characters.

Fine. Just don’t expect me to have any interest in seeing it.