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Fri12062019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Tom Holland cements his status as the best-ever Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the goofiest—but still quite fun—Spider-Man movie yet.

Jon Watts once again directs as Peter Parker tries to vacation with his friends in Europe after the events of Endgame. When a strange breed of elemental monsters start striking the planet, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) interrupts Peter’s sojourn and gets him back into the swing of things. Jake Gyllenhaal enters the shenanigans as Mysterio, a crime fighter from another dimension who slides right into the Tony Stark mentor role.

Holland is good fun as Spidey, giving the character a nice, youthful effervescence to go with Holland’s great comic timing. Zendaya rules as MJ; Jon Favreau gets a lot more screen time (a good thing) as Happy; but alas, the film doesn’t have nearly enough Marisa Tomei.

Far From Home is a bit lightheaded at times, but it’s the sort of breezy affair that the Marvel Universe needed to get things revved up again. Hopefully, this is just the beginning for Holland, and he has a bunch of these in his future—because he’s perfect in the role.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The Marvel universe gets its most grandiose chapter with Avengers: Endgame, a fitting successor to last year’s Infinity War—and a generous gift to those of us who like our movies with superheroes in them.

When we last saw Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he was a survivor of the dreaded Thanos (Josh Brolin) finger snap, a universe-altering occurrence that took out half its living creatures and provided that tear-jerking moment when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and many others turned to dust.

Endgame picks up where that action left off, with Stark floating in space and keeping a video journal of his inevitable demise, as he’s run out of food and water. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper) are among the other survivors, dealing with the repercussions of so much death on Earth.

There are tons of questions this movie needs to answer in its three-hour running time. Where’s Thanos? Where’s Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)? Is Tony permanently marooned in space? What’s been going on with Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) during all of this Thanos hullabaloo? Is everybody really dead? Does Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) still have his Walkman in the Great Beyond?

Good news: The movie answers many of these questions and more thanks to another well-balanced screenplay and a crack directorial job from the team of Anthony and Joe Russo. When you leave Endgame, you’ll feel satisfied.

How do I really talk about any of this without becoming the Spoiler King? I can tell you that the movie is the second one this year that borrows a lot from Back to the Future Part II (after Happy Death Day 2U). I can tell you that the Hulk undergoes a fantastic wardrobe change. I can tell you that the New York Mets, my favorite baseball team, has been decimated by the Thanos snap, not unlike when Fred Wilpon took over sole ownership of the franchise in 2002. I could tell you that Rocky Raccoon comes face to face with his creator, Paul McCartney, and eats his foot, but that would be a lie.

I can also tell you, no lie, that it all zips by in a spectacularly entertaining way—and that very little of it misses the mark. There are a few moments when it’s evident that all of the stars weren’t physically together, with their presence pasted together through the power of special effects, just like that lackluster season of Arrested Development during which all of the cast schedules didn’t align. This is a forgivable offense; there’s no chance you are going to get a cast this size all in one room at the same time. Help us, CGI.

In the middle of all the action and plot developments, Downey delivers another soulful, endearing performance, well beyond anything you would’ve expected from a Marvel movie before he started showing up in them. Chris Evans continues to rock, something that truly began with Captain America: Civil War. Hemsworth and Ruffalo continue to explore more-humorous variations of their characters, and both are a total crack-ups.

Are the Marvel movies anywhere near finished with Endgame? Don’t be silly. James Gunn just got his job back as the director/commander of the Guardians of the Galaxy; Captain Marvel is just getting started; and Spider-Man’s next adventure will enter your face before the summer is done.

Have some of the more-popular story arcs within the Universe reached their conclusions? Maybe. I’m not telling. Set aside three hours, and get some answers yourself.

Avengers: Endgame is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The Avengers team takes a swift kick to their (remarkably muscular) collective ass from a super-baddie named Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, the best blockbuster you will see at the movies this year.

While Marvel has been on a nice roll lately (Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: Civil War), the last “Avengers” movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, was a misguided, boring dud. This third installment (the first of a two-parter, with the second being released next summer) lets it all hang out with a massive collection of characters and a true, scary sense of impending doom.

There are many, many storylines at play servicing so many superheroes and villains. Infinity War feels like the Magnolia of Marvel movies in that it takes all of those storylines and balances them in a cohesive, entertaining manner. The film is 2 1/2 hours long, but it’s never close to boring.

The balancing act is performed by directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the team that made Civil War such a winner. The magic of that film carries over into this one, which picks up directly after the end of Thor: Ragnarok. That film ended with Thor and his fellow Asgardians feeling somewhat triumphant despite losing their planet while defeating emo Cate Blanchett. A mid-credits scene saw their ship coming into direct contact with one owned by the mighty Thanos (Josh Brolin).

