Mini-Review: Spider-man Homecoming (No Spoilers)

Over the Thanksgiving Break, my family and I watch Spider-man Homecoming (SMH) and we liked it.  It wasn’t our favorite Marvel movie, but it was still fun and exciting.  I thought I’d do a Mini-Review for the blog based on my love of comic book movies, Marvel movies, and Spider-man movies.  This one was very good–not the best, but still very good.

Action AND Humor
One thing that SPH really gets right is the action sequences as well as the humor of the character.  One of the crucial things that filmmakers don’t really get about the character is that Peter Parker is a “sincere” human being having to react to some of the scummiest situations (both in terms of everyday life and over-the-top villainy) that are out there.  His defense mechanism is his ability to turn every situation into a joke or a wise-crack.  Yes, as Spider-man, Peter is insanely powerful and gifted, but it is the humor that helps him deflect much of the trials and tribulations that he goes through.  While not nearly as funny as say, Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s still a bit of that irrepressible mixture of deft humor along with very strong action scenes that help to sell the movie and Tom Holland’s performance of the character.  As much as I disliked the high school stuff (see below), I think that Tom Holland’s performance of Peter Parker might be my favorite so far (I’ll have to reflect more on that as the year ends and I see it more times to be sure).

Straight Outta’ High School
So why isn’t this my favorite of all the Spider-man movies?  In two words: high school.  The filmmakers decided to “reset” Peter as it were, and placed a significant portion of it in Peter’s high school life/activities.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this is where quite a bit of both the tension and the humor comes in, but I’m just not one who really likes (for the most part), high school narratives in movies.  In this case, while well done, these were (again, for the most part) some of the least interesting parts of the movie.  Yes, they were well acted and all the rest, but having collected Spider-man comics during my high school and early college years (freshman & sophomore years), I really think that the true strength of the Peter Parker narrative comes from his struggle to support himself as a young photographer at the Daily Bugle with J. Jonah Jameson.  Yes, I know Peter originally started in high school, but I personally don’t feel that the stories came into their own until his college/work years, and this perception colored my feelings towards the movie.  I liked it, but I would have liked it even more had the filmmakers chosen to “age-up” Peter’s character (as I assume they will in future movies).

Marvel Movie Genres (This would be the YA Movie)
The Marvel movies have been good with mixing different genres into the standard comic book movie formula (well, with the exception of “horror” movies which they don’t seem to want to do even when it is the most appropriate genre–Age of Ultron).  However, this one would the YA movie, if that’s the case.  Much like movies like The Hunger GamesThe Spiderwick Chronicles, etc., the reliance on such a young cast and the focus on quite a bit of high school drama/activities makes this feel more in line with a YA movie than it does with a typical Marvel movie–not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.  I should note, however, that the performances by the cast, both younger members and older members, were excellent and well done.  I look forward to their next outing whenever Marvel and Sony team-up again to produce another one.  My only hope is that we move past the high school setting into college and work-life and that they can make that as compelling in the movies as it was in the comics.

Overall Grade: B (Solid performances, action, and humor, dragged down by an over-reliance on high school drama and a bit (not too much, but a definitely bit) of teen angst/drama).

Implications for my Writing: I have to understand that I don’t really like certain genres/things: the “heist” movie, “crime” movies, and apparently “high school” movies.  If I don’t like them, it’s probably not a good idea for me to try to write them in that I probably won’t be able to create a story that is credible and true to the genre because I can’t see past the “flaws” of the genre to do it justice.  There are probably genres that I won’t be successful writing, and the “high school drama” might be one of those genres.

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Die Another Day (The Farce is Strong With this One)

Having watched half of Die Another Day, I now know why 1) I’ve been so resistant to seeing it and 2) why it is considered such weak entry into the Bond franchise.  I will be honest and say that I haven’t completed it as of yet (I’m about half way through), but even halfway is enough to start to figure out where it went wrong.

Story
To say that the story doesn’t make any sense would be disingenuous because there is sense to be had if you really take the time to follow the convoluted logic of the story, but none of the story scenes really resonate.  There is a tenuous tie through out the first half of the movie of uncovering the identity of spy/source who gave up Bond’s identity and helped to “burn” him (in spy parlance).  Yet, Bond goes from scene to scene without the audience clearly knowing what is driving him.  For instance, a short time after escaping from what we assume is a MI-6 recovery room after being tortured for 14 months in captivity, James is back to his normal “antics” with Jinx.  He is supposed to be consumed with a desire for revenge on the unknown “person” who set him up and a desire to clear his name, but he is back to his old “self” and is as right as rain, even back to the clever quips and ridiculous sword fight that would have (at the very least) sent members of the supposed fencing club running for their phones to call the police or running for their lives..

