The Killing of a Sacred Deer, 2017

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan

IMDb

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a tough watch, but I for one really liked it.

Much like Yorgos Lathimos’ most recent film ‘The Lobster’, the film takes place in a slight dystopia where everyone talks and acts in an emotionally muted and hyper-literal fashion. The rules of our society do not apply and it leaves you with a very unsettling feeling.

The setup for the setting pretty well encapsulates the films intended effect: extremely unsettling and non-conforming to the rules. The rules of standard hollywood story structure, that is.
It’s an extremely well made film, and Colin Farrell gave an excellent performance, but it’s not necessarily meant to be enjoyed by all. I liked it, but to you guys I say: go see it if you don’t mind being weirded the fuck out.

If you liked Mother! you may dig it. If you liked The Lobster, you’ll almost definitely dig it.

It’s very good, and it will keep me thinking for a long time. But then I’m a film nerd. I’m keen to hear what anyone who did see it thought.

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The Disaster Artist, 2017

Directed by: James Franco

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco

IMDb

The Disaster Artist was a pretty great film. I can’t recommend it (and the titular Disaster it tells the story of) highly enough.

If you’re not aware, The Room is heralded as one of the worst films ever made, and it has gained an ever-growing cult status in the years since its release. For my Sydney friends, The Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne (not sponsored, I swear) hosts a screening on the first Friday of every month and it’s a great laugh. The cult movie experience is more than worth the price of admission. One of the most striking things about The Room is its Director/Writer/Producer/Star Tommy Wiseau: a vampire-looking man of unknown origins and a notable lack of… any talent, and the way he presents himself is intriguingly strange. He’s a truly interesting and mysterious real-life figure.

James Franco absolutely knocked me out with his performance as Tommy. What a truly captivating character, and what a seamless performance/portrayal. I did not for a moment see James Franco, I saw Tommy. There were times that I totally forgot I was watching a performance and thought it was really the man himself. Truly legendary. One of the most convincing performances I’ve seen of any kind in years.

Everyone else was good too. Dave Franco played the other lead, Greg, very well and very sympathetically, despite being vastly upstaged by his brother. I particularly enjoyed the minor characters played by Josh Hutcherson and Seth Rogen. You really get the impression that tonnes of celebrities were pining super hard to be involved in this production, and their passion is felt very strongly. Everyone feels like they’re having a good time.
If I were to nitpick, I would say that it was actually kind of distracting having so many super-famous people in the movie, it kind of distracted from their characters a little. This isn’t a serious issue though.

The story is captivating in that it makes you immediately curious right from the get-go as to just how The Room came to be. It would probably be less interesting if it weren’t based on a true story, but fortunately for us it really happened and damn is it interesting. The story does get a little cheesy at points in ways that depart from the actual truth of the sequence of events, but I feel that these changes do ultimately benefit the film as a whole.

It’s a really funny movie as well. You will probably appreciate it more having seen The Room though, so if you haven’t I would recommend at least looking up a ‘best of’ list of moments on youtube or something.

Soundtrack, cinematography, editing and directing were all good, but not particularly notable. That’s ok though, this is a character driven movie and it succeeds to a spectacular degree at being that.

Hurry up and go see it. It’s awesome.

Justice League, 2017

Directed by: Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill

IMDb

Justice League wasn’t even fun. You can skip it. Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman were at least enjoyable in a ‘watching a train wreck’ kind of way, but Justice League was simply a bore. Nothing interesting is done at all, every plot development is completely expected, none of the characters go through interesting arcs and the action scenes just aren’t even that good. Strictly speaking it’s better than the aforementioned DC ensemble pieces, but not in any really meaningful way. Justice League is a nothing movie and I honestly think you should skip it.

From here on out, I’m going to spoil everything. If that’s not what you want, stop reading now. You have been warned.

Also, for obvious reasons I’m going to be alluding to The Avengers a lot.

 

The first and most glaring issue with this film is its structure. Much like Batman V. Superman, it kind of begins four times in a row, as if they brainstormed a whole bunch of ideas and decided to go with all of them instead of choosing the best one. So right off the bat, the audience is bored; none of the openings provide any real intrigue or value to the film as a whole and are actually handled pretty clumsily, which I found honestly surprising. Snyder, despite his shortcomings, is more than capable of making his shots look striking, which none of these did. Most importantly though, none of these openings actually worked to bring the team together. They just sort of happened. This kind of progression with things just ‘happening’ pervades the entire film, and by the end you feel like nothing was gained from watching.