In one of the great motion-capture achievements, Brolin is the best of monsters—one who manages just enough of a sensitive side that he falls well short of stereotype. At one turn, he’s obliterating planets and torturing horrified people under his large feet. Then he’ll shed a tear that shows there’s a big, obviously misguided heart pumping in his Infinity Stone-seeking chest. He’s much more complicated than your average CGI character.

I won’t go into the whole Infinity Stone thing, other than to say they’ve played a part in many past Marvel films—and they all come together and show their purpose in this movie as Thanos adds them, one by one, to his Infinity Gauntlet. Each time he gets another, a palpable sense of dread builds.

The gang is pretty much all here, so it’s easier to tell you who doesn’t show up in this installment: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant Man (Paul Rudd) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) are nowhere to be seen, but Hawkeye, Ant Man and a newish Marvel superhero will play into the next chapter.

Robert Downey Jr. continues his magnificent trek as Tony Stark/Iron Man, who is trying to arrange a wedding and babies with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) when yet another apocalypse begins. Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) continue their streak of weird humor after Ragnarok while Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) continues to smolder after the events of Civil War. Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) provides the sensible-guy arc, and has some of the movie’s best scenes with Stark.

Tom Holland continues his joyful portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy join the fray with a welcomed—and quite substantial—contribution, especially from Zoe Saldana (Gamora) and Karen Gillan (Nebula), estranged daughters of Thanos. Some of the best banter in the film happens whenever Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) encounters an Avenger trying to out-cool him.

There’s a lot at stake in this movie—perhaps too much for one film. That’s not necessarily a complaint, but a slight sense of overload and an abundance loose ends keep Avengers: Infinity War from being a masterpiece. Hey, maybe it’ll get an upgrade to “part of a masterpiece” next summer, when the next chapter plays out.

For now, get thee to a big screen, and be prepared to have your face melted with superhero/bad guy greatness. It’s dark; it’s funny; it’s thrilling; it’s action packed; it’s fantastically performed ... and it’s just Part 1.

Avengers: Infinity War is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director James Gray has made a powerful film about Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who disappeared in 1925 while looking for a lost city in the Amazon.

Charlie Hunnam gives an impressive performance in The Lost City of Z as Fawcett, a man so hell-bent on restoring his family’s good name that he leaves his wife and children, for years at a time, to explore the Amazon. After many brushes with death in his travels, he returns to England—only to find himself fighting in World War I.

Eventually, Percy’s son, Jack (Tom Holland … yes, Spider-Man!), joins him for one more quest in the Amazon, and it turns out to be Percy’s last. There are many different accounts regarding the fate of Percy and his son, and Gray comes up with a conclusion that is powerful and beautiful.

Hunnam is great here, as is Robert Pattinson as Henry Costin, a co-explorer. Holland, in just a few scenes, leaves a great mark on the movie, especially in his final moments. Sienna Miller brings grace to the role of Nina, Fawcett’s strong-willed wife.

This is one of the year’s better-looking films, and a great example of a real-life story being as amazing as anything someone could make up. Fawcett was a fearless guy, and this movie displays that.

The Lost City of Z is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spidey took an unfortunate detour with Andrew Garfield, director Marc Webb and their underwhelming, dreary The Amazing Spider-Man films. (I’m still pissed about those cranes!) That GIF of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker crying sloppily pretty much reflects my sentiment about the last couple of Spider-Man films.

Things get back on track in a fun way with Spider-Man: Homecoming, a complete overhaul of the Peter Parker character thanks to the effervescent casting of Tom Holland, an impressive athlete (he does most of his own acrobatic stunts) and fine actor (he’s amazing in The Impossible). Holland does the character proud, as did Maguire before him. The torch has been passed in reliable, snappy way.

Of course, a Marvel movie needs a good villain, and Homecoming gets one in Vulture, played with snarling glee by Michael Keaton. Director Jon Watts and a ridiculous number of writers give Vulture an interesting origin.

He’s Adrian Toomes, a construction salvage worker who had a city contract to clean up the mess in New York City after the events of the Avengers. Some government types take over and kick him off the gig, leaving him pissed—with a bunch of high-tech alien junk in his possession. Toomes constructs some weapons, including an elaborate winged suit, and voila—Vulture.

Parker is younger this time out, and he’s dealing with typical high school traumas that seem a little trivial after the events of Captain America: Civil War, where he sort of saved the day. He’s gone from stealing Captain America’s shield to worrying about girls, and he’s just a little bored.