Too Much Farce
Which brings me to another point.  In DaD, there’s just simply too much farce to take seriously.  In one scene, Bond strolls into a ritzy and glamorous hotel (5 star) in his pajamas completely unshaven.  Now, let’s be real, even the local McDonalds has a no shirt, no shoes, no service policy.  If you or I tried to do what Bond did in real life, we would be turned away.  If we insisted, the police would be called.  Yet none of this happens in this movie.  Bond turns heads, but it is meant to be humorous/funny, but the writers forgot that humor doesn’t come from ignoring the way things work in reality, but highlighting them and pointing out the absurdity.  Guardians of the Galaxy‘s humor works because Rocket the Raccoon knows he is a Raccoon and comments on the fact (& takes umbrage when others belittle him for his origins).  Groot’s humor works because the audience only hears “I am Groot,” but we know based on the others’ responses that he is expressing himself in some manner that we are not privy to and that’s funny.  And so on with each of the characters.  DaD, on the other hand, expects us to laugh when they break the rules of how the world really works, when in fact, they are calling attention to the fact that this is unreal, that this is a “movie.”

Changing Tastes in Realism
M: The world changed while you were away.
B: I didn’t.
This is exchange was meant to emphasize Bond’s dedication to the mission, but what it really did was emphasize how Bond refused to change to be relevant to the change in audience tastes and expectations.  While Goldeneye still maintained much of the Bond tropes, it was actually a “forward-looking” Bond movie that was more realistic in a fun way than the dour realism of the Bond movies under Timothy Dalton’s reign.  Obviously, Ge’s realism was nothing compared to the gritty realism Casino Royal and Skyfall under Daniel Craig’s stewardship, but at the time, and for its time, Ge was fairly well received as a return to form for the Bond franchise.  DaD, so far at least, undermines this.  Yes, I know I like Roger Moore’s Bond and those Bond movies are often as silly as this one, but in the mid to late 70s and very early 80s, you could still get away with that.  Movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, Silver Streak and even as late as Superman III with Richard Pryor were a lot of what the Roger Moore Bond movies were taping into with their campiness.  However, with the introduction of the Bourne movies with Matt Damon, the world’s taste in spy movies changed, and DaD didn’t change with them.  Audiences craved a more realistic depiction of the clandestine spy hero, but DaD regressed at the very time it should have been more like its more realistic sibling, Ge.

So, I’m going to wrap this up for this week.  If all goes well, I will either finish this up piecemeal over the coming week while I wait for my phone to be repaired or I will finish it next weekend, but unless something major changes, this one is very much neck and neck with the George Lazenby Bond movie for the one I currently dislike the most.  I will, however, reserve judgment until I finish it completely.

The Bonds are Back (in Town)

So, this won’t be a long blog post today as I have a lot of work to do over the next few days–reading (Sister Carrie), grading (Rhetorical Analysis papers), classes (working on an informal paper proposal for 19th Century Lit. class) and writing (Character Sketch Plot Outline for Project Skye–yes, I’ve dusted off that old chestnut of a project and am going to try to revive it just in time for NaNoWriMo).

However, I felt compelled to note that Amazon (I believe) is getting all the Bonds back together.  They are streaming quite a few James Bond movies in the month of November.  After writing the post where I listed my favorite James Bond actors, I actually had a fairly large regret of not being able to say that I’ve seen all the James Bond movies and that I had to qualify them by saying all EXCEPT for Die Another Day.  Well, this movie is one of the ones that is coming back so I am going to make a special effort to see this movie.   They have quite a few of the Bond movies from all 4 of the recent Bonds if I remember correctly looking at the list, but it isn’t a complete back catalog.

Still, for someone who is a completionist such as myself, I need to make myself watch Die Another Day–even if it is only for half an hour a day so that I can have a complete grasp of the character through all his incarnations and hey, who knows, I might be able to use Bond in some way in an academic setting or paper in some way And I just know that “Shaken, not stirred,” would make a GREAT paper title! 😉

 

Finished Goosebumps

So, for Halloween, I thought I’d mention that I finished Goosebumps over the weekend (well, not really–it turns out that GB is on the list to go away from Netflix’s library in Nov).  As I had seen about ⅓ of the movie, I wanted to finish it before it left, so I watched it over the weekend.  I have to say that I liked it.  It was more fun than I thought it would be.

It is the quintessential Young Adult movie with a few scary elements.  It actually reminds me a lot of the Spiderwick Chronicles and Inkheart.  It has a lot of heart and isn’t a cynical cash grab like some other “YA franchise films.”  Some of the students at my old Middle School really loved this film, but it has enough for adults too.

Without spoilers, basically, the movie is a “What if?” scenario:  What if R. L. Stine was real (well, he is real, but real in the movie’s world) and the monsters in his books were also real and can literally leap off the page?  It takes some of the most famous characters and books from Stine’s work and creates CGI monsters to bedevil our protagonists.  There’s not a lot of teen angst and the love story is “sweet” (not saccharine, but really nice one that actually has a basis in the plot of the movie).  That being said, there are a couple of cringe-worthy moments that kids won’t mind, but adults will roll their eyes at, but on the whole it is a fun movie.  And, to be honest, the movie earned major cool points with me for having Jack Black’s R. L. Stine character take on Stephen King on who’s a scarier writer and a better bestseller.  The scene is small, less than two minutes of screen time, but it was a nice Easter Egg for a former Bookseller/Librarian Assistant like myself who sold/checked out countless Goosebumps books.

Overall Grade: B (Above Average)

Here’s hoping everyone has a fun (& safe) Halloween!

Great Actors in Small Roles: Haley Bennett in The Magnificent Seven (2016)

I wanted to take a moment to call out Haley Bennett’s performance in the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven.  I don’t do these type of blog posts often, but when I see an actor in a “smaller” role and that actor leaves just as much of an impression as the named actors, I do want to take a moment to highlight his/her performance.

Pathos
I think that the role that Haley Bennett played was a crucial one to my enjoying the movie as much as I did.  She brings a level of pathos (emotion) to the story that was sorely needed.  The other male actors emoted, true enough, but they were all playing hardened men, seasoned killers, and (generally speaking), you don’t get to be a “tough guy” while still being able to emote.  Their performances, like their characters, had to come across as reserved.  About the only passionate emotion the male actors could display was anger–such as when Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke’s character) swears mightily when trying to train the townspeople to shoot. Yet, it is Bennett’s performance through her character Emily Cullen to express the rage and anguish (sometimes quiet, sometimes tear-filled) of a woman who has nothing else to lose after the villain’s actions.

Reaction Shots
While I could have wished that her character had a bigger role (speaking), her character does at least get quite a bit of screen time in relation to the other actors.  Many of her scenes are “reaction shots” (her character’s reaction to some action and/or dialogue by other characters).  This, to me, is where where she really makes me believe in Ellen Cullen.  Based on her emotions, I actually believe that Ellen would emote in much the same way that Bennett portrays on the screen.  While I wish Hollywood would involve women into the plot in a more integral way (a la Wonder Woman and Black Widow), Bennett’s portrayal of Ellen made an impression on me as I watched the movie and really stood out as a truly standout performance in a small role.

Hopefully, this blog entry will serve as a handclap of praise for a well deserved actor with a well delivered performance.  Great work!

Mini-Review: Magnificent Seven (2016)

I just finished the 2016 remake of the film the Magnificent Seven and I have to say that I was actually quite impressed by the effort of the actors and the filmmakers.  I really enjoyed the movie and thought that it seemed to be a credible remake of an old classic for a new audience.  After seeing it, I was a bit dismayed by the lack of critical and commercial success for it.

Now, for full disclosure: I haven’t seen all of the original version.  I’ve only seen bits and pieces.  Somehow, it never seemed to come on network TV (as I recall) and when it was on cable, there always seemed to be something more interesting on that I wanted to watch.  Also, if I recall, the original is a black and white film, and it is MUCH harder for me (personally) to “suspend my disbelief” with black and white films as I’m always doing the “Wizard of Oz” game where my mind tries to fill in what would the movie look like in color (as the original Wizard of Oz starts out in black and white, goes to color, and then moves back to black and white for its ending).

However, this movie seemed to be very much in the spirit of the older classic.  It told a great story with some pretty good performances by the various actors.  The story, in many respects, had a tone much like the latest (as of this writing) Star Wars movie, Rogue One.  I really liked most everything about it.  Sure, there were a few cliche western moments, but it really doesn’t deserve its 54% Metacritic score.  Now, don’t get me wrong–even without the western “cliches,” there are still problems.  One the main ones is the main character’s motivation for helping.  The movie made him seem way too altruistic even though he is getting paid for his services.  While the movie foreshadows the reason behind this a before the midpoint of the movie, we don’t actually get the revelation until the final conflict with villain.  Because we don’t get to see Chissom (Denzel Washington’s character) struggle, 1) he comes off as emotionally distant–we never see why the plight of the town really matters to him and 2) we don’t see him struggle–he has it all too easy.  He doesn’t really have to struggle with the town accepting him, he doesn’t deal with any major conflicts between his team (outside one conflict with another old time associate).

However, even with these issues, I still enjoyed it.  I had only intended to watch about half of it this week (about an hour) and then finish off the other hour next weekend, but I found myself so engaged by it that every time I went to turn it off, I stayed my hand, so the actors, director, and filmmakers did something right, even if the critics and the majority of the audience doesn’t agree.

Overall Grade: B+ (It probably would have been a B- due to the way the protagonist’s motivation was written, but a couple of strong performances more than made up for that flaw in my mind).