Like Batman V Superman, there is no proper second act. There kind of is, but it essentially acts as a prelude to the climax and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Imagine if in ‘The Avengers’ immediately after capturing Loki, the team went and fought the horde of alien monsters. It felt rushed and importantly, didn’t feel earned. Not to mention, the climax wasn’t really all that fun. The editing was too fast, there was no truly interesting or iconic cinematography and it left pretty much zero impact.

The most vital thing to get right in a movie like this, though, is the characters. The filmmakers have failed these beloved icons to an epic degree. They learned 0 from Marvel’s success. By the time the Avengers was released, we had: four hero characters who had starred in their own films and two less major ones who had at least had a scene before, and the main villain had been well established. The whole experiment that was ‘The Avengers’ worked because they covered all their bases before actually going for the big one (it was also very tightly written and directed, but bear with me here). The Justice League Consists of five (six if you include spoiler-not-spoiler), of which only one had been in their own movie. Batman V Superman was close enough to being a Batman movie, so I’ll call that two. Even so, that’s more than half the main cast being introduced in this movie. The result: no one gets developed, no one is interesting and everyone feels like a watered-down version of their supposed character. The most prominent lesson that any character learns is ‘working together is good’, like that hasn’t been done to death in Hollywood genre films. In order to properly illustrate just how lame the cast is, let’s go through the list one-by-one:

Flash was uninteresting. He’s the quippiest character, and so supposedly the fan favourite, but his entire shtick is that he’s socially awkward and finds it hard to make friends. In a movie where the entire point is forcing people together, this could have been played up as an interesting challenge to overcome for the character, but they don’t do anything with it. Probably would have been helped if he had more time to be developed. Ezra Miller was fine, but the writing failed him.

Aquaman was also underdeveloped, and he was honestly kind of annoying. I didn’t mind the casting of Jason Momoa, but the characterization felt overly workshopped; his entire personality in this movie can be summed up as: ‘I’m too cool for this’, which is entirely the wrong choice for a character named ‘Aquaman’ whose powers include swimming really fast and talking to fish. He was honestly like an angsty teen, so I guess he was effective as the self-insert character for the target demographic.

Cyborg was the most interesting of the three new additions, and definitely got the most development, but that’s a low bar to overcome. Ray Fisher was put in a tough position, having to play a character with a lot of his emotions practically ripped out of him, but I think he did well under the circumstances. He reminded me a bit of Vision from the Avengers, but with much less charm. At least his design was neat and his powers were cool. The movie would have been immensely better off, however, without dealing with his backstory. They could have cut it out and had the first mention of him be in the scene where he remotely hacks the batcomputer. It would have been a much better character introduction, a much more impactful scene altogether and would have made the film flow so much better.

Wonder Woman has nothing interesting to say or do in this move. She dumps exposition, makes a few references to the more emotional moments of her movie (which I guess were supposed to count as the emotional moments in this movie) and is in general the most powerful member of the team. Nothing in her character feels like a complete creative decision, everything is a compromise. It sucks, and it’s a shame, considering how energetic and motivated she was in her own movie. None of it shines through here. Gal Gadot is still good, but she isn’t given much to work with here.

Ben Affleck honestly looks kind of bored through most of the movie. His performance was better in BVS, and as much as I appreciate the brighter and more colourful lighting in this movie, it really highlights how silly this Batman costume looks. Also, every time he starts to do something cool with a gadget or vehicle or something, it’s destroyed within seconds. He feels very un-valuable in this scenario beyond the fact that he’s the one putting the team together and hosting the meetings. Strictly speaking, he is the one dragging the plot along by its hair, but like the others, his character goes nowhere.

Superman is back! (what a surprise) And the way that they bring him back to life is honestly so dumb that it’s my favourite part of the movie. If you don’t intend to see the movie, here’s what happens: the McGuffins for this film are these three cubes (super original, guys) which ‘simultaneously create and destroy life’. So, they decide to resurrect Superman like a fucking zombie in order to essentially use him as a big gun against the villain. They spend like one minute debating the ethics of that in a scene ripped straight out of ‘Age of Ultron’ and then proceed to do it without any further debate or real consequences. They dig him up, put him in the spaceship from Man of Steel and use Flash’s speed-electricity to set off the cube and bring him back to life. Only now he’s gone mad and fights the Justice League for a bit. Probably about five minutes. Dead serious, this is probably the best part of the movie, but it’s so dumb. He also has, no joke, freeze breath, which he uses to freeze the villain’s axe thing. So much for the gritty realistic reinterpretation of Superman. His inclusion in this movie is pretty superfluous for the most part; he doesn’t have much bearing on the plot as a whole, making his death even more meaningless. What a wasted opportunity to effectively pull off the on-screen death of a globally revered icon.