Enter Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who has given him his Spidey suit with some conditions: He can only be a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” concentrating on local problems rather than the really big ones. Those are jobs for the Avengers, and Spidey isn’t on that level just yet.

The film is basically half a kick-ass Marvel movie (Watts is no slouch with an action sequence) and half an enjoyable high school comedy that would make John Hughes proud (including a soundtrack with everything from the Ramones to the English Beat). It manages to be both a worthy Marvel Universe installment and a great standalone adventure.

Downey, Mr. Reliable, holds everything together and assures fans that this is very much another chapter in the continuing Avengers arc. He and Holland have great scenes together, and Iron Man makes more than one prominent appearance. Keaton holds up his part of the job with an expert’s efficiency, relishing a chance to be bad. Remember that moment in 1989’s Batman when he taunted the Joker? (“Let’s get nuts!”) He spends plenty of this movie’s time in “nuts” mode.

Marisa Tomei is the new Aunt May, and she’s great. (Hey, it’s Tomei, so the character pops the moment you cast her.) There’s no J. Jonah Jameson this time around; Parker’s adventures as a news photographer will have to wait for a future adventure.

Hats off to the producers for taking a risk with the relatively unknown Watts, whose other feature films include the horror film Clown and the very good Kevin Bacon thriller Cop Car. Watts demonstrated that he could balance adolescent actors, humor and dread in an expert manner with Cop Car; what he didn’t demonstrate was his ability to coordinate massive special effects with a gargantuan budget. Whatever handicap he had entering the production is surely conquered at this point. He’s a big-movie director to be reckoned with.

There’s a moment in Spider-Man: Homecoming that involves some heavy lifting, and it displays the magical powers of the famous character thanks to Holland’s amazing representation. In that moment, the character is genuinely reborn. This isn’t your typical approach to a superhero origin story; it’s a let-her-rip, no-nonsense declaration that the right web-slinging incarnation has arrived, and he’s ready to party.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

I wish I could tell you that Captain America: Civil War is so good that it will make you forget the horror that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Bursting Diseased Cinematic Pustules. Alas, nothing is good enough to clear that out of anyone’s brain anytime soon.

Captain America: Civil War is very good, though, a nice blast of superhero fun that finds a diplomatic way to include many Marvel favorites without feeling crowded or rushed. This is one well-oiled Marvel machine.

Front and center, there’s Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, still having Brooklyn-bro issues when it comes to the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Cap wants to back up his former best friend, but the guy committed some shady, hard-to-defend acts while brainwashed. Captain America has to make some extremely difficult—and potentially cataclysmic—choices.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) thought Age of Ultron sucked for more than the obvious reasons: On top of being boring, it left death and destruction in its wake, as did the far-more-exciting original The Avengers. World leaders want to put the Avengers in check, using them as a sort of alternative to nuclear weapons. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., still owning it), in the midst of a crisis of conscience, agrees to the proposed accord. Rogers thinks it’s bullshit and won’t sign. This all works as a fine setup for an eventual battle between Iron Man and Captain America, during which both sides have compelling reasons to fight. It’s actually hard to pick a side in this movie, making the confrontation all the more fun.

The Avengers get split up between Iron Man and Captain America. Stark has Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (an excellent Paul Bettany), as well as new recruits Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and, yep, Spider-Man (Tom Holland, looking like he could be the best Spidey yet) in his ranks. Rogers goes into battle with the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bucky and new recruit Ant-Man (a funny Paul Rudd).

It’s no easy task, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with their screenwriters, juggle a lot of characters and spin a lot of plates—successfully and entertainingly. No single character hogs the screen for too long; everybody gets a nice stake in the movie; and the newbies are introduced in satisfying ways. Spider-Man manages to get his setup in a solid scene with Stark and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei … hooray!). It’s a relatively quick scene, but, hey, it’s Spider-Man. He doesn’t need a long setup. Just introduce him, and let him start shooting webs and wisecracks.

The film has good performances throughout, but Downey is the true standout. He’s the anchor of the Avengers universe, and he brings true gravitas where other actors would just make things corny. Holland gets a lot of points for making the most of his screen time and slipping comfortably into the costume most recently worn by Andrew Garfield. He’s perfect for Spidey on the acting front—and, if you take a look at his Spider-Man workouts, you’ll see he doesn’t necessarily need a stuntman.

Conspicuously missing are Hulk and Thor. Something had to be left for the next Thor movie, so those two get a break here. While Age of Ultron felt like nothing but a bunch of scenes setting up the next chapter, Civil War works as a standalone action movie.

