Spider Man: Homecoming
As a critic, I have always been possessed of the confidence that what I write is truth. I have to believe in it, otherwise why do it? I stand by my first review, hating The English Patient (1996), just as I stand by my rave for Man in the Moon (1999). Earlier this year I raved about Split and I stand by that, too. But walking into a movie I often get a vibe as to whether or not what we are about to see is good or bad. I remember my sense that All The King’s Men (2006) was going to be a bust, you could read on the faces of the actors as they came onstage before the film that something was amiss. Their absence in the cinema when the lights came up spoke volumes. And I have been very open with my feelings about all of these comic book adaptations (why is no one adapting Classics Illustrated?) and that opinion has not changed. However, when a good one comes out, I will celebrate with the others.
Ok, I admit it, and I loathe being wrong, but the new Spider Man movie rocks!
It is everything fans of the web-slinging super hero hoped it would be, and superior to all the previous Spider Man films, with he exception of Spider Man 2 (2004), long considered one of the elite super hero films. Alfred Molina was an incredible Doc Ock, and the film’s effects were downright epic, winning an Oscar. Tobey Maguire was an exceptional Peter Parker and Spider Man.
A fan of the first three Tobey Maguire films, I disliked Andrew Garfield as Spider Man, and resented the fact that they again went back to the beginning to tell the story. There is a bit of that here, not enough to be annoying, but enough to let it be known they are again kick-starting the franchise, for the second time in 15 years.
Peter Parker is a teenager in the film, having already been bitten by the spider that transfers its powers to him. His suit is designed by Tony Stark / Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.) and the young lad is still trying to figure the suit out, as well as his powers, but he has figured out how to swing between buildings, soar to the tops of them and send out gooey spider web stuff, so suffice to say he is learning. Fresh back from his adventure with the Avengers, he hungers for more and, being young, seeks out adventure where he shouldn’t.
Probably the greatest special effect in the film is the gorgeous and smokin’ hot Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, looking all the world like the hottest librarian to ever read a book. All teenage boys deserve an Aunt that looks like this. I love Tomei, always have.
This Peter (Tom Holland) is an Avenger apprentice, according to Stark, though we did see him in action in Captain America – Civil War (2016). Holland brings a bouncy sarcasm to the role, a smart ass suddenly blessed with great powers, more like Downey then the two men who went before him, but he is fun, interesting and obviously having a blast. It works. It all works. Like a kid in a candy store he cannot quite believe his good luck, his powers, and the suit…he wants more and who can blame him?
Vulture (Michael Keaton) is the villain of the piece, and I credit Keaton with giving us a scary bad guy who is a real threat to the city. Keaton, with his eyes lit up in a great role is terrific, a genuine bad guy who means it when he threatens to come after Spider Man’s family. When his eyes narrow and he utters a threat, he is deadly serious, make no mistake. Keaton brings a frightening intensity to the part.
Downey Jr. has always been marvelous as Tony Stark, the smug, arrogant billionaire who is also Iron Man, and here he is no different than before, a mentor of Peter. He must see in the kid what we do, a mini me of Stark, really, bursting to get out.
The picture has some has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed action sequences that, like Spider Man 2, are truly epic. But the actors excel in their roles, giving the film a beating heart and a soul. Holland might be the best Peter Parker yet, the best Spider Man yet. He was great fun to watch and entirely believable. Keaton continues his career renaissance with yet another great performance that is a wonderful display of economic acting. This guy knows how dangerous he is, and anyone he speaks with sees it in his eyes, so a threat from him is indeed something to take very seriously.
And Tomei? Believable, earthy, loving, a wonderful Aunt May.
It all works, much to my surprise.
The Beguiled (****)
Filled with startling images of man and life being overcome by growing, The Beguiled is a Gothic horror film for the ages. It is built with such a sense of foreboding dread it is intensely alarming.
While gathering mushrooms in the forest not far from the mansion in which she resides, a young girl, carefully keeping those poisonous from edible, stumbles upon a wounded soldier. Knowing men are not to be trusted, she calls for the Head Mistress, Martha, portrayed by Nicole Kidman, who takes the badly wounded Confederate soldier, John, portrayed by Colin Farrell, into the mansion in which they live, sort of a finishing school for young southern ladies.