Also, it is hilariously obvious in which scenes they CGI’d the moustache off of Henry Cavill’s face, it looks pretty horrible and I find it hysterical.

Steppenwolf is possibly the worst villain in any recent mainstream superhero film. If you saw Thor Ragnarok, he was essentially that fire demon guy from the very beginning of the movie. You know, the one that Taika Waititi basically played as being a joke for being so very uninteresting and clichéd. The comparison is uncanny, they even kind of look alike. He’s all about the usual ‘world domination’, ‘this world belongs to me’ bullshit that we’ve all seen before a million times, and we never get anything resembling a deeper look as to his motivations. He just kind of is this way.

He quests to find these cubes (Avengers) that will let him take over earth (Avengers) and terraform it into his home planet (Man of Steel) in service of a big tyrannical galactic Overlord (Avengers). He has attacked the earth before, thousands of years ago but was defeated (X-Men: Apocalypse) and carries a big axe hammer thing (Guardians of the Galaxy).

The soundtrack was also very dull. If there was a ‘Justice League’ theme, I didn’t notice it. I heard some variations of the original Superman (1978) theme which were kind of cool I guess, but otherwise it was very generic action movie crap.

Strictly speaking, this is a better movie than BVS and Suicide Squad. I’m not sure if I’d consider better than Man of Steel. It does have some flow to its narrative, but events lack impact and you don’t care about the characters. It, as far as I could tell, had very few plotholes, but this was the wrong lesson to learn from Batman V Superman. Plotholes are not deal breakers to the overall experience; poor narrative structure and underdeveloped characters are. Case and point: The Dark Knight Rises.

I would recommend finding something else to watch this weekend. Justice League is boring, uninteresting and not even a spectacle of a failure. It’s far from unwatchable, but it was straight up disappointing.

DC, I would seriously reconsider your current course. Stop hiring Zack Snyder as a director, he is not a good storyteller. Sure, comics are a visual medium and he’s a visual director, but this movie didn’t look good enough for it to be worth it. Let the reigns go a little. Let the directors and writers try and come up with a more creative approach to these characters. It’s paying off for Marvel. It paid off with Nolan. It will pay off again. Just do it. I believe in you.

Love,

Max.

Blade Runner 2049, 2017

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford

IMDb

I’m not really the biggest fan of Blade Runner (yes I watched the director’s cut). I’ve watched the film twice and failed pretty hard to really connect with it either time. I get the impression that maybe if I saw it in a cinema for my first viewing I would have liked it more, but even then apparently the theatrical version is vastly inferior. So yeah, not exactly sure why, but it never really resonated with me.

Blade Runner 2049 is a different story. I fucking loved it.

I’m going to be tripping over my toes for spoilers here, but if you want to go in knowing actually nothing, the mini-review is just to go see it ASAP. It’s really good.

First off, Ryan Gosling was fantastic. He was very well suited to his character, but I still managed to disassociate the actor from the role, which is difficult with such a big name. I’m also glad that he was truly the central focus of the film, as the character was really interesting; I was constantly in a state of wanting to know more about him. The performance was pretty spot on as well. Top notch effort. Harrison Ford, by comparison, was far less interesting, but in a good way. I feared going in that he would be playing a similar role as Han Solo in The Force Awakens, a pretty ‘done’ mentor trope, and was glad to see him take a back seat. His inclusion only benefited the story, which is pretty much the opposite of what I expected.