There are no clear plans for Captain America and Bucky in The Avengers saga going forward. They are great characters, but there are plenty of great characters now existing in the Marvel Comics Universe. Captain America: Civil War gets things back on track after the weak Age of Ultron, and should make people excited for next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I’ll just keep saying it: You must stay through the damn credits until that blue ratings thing shows at the end. It’s a Marvel movie! There are two extra scenes to see. Stop leaving before the screen goes dark. It’s driving me crazy!

Captain America: Civil War is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There have been a lot of Moby-Dick adaptations over the years, the best one being the bizarre John Huston version with Gregory Peck going bonkers as Ahab.

There is just no need for another take on the Herman Melville classic right now. Strange, then, that somebody with a lot of money thought there was the need for a movie about the actual events upon which the classic novel was based.

In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the Essex, an actual whale ship out of Nantucket, Mass., that was sunk by a whale in 1820. The alleged culprit of the sinking was a sperm whale (like Moby), and the sinking resulted in many days on lifeboats for the surviving crew—as well as some cannibalism.

Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex. The crew includes Tom Holland as Thomas Nickerson (Hey, it’s Thor and Spider-Man together!), Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow!) as the resident recovering alcoholic, and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln!) as Captain Pollard—all people who actually existed. However, the story in the film goes way off the real-life script.

In Ron Howard’s film, the whale that did the sinking pulls a sort of Jaws: The Revenge thing and follows the survivors as they float aimlessly in the sea. Chase, who published a true account of the tragedy back in 1821, goes a little crazy here, believing a sperm whale, spotted with white blotches, is out to get him.

That never happened, of course. Yes, a whale sank the ship, and yes, some crewmembers became lunch. No, the whale didn’t follow the survivors and taunt them. It busted up the Essex and then disappeared into the sea for some plankton and leisurely swimming. That’s too boring, so the second half of the movie involves starving men trying to evade a vengeful whale. A whale movie hasn’t been this stupid since Richard Harris pissed off a killer whale in Orca.

This film has the odd framing device of Moby-Dick novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviewing an older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who is telling the story of the Essex as if it had never been told previously. In reality, the story had gotten out long before—such as in Chase’s aforementioned published account. The whole revelatory framing device rings false.

“Stupid” and “nonsensical” (read: whales with vendettas) can be forgiven in an action movie as long as the effects are up to snuff. Such is not the case with Sea. The whale that eventually attacks the Essex is not a convincing entity. It looks like Hemsworth is battling the product of many artists who just couldn’t get things quite right. The blend of live and animated performers is just awful, as are the 3-D effects, if you should be so unfortunate as to have laid out the extra dollars for 3-D.

Hemsworth fares better than he did in the awful Blackhat, but I have no idea what accent he’s trying to use. Is it a Massachusetts accent? Or Hungarian? Klingon?

Holland, a fine actor who was excellent in The Impossible, is tasked with looking scared and hungry, which he does admirably. He essentially has the Jamie Bell role from King Kong, that of the young “golly gosh” novice who has gotten himself into a harrowing nautical situation. They look very much alike.

Howard has made a lot of movies, and this is one of his worst, on the bottom of the pile along with The Dilemma and The Da Vinci Code. Regrettably, his next effort will be a second sequel to Code—dimming his chances of rebounding from this waterlogged dreck.

In the Heart of the Sea is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Naomi Watts got nominated for an Oscar for playing Maria in The Impossible (out this week on Blu-ray), based on a real woman who fought for her life in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

She should’ve taken home the gold.

There aren’t too many performances that grab me like Watts’ performance does in this one. She is an acting force, as is Ewan McGregor as her husband, Henry, and Tom Holland as her oldest boy, Lucas. This is one of last year’s better ensembles.

While vacationing in Thailand, Maria and Lucas are separated from the rest of the family when disaster hits. The tsunami scene is amazingly well-done; you get a true sense of its awesome, destructive power, and the dangers in those rushing waters. The wave was re-created on a soundstage, but it looks like an actual tsunami. The authenticity of the moment is bolstered by putting Watts and Holland in the water; yes, that’s them holding a mattress as it is tossed about.

Watts’ character spends the majority of the movie in awesome pain. (The injuries are the stuff of nightmares.) She doesn’t have a lot of dialogue; this is a very physical performance, and it will always stand as one of her best.

McGregor handles some of the movie’s heavier emotional moments, and he does this with his usual standard of excellence. Holland, making his on-screen film debut (his lone previous credit was voicing a cartoon character), is a revelation. He isn’t overshadowed by the powerhouse performances by Watts and McGregor; he matches them.

Special Features: There is a director’s commentary that includes Maria Belón, the actual survivor portrayed by Watts. You also get some deleted scenes, and a couple of featurettes about casting and the special effects.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing