CVIndependent

Tue08222017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

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