The story is simply captivating. It’s slow and complex, but it sticks out in my mind as special, as it created a genuine mystery. Every time I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, I was wrong, but that never comes from cheap tactics such as characters lying or some bullshit like that. It was consistently because the film anticipated what kinds of assumptions I would be making. It’s very smart. Its slowness, by the way, may disappoint some, but I felt it only added to the film’s rich atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere, holy crap the visuals and audio. The film looks and sounds gorgeous. The filmmakers have created/updated a truly interesting and fleshed out world, and the sound design enhances the experience by somehow adding to your understanding of what living in it is like. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the way the film is scored works incredibly well to further immerse you in the film without compromising its melodic nature. Where most films would typically have a track end at the same time as its corresponding scene, here it may even crescendo into the transition and continue into the next sequence, greatly aiding the flow of the story. This is a long movie and I never got bored, I never even had proper opportunity to check my watch, and I think the audio and visuals had something to do with that. I’d also like to add that the audio mixing was done with a bit of flare that I rarely see (hear). Every film that comes out of hollywood will be made with a surround sound setup in mind, but I very rarely notice, barring gimmicks. Here is was just done really well, added another layer of cool.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any major flaws. If I were to grasp at straws, I would say some character motivations were kind of confusing at times, but I’m pretty well convinced that they were explained and I just missed it. Similar to how I must have missed something in the first movie, because I really want to watch it again with this new viewpoint. The CGI was fantastic overall, but had two blunders for me. First was a bug, which was more or less excusable, and the other was a fully rendered character. While better than Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher in Rogue One, the technology still isn’t quite there yet. Please stop.

Blade Runner 2049 is a fantastic film, and I highly recommend going to see it in cinemas while it’s still out. Be warned, it is long and slow, but I didn’t see those as bad things at all. One of the best of the year.

Marvel’s The Defenders S1 Review.

Creators: Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez

Starring: Charlie Cox, Kristen Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4230076/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Ok, so I just finished watching The Defenders. Strap in kids, this is gonna be a long one.
Normally I’m writing about 2.5 hours of cinema, but here it’s around 60 hours of television.

To those that don’t know, The Defenders is a follow up to four Netflix shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where characters come together. I want to start this by outlining my thoughts on those shows. For some of these, it’s been a while, so these will mostly be general thoughts.

Daredevil Season 1 surprised the hell out of me. Fantastic action scenes, surprisingly good characters and dialogue and an amazing villain in Wilson Fisk – a truly interesting character in his own right. It went on a little too long (all of these shows do) but otherwise its story was really well contained. Great Start.
The second season, I felt was a little weaker, and this absolutely had to do with the villains, replacing the singular kingpin with an entire shadowy organisation of ninjas. That said, the writing was still on point, giving a real depth to the whole masked vigilante thing that movies simply can’t because it’s not in the runtime. The addition of Jon Bernthal as the Punisher was the real redemption of this series. He was awesome. The dialogue scenes between him and Daredevil were great.

Jessica Jones among my favourite TV shows full stop. David Tennant plays Killgrave, one of the most intriguing and entertaining villains I have ever seen in any medium. He’s creepy, he’s legitimately threatening and he’s a lot of fun to watch. The entire story arc of the season was centred so tightly around his character and the titular Jessica Jones (who is also played fantastically by Kristen Ritter) that I don’t really see how they can follow it. The show drags a bit when it switches its focus away from the core storyline, but the highs reach much higher than the lows ever sink.

Luke Cage the show was ok. Luke Cage the character is fantastic. All of these shows are super dark so it’s a breath of fresh air to see a guy who doesn’t walk around with a total chip on his shoulder. He comes off as the kind of guy you’d want to grab a beer with and that does wonders for watchability. The villains are a mixed bag here. There are four, and they range from great to bad. Guess which one ends up being the main baddie of the season? The show has a phenomenal soundtrack which aids in the creation of one of the most distinct locations I’ve ever seen on screen. This show *loves* Harlem. I remember when it first came out it had a pre-release available only to those who lived in Harlem and during that period of time the IMDb rating was almost 10/10. The show reeeaallly takes a long time to get going though, and the writing isn’t as strong as the two before it.

Iron Fist, in my opinion, is the first actually bad Marvel Cinematic Universe property. The closest contender would probably be some of the earlier seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but at least they had their moments and kept a generally fun vibe. First off, Danny Rand is straight up an unlikeable character and Finn Jones isn’t a very good actor nor martial artist. Huge issue for a character centric martial arts show. Additionally, the fight choreography isn’t very good either, and end up seeming to intentionally hide how crap it is by not letting us properly see it with shaky-cam. The show is also directionless, never sticking to a strict goal for the character, making the show really quite boring, and feeling like it’ll never go anywhere, which it doesn’t. Not helping is that the antagonists are the same shadowy organisation, ‘The Hand’ from Daredevil S2, who are even more boring here. The only thing that kept the show afloat at all, if you ask me, was David Wenham’s performance, which was so over the top that the show became enjoyable for his moments of screentime.

Ok, Now: The Defenders. It was good. Thank god. That wasn’t really ever going to be a certainty though, as nothing like this has ever been attempted. The writing and directing staff was essentially a ‘Dream Team’ of the better episodes of each series before it, which could have led to clashing, but it worked out fine. The obvious comparison is with ‘The Avengers’ but unfortunately it doesn’t give the same sort of climactic feel to this series of shows as Avengers does for its series of films.

I winced when it was first teased that the antagonistic force of the show would be my dreaded ‘The Hand’ from Daredevil S2 and Iron Fist, and yet at the same time wasn’t surprised at all. It only made sense, as all team up stories apparently require an army to fight. Fortunately though, they actually kind of pulled it off. Sigourney Weaver appears for the first time as the mysterious leader of ‘The Hand’, Alexandra, and while not as iconic as Killgrave or Kingpin, she is certainly very interesting and Sigourney does an excellent job portraying her. Most importantly though, she gives the whole ‘Shadowy Organisation’ thing some actual personality and character. Also, unlike in the previous two shows, we get actual insight as to what The Hand’s goals are, the people who run them, their motivations, a little of their backstories. You know, stuff that interesting characters have. Good performances are given by all of the other antagonists as well.

Much like this review, the show took quite a while to get the ball rolling. Despite there only being 8 episodes, none of the four core characters actually met one another until the very end of the second episode, the first acting as more of a reintroduction to all the characters we might have forgotten about since we last saw them. This may be the shortest of all of these shows, but it doesn’t speed up its pacing at all. It’s still quite slow, just less overall happens. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the show has a pretty clear sense of direction to it. It doesn’t really have proper subplots, it just starts in four places which slowly stream into one story. One word of warning though, the show relies relatively heavily on you having watched the previous shows. I recommend brushing up on Daredevil S2 and consulting wikipedia on the ‘plot’ of Iron Fist.

The show is at its best when it’s letting the four leads bounce off one another. Put simply, these are enjoyable characters to watch (for the most part) and Charlie Cox, Kristen Ritter and Mike Colter all bring their A material to the table. Finn Jones, however, is still unlikeable as Danny Rand, though not in the same way as before. It seems as though the show runners have decided to figuratively steer into the skid and made the Danny Rand character intentionally unlikeable, stupid and annoying. Pretty much everyone hates him and that brought a smile to my face on more than one occasion. He also sort of becomes a bit less insufferable by the end of the season.

My biggest criticism of the show would have to be with the side characters. The supporting cast of all the other shows are all also here, essentially trapped together and we incessantly cut back to them. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if these characters actually did anything. Towards the very end of the season a couple of them do actual things, but for the most part it’s just talking about stuff related to the plot, that has 0 bearing on the progression of the story itself, meanwhile not progressing even slightly as characters. It just takes up time and it’s kind of boring. These are good characters played by good actors. Either let them do something or don’t have them at all.

Beside the characters, the filmmaking was actually pretty admirable. Soundtrack, cinematography and editing were all solid, with a few moments that really shone. I also noticed a few allusions to classic films which I appreciated.

There really is just simplistic joy to seeing a team of characters that you like getting up there and kicking ass together though. Even though these shows have proven that they’re more than just that, we can’t deny that it’s the reason that The Defenders was ever even made. Thankfully, it’s done well. Makes the whole experience worth it. Overall this is a fun show, the humour is actually pretty great. Additionally, it doesn’t pull its punches. It gets intense, it has big reveals and it delights. It isn’t really *about* anything in the same way that the better of its predecessors were, but it’s still a solid show.

I have a relatively major criticism about the way the show ends, but for the sake of not spoiling it, I’ll talk about it another time. It doesn’t really impact on my overall thoughts of the show, however, which I thought was a good one. Not amazing, but not really disappointing either.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, 2017

Directed by: Luc Besson

Starring: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevigne

IMDb

Valerian and the City of a Thousand was a pretty crap movie and I had a great time watching it.
 
To be clear, there are actually some solid points to the film. The visual direction and style is pretty stimulating, a bunch of the ideas pulled from the source material were pretty unique and very neat, and surprisingly not totally played out as far as hollywood sci-fi movies are concerned. Dane Dehaan’s performance was pretty good when the script allowed him to be, and I’d be lying if the film didn’t manage to get a few laughs out of me, even if it didn’t mean to in every case.
 
The dialogue, and indeed the writing as a whole, was cringeworthy and hilarious. I didn’t buy the banter/romance between Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevigne for even a second. Still funny though.
 
Speaking of funny, Cara Delevigne’s performance was amazingly terrible. There were points where it looked like she had to struggle to remember her lines, her accent slipped between british and american liberally, and I swear the majority of her line delivery was in the style of a sitcom. I’m not sure why hollywood is so insistent on making her an actress but if this kind of performance is going to become her standard I almost hope to see her on screen more often.
 
The CGI was at an interesting level, particularly with the alien creatures. It was at a level of competency that these creatures would look fantastic if they were featuring in an animated film, but unfortunately we, the audience, are meant to buy that they exist side by side with live action human characters. It’s honestly kind of hilarious how jarring the differences are. Early on in the film there’s a jump cut from a fully CGI rendered world to a close up on Dane Dehaan and I actually laughed from how silly it looked.
 
Rihanna has what amounts to an extended cameo in the film despite how heavily the marketing focused on her presence in the film. Of the approximately 10 minutes of screen time she gets, about 2 of those are dedicated to a shapeshifting pole dancing routine, which ends up being a highlight of the film if only for the awkward reaction shots of Dane Dehaan. Her implementation into the film was incredibly dumb, and despite her evident lack in acting talent (I never saw Battleship so as far as I’m concerned this is her debut) she still ended up being one of the most endearing elements in the film.
 
 
 
One last comment is that this is one of the most explicit offenders of telling rather than showing in order to translate as much of the source material as possible. Literal minutes straight of nothing but exposition plague this film. Some of it, especially towards the end, was absolutely hilarious. Trust me. This movie is actually a great time if you have 0 expectations.
 
It tries its best to have actual tension but it never quite makes it. It has half hearted attempts at emotional moments and never comes close. No, the best parts of this movie are the laughs and some of the visuals, in addition to some neat ideas which can’t even be attributed to the film, as they were from the graphic novel.
 
It’s bad, but the good kind of bad. If you’re into that kind of thing, go ahead and enjoy.
 

Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017

Directed by: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.

IMDb

Spider-Man was a really big deal to me growing up, and to this day there’s still a simplistic glee to seeing a new Spider-Man movie on the big screen (even with Rise of Electro). So, I’ve been excited by the prospect of a new Spider-Man set in the Marvel Universe for years, even more so with the new direction that they’re giving the franchise. I mention all this to explain that emotions are high for me on this one, and I’m struggling to totally think about it objectively.

I really liked Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s a load of fun. I love Tom Holland’s version, giving us something completely different from any other Spider-Man, even any other on-screen superhero. What got me excited about Homecoming from the start is that this version of Spider-Man is a teenager through and through. Despite Holland being 20 years old, he, and all of his co-stars look and act like teenagers. Sure, the previous incarnations’ first films took place in school, it was laughably unbelievable, and they ditched the school setting as soon as possible. Homecoming goes all the way with it, incorporating the themes of the film to the kind of struggles a teenager would go through while trying to be a superhero at the same time as his normal teenage life.

Something the film perfectly portrays is what it would be like if a kid got superpowers. The excitement, the fun, the inexperience and the consequences of that inexperience. It’s as a result of this that the character is really nothing like the previous two iterations, who’s conflicts are much more based around heavy heroic responsibility and dark broody revenge respectively. This new one is about Peter Parker discovering the role he fits in this larger universe. I feel this direction is more appropriate, given the context of its modern audience, and the character’s place in a world that is already full of superheroes. Spider-Man is less of a big deal in this universe than the previous, but he’ll get there.

Speaking of, this film relies heavily on its universe in its narrative, which I see as both a good and a bad thing. It heavily benefits me, being the super-nerd that I am about this franchise, having direct ties and assumed knowledge of The Avengers and Civil War, but less avid fans who just like Spider-Man might find themselves a bit lost in the first act. It doesn’t quite stand on its own in the ways that the other sideline Marvel movies do (Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Guardians). Additionally, I feel a little conflicted by the role Tony Stark/Iron Man has in this movie as a pseudo-father-figure. He’s definitely more of a plot device than he is a character, and without giving anything away, the way he influences Spider-Man’s costume I found a little troubling, as it almost has the character drift a little too far from his fundamentals. It doesn’t cripple the film or anything, and does sort of come full circle by the end, tying in with the themes nicely, but it still feels a little lost in amongst the bucketloads this movie has to go through.

Comparing to the other Spider-Man films, here are my thoughts. It’s better than both of the Amazing Spider-Man films. It’s better written, has better characters (villains in particular) and has more satisfying themes. While Homecoming is familiarly cluttered, it’s definitely better than Spider-Man 3. I don’t know exactly how to compare it to the original 2002 film, I think both have their strengths and shortcomings, the main thing letting the original pull through is how iconic and timeless (mostly) it feels; Homecoming focusses so heavily on its contemporary context that I feel it won’t age as well. Spider-Man 2 (2004), however, certainly remains the superior film, being the full package of endearing characters and themes, as well as excellent filmmaking.

I actually really liked Michael Keaton as the Vulture. While I was less of a fan of his goofy entourage, his motivation was pretty relatable and I liked how organically his animosity towards Spider-Man grew. The philosophy that he followed also had an interesting mirroring of Spider-Man’s. Also, without spoiling anything, a certain revelation about his character around the start of the third act led to my absolute favourite part of the movie.
Also, the irony of the whole Birdman thing isn’t lost on me. I love it.

Some minor complaints include some sloppy editing at the start of the film, especially in the High School scenes, some unconvincing CGI of the Costume, some of the humour doesn’t really land, and the entourage around the main villain is kind of lame. A bigger issue is the pacing; while it never gets all that slow, it ruins its own momentum by having three or four scenes that are so large in scale that they each could act as the climax, but don’t. It doesn’t have subplots that go nowhere like the Andrew Garfield movies did, but it does feel bloated.

Spider-Man: Homecoming does deliver on a fun Spider-Man story, featuring a vastly different character than what we’ve seen before though, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it quite a bit. Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece, as much as I wish I could say you should, but rest easy in knowing it ain’t bad.

Baby Driver, 2017

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx

IMDb

Edgar Wright is one of the best comedic Writer/Directors working today, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint with his latest film, Baby Driver.

It’s the kind of movie probably best seen with as little knowledge about it as possible, so my very short review is to go see Baby Driver. It’s funny, fast paced and extremely well composed. It also has one of the best incorporations of soundtrack into film that I’ve ever seen.

For those who don’t care about not knowing, I’ll get into a little more detail.

My biggest criticism of Baby Driver is that it’s tonally inconsistent. The three acts are very distinct from one another, and can pretty much be judged individually. I adored the first act, I liked the second, and I really liked the third. I really want to emphasise that at no point did I stop liking it, but I feel like the differences, especially between the first two acts were quite jarring.

The first act is hilarious. It’s packed with everything I love about Wright’s style and is honestly a masterpiece of film composition. I laughed really hard. The stunt work, as well, was pretty damn fantastic.
The second act really slows down into more of a crime/action/drama. While it’s still filled with a lot of excellent film making, it’s undeniable that it’s less fun and therefore less enjoyable than its predecessor. What it lacks in comedy, it makes up for in tension, which to be fair don’t really go hand in hand, but it was just less satisfying. That said, its only real issue was that it followed the first act.
The third act breaks the tension from the second spectacularly, providing one hell of an action packed climax. The stunt driving, action and music use here are particularly excellent, and the ending is pretty satisfying.

If the film stuck to the style shown in the first act, I think it would have ended up my favourite Edgar Wright film. As it stands, it’s probably my number 3, behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. It’s miles better, however, than The World’s End (and Ant-Man).

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but the soundtrack use was really excellent, appropriate given the importance of music to the protagonist. I’ve seen plenty of films do similar things, but Baby Driver runs with it and takes it to the nth degree. It’s awesome.

Along with the music, the cinematography and shot composition is also great, distinguishing itself from Wright’s previous films with its use of long takes, but pulls them off excellently, and never excessively. There is still plenty of the dynamic editing I’ve come to love from the director.

All the performances were good, Kevin Spacey was a little typecast I think, but worked effectively anyway. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between Ansel Elgort and Lily James.

Baby Driver is absolutely worth your time. Go see it as soon as it comes out next Thursday.