They bandage his wounds, they allow him rest, they dote on him and he begins to heal, and as he does, the sexual energy in the residence rises by the hour. One can feel the heat as we begin to realize that a wolf has been allowed into the chicken house. John finds himself attracting the attentions of two ladies in particular, the sad and mournful Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and the tempestuous and sexually aware Alicia (Elle Fanning). All the while the fighting between north and south can be heard in the distance.
As the sexual energy mounts, the gazes linger, things become physical, and Martha, watching it all with disapproval, makes plans for John, plans to which he is oblivious. He grows cocky, bossy even, and makes clear his intentions.
Martha is not about to allow that and in a moment of mounting dread, asks for the anatomy book.
From this point, the films become a Gothic horror film, with the women lashing back at John who, upon waking, screams, calling then “vengeful bitches.”
Kidman has not been this good for a long time. She gives a near regal performance, staring down at a broken John with an imperious gaze, both off-putting yet perhaps giving a clue as to where this is all going. She does not back down from John, giving him a sponge bath, her eyes challenging him with every stroke. It is a brilliant piece of acting in a film filled with them. A woman scorned indeed.
Durst gives a career best performance as the broken Edwina, her downcast eyes rarely connecting with anyone. She is fragile, no question, but not quite as delicate as John judges her. Look for Dunst to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor.
Equally fine is the sexually aggressive Alicia, who wants to kiss a man, but then decides she would like to go further than that, which, it turns out, John is just fine with.
Farrell is superb as John, brilliant in fact, doing the finest work of his career, but let’s be clear – this film belongs to the women.
Sophia Coppola took the Clint Eastwood film of 1971 and re-imagined it through the eyes of the women, managing to find greater tension, and a mounting sense of dread that becomes full blown horror. Not since Lost in Translation (2003) has she made such a powerful, outstanding film. She recently won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director and seems poised to earn her second Academy Award nomination.
This, the first of Universal Pictures Dark Universe films, is not a great start to this idea of remaking t classic horror films of the 30s and 40s and merging them into the same universe. Are they forgetting they did this before and ran each monster into the ground? In the 40s they threw the Frankenstein monster, Dracula and the Wolfman into films such as House of Frankenstein (1943), House of Dracula (1944), and Frankenstein meets the Wolfman (1944). Logic and timelines meant nothing, the movies made no sense, but they did make money. The actors involved became legends: Karloff, Lugosi, the two Chaneys, all were major stars of the genre (the two latter portraying many of the monsters). They remain much beloved movies from a much-loved genre. Is that the direction these new films will take?
I hope not!
The original The Mummy (1932) had one of the most terrifying moments I have ever seen on screen. The scientist, having found the centuries’ dead Mummy, reads the words on the parchment that will bring the creature back to life. Before his eyes it moves out of its crypt, takes the papers he was reading and wanders into the desert. We can see the exact moment the man’s mind snaps and he is left a babbling fool, “He went for a little walk!”
There is nothing as scary as that small scene in this new film because truthfully, it is not a horror film, but rather an action movie. Audiences have changed – supernatural forces do not frighten them anymore because they have seen far too much. More than anything, they know the most frightening creature on earth is man.
Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), a soldier of fortune, has stolen a map which might lead him to untold treasures in the deserts of Iraq. With the true owner of the map on his heels, they stumble onto the tomb of a long dead princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), buried alive for killing her father, the Pharaoh, and her little brother. Revived, she is, to say the least, pissed. She needs a human body to inhabit until she can make her stay in this new world more permanent, and she chooses Morton. Entering his mind, she means nothing but evil, to do harm, to hurt, to rule.
Into the mix comes Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who is sort of the Nick Fury of the new Dark Universe, himself holding at bay a terrible other self, the ferocious Mr. Hyde. The good doctor fights all forces of supernatural evil, and could be of use to Morton.
The images of the Mummy are genuinely dark and powerful, but not really frightening. In fact, nothing in the film is very scary, which is a shame, considering this is to be a horror universe which remakes of some of the greatest horror classics of all time. It was exciting to watch the stunning visuals, but the only actor working on a character here is Crowe, who is very good as the rather pompous Jekyll.
Cruise can play this type of part in his sleep by now, suffice to say he is on “cruise” control throughout. Miss Boutella looks terrifying, does some wild things, but even with millions of dollars of CGI work around them all, not once do they equal that small, terrifying moment in 1932 when Karloff came to life and “went for a little walk.“
Overall I was disappointed, and came home, grabbed the 1932 film off my shelf and watched a real horror movie.