Film Review: “Spider-Man: Far From Home”

Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson and Zendaya
Directed by: Jon Watts
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 129 minutes
Sony Pictures Releasing

If you haven’t yet watched “Avengers: Endgame,” then there’s a couple of things I’d like to say. 1. How have you not? 2. Why are you reading this if you haven’t? 3. You know there will be spoilers abound in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” for “Endgame,” if you haven’t watched it yet, right? Now, while my review will not have any spoilers, because Marvel fans are becoming incredibly irate about the slightest drip of a reveal and I generally find it to be disingenuous to do so in a review, I think it’s important for those who haven’t seen “Endgame” to know that they’ve been warned.

Seemingly weeks, maybe even days, after the events of “Endgame,” “Far From Home” wastes no time getting us up-to-date on what’s going on in the world of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland). As comically explained in a high school TV news update, the Thanos snap threw a curveball and some students are now towering over the other students because of the five-year gap. Meanwhile, there are fresh reminders that the world continues to mourn the loss of Tony Stark/Iron Man, and immortalize him in whatever way they can. However, the movie isn’t too clear on where we’re at chronologically within this world or Peter’s world, but who cares? He’s going on a European trip, hitting the proverbial FU button on his phone when Nick Fury (Jackson) calls, and trying to get in good with MJ (Zendaya).

“Far From Home” may have actually worked infinitely better as a high school comedy, as opposed to a superhero movie. That’s because the villain(s) of this movie aren’t that interesting, nor is there a lot of peril when Peter has to quickly throw on the Spider-Man suit and save the day. The movie works a lot better when Peter and his classmates are goofing around in Italy, Austria, or whatever European country they find themselves in. The movie makes this odd choice of trying to convince us, as well as S.H.I.E.L.D., that Peter is the savior of Earth, and to some extent, the next figurehead for hope like Iron Man was. That’s hammered home a lot, even though the film repeatedly shows us that Peter is too young or inept at being a hero, sometimes to cataclysmic effect.

I did have some fun here and there, warming up to the characters like a fire in a snowstorm, but there’s too many boneheaded decisions, and pivots in tone and direction. I’m also not entirely sold on the relationship between Peter and MJ, mainly because the movie seems to just assume that we already know why they like one another and why they should be together. It’s almost like “Far From Home” suffers from being sandwiched between the most climactic finish to a series of films and the beginning of a new cinematic phase. That really puts the teenager superhero, and the filmmakers, in precarious situation. It’s also quite possible that superhero fatigue is setting in after the “Endgame” sugar rush.

“Far From Home” is a fun epilogue to “Endgame,” but it isn’t strong enough to stand on its own merits. Thankfully this movie doesn’t hit the lows of other Marvel sequels, like “Iron Man 2” or “Thor 2,” thanks to the charm of its lead, Holland, and his pairing with Jake Gyllenhaal who, as per usual, gives it his all. I didn’t love it as much as “Homecoming” and I probably won’t rewatch it as much as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Infinity War,” but it’s passable enough that you’ll leave with a smile, although it’ll fade by the time Marvel churns out another one of these.

Film Review: “Captain Marvel”

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn
Directed By: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It only took 21 movies for Marvel and Disney to finally release a female-led superhero film, and it’s not about Black Widow. It’s the kind of some comic book fans have been clamoring for, for about a decade now. For those fans, I have to warn you up front, this isn’t the monumental moment you’ve been hoping for.

“Captain Marvel” is an origin story in reverse. When we first meet Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Larson), she goes by Vers and is having her skills crafted under the observant eye of the Kree military. She’s in a unit that serves as an important cog in the intergalactic war between the Kree and Skrull. Honestly, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have a lot of movie binging to do. The film really doesn’t pick up pace until “Vers” is stranded on Earth after being ambushed by some Skrull. It’s on Earth that she not only chases down the Skrull, but begins chasing down fleeting memories of a life she’s forgotten.

The first 30 minutes or so are pretty rough, even if you understand and know all of the necessary backstory that’s been glossed over in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor” films. It attempts to juggle exposition, mystery, and introductions, while handling them all poorly. The exposition isn’t interesting, we already know who “Vers” is, and Marvel is generally terrible about disguising their surprise villains. The movie actually gains momentum and gets a lot more fun when Danvers crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, one of the dozens of reminders that this takes place in the mid-90’s.

As a child of the 90’s, all the winks, nods and nudges are welcome, but they ultimately come off as pandering. The movie feels like it needs to tickle some nostalgia bones, in lieu of character building or plot development. That being said, I don’t mind a little Nirvana or No Doubt in my soundtrack or jokes about how painfully slow computers and the Internet used to be. Millennial inside jokes aside, it’s on Earth that Danvers runs into a young Nick Fury (Jackson), which helps serve as a bit of an origin story for the Avengers initiative.

The 70-year-old Jackson and the 29-year-old Larson are actually a dynamic duo. Their green screen scenery chewing brightens up some otherwise dull moments. It’s regrettable that Marvel missed out on giving them some 90’s buddy cop tropes to gnaw on. “Captain Marvel” may have actually worked better as a parody or homage of films like “The Last Boy Scout” or “Bad Boys.” Luckily these two stars share a lot of screen time and seem to feed off each other’s energy.

“Captain Marvel” is what we’ve come to expect from these yearly Marvel traditions, a lot of CGI, fun set pieces and eye candy for the masses. I actually had quite a bit of fun when I wasn’t analyzing its flaws. So if you want a mindless superhero film, then that’s what you get. That being said, it’s still above the mindless action of Snyder’s DC films because it doesn’t bog the fun down with a bleak atmosphere and outlandish character interactions. For others who are expecting a little more or something a lot more audacious, you’re out of luck. Disney probably over thought this one a bit; and it shows.

If it weren’t for Larson and Jackson, the film may have been a forgettable dud in the same vein as “Thor: The Dark World” or “Iron Man 2.” Those two wring out so much from a minimal script. The writers seemed to be more interested in padding time and setting up a payoff, which never pays off. The film has about half a dozen writers and doesn’t do anything remarkably different with tone or style, like “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Black Panther” managed to do in recent years. “Captain Marvel” is the kind of film you could nitpick to death if you don’t turn your brain off. Everything from visual effects to casting choices is suspect and up for ridicule.

I actually didn’t have high hopes for “Captain Marvel,” so I may not find it as underwhelming or disappointing as some people. Whereas a film like “Wonder Woman” felt like it was breaking new ground, “Captain Marvel” seems to tread water. A lot of that may be due to Disney’s weariness of trying something outlandishly new or daring with its multi-billion dollar baby. Disney could merely be testing the waters. You should be frustrated if the next female superhero film from the studio powerhouse is another cookie cutter film. A progressive step requires a fresh idea, not a copy-and-paste formula that’s slowly becoming stale.

Film Review: “Glass”

Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 129 minutes
Universal Pictures

What are some of the best non-DC/Marvel superhero films? That’s when folks would throw out movies like “The Crow” or “The Rocketeer.” But what about truly original superhero films, ones not based on comics? That’s when you really get down to the nitty gritty of films that hold their own against CGI-filled blockbusters. Before “Unbreakable,” there was “Darkman” and “The Toxic Avenger.” But unlike the latter, “Unbreakable” has spurred some worthy sequels.

It’s been discussed online for nearly two decades that director M. Night Shyamalan had always intended for “Unbreakable” to inevitably be a trilogy. The question remained even after the release of “Split,” a trilogy about what or who? So does “Glass” fulfill what fans were told, a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy? Or does it pull a Disney and create the possibility of more sequels? Luckily Samuel L. Jackson’s character doesn’t reveal himself to be Nick Fury all along.

Much to the surprise of fans, the throwdown between David Dunn (Willis) and Kevin Crumb as the Beast (McAvoy) happens fairly early on as Dunn is tracking down some kidnapped cheerleaders, the latest in a string other kidnappings and vicious murders in Philadelphia. Police are hot on both their trails though and arrest both before they can spar for too long. Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), is at the scene along with authorities because she wants to study the two for their delusions of grandeur, believing that comic book culture is behind their perceived abilities. Also in custody, and sitting down with Dunn and Crumb for some bizarre group therapy, is Mr. Glass (Jackson). Dr. Staple’s hope is to convince the trio that their super strength and super intelligence isn’t what it seems.

While sometimes clunky, everything that feels out of place or misguided eventually comes together in the third act. When everything is said and done, David Dunn (probably because of the salary Bruce Willis commands), seems to be more of a side character in this film. But it’s also not necessarily about the origins of Mr. Glass. We already got that in “Unbreakable.” The movie does have him play a key role, revealing why the film is inevitably named after him. But a good chunk of story outside the trio’s therapy sessions is Mr. Glass and Crumb’s multiple personalities scheming, talking and acting. It’s in these scenes that audiences are treated to every individual inhabiting David’s head. Acting wise, nothing’s quite as impressive or entertaining as McAvoy’s scenery chewing, but other side characters from the previous films provide some emotional weight as they make their way in throughout the film, building towards the climax.

It feels a little long, and is as the longest film in the trilogy, mainly because Shyamalan unfortunately falls back onto some poor storytelling mechanics that we’ve seen before with some of his weaker films. He tends to over explain plot points by showing and telling the audience what’s happening. It can feel a little condescending since the film is built around the idea that you’ve seen the previous two films and that you should be smarter than the average moviegoer. I would usually chalk it up to a talking head at the studio, but this is something Shyamalan has done in films like “The Happening” or “The Village.” Luckily he doesn’t do it ad nauseam.

“Glass” doesn’t subvert superhero tropes or makes any kind of new critiques of the genre, but it manages to manipulate viewer’s emotions and expectations enough to where everything genuinely feels original. The action is filmed in a way where our imagination, instead of computers, fills the void. Even the simplest things that Dunn or Crumb do, feel grand because of the lives they’re saving and taking. Because they’re not throwing each other into buildings like Superman and General Zod, but instead slowly bending steel or taking their time to punch down metal doors, the story feels more grounded in reality. It helps that every character is morally flawed. The good and evil on display blend together to elicit sympathy and disgust.

“Glass” ends up being the weakest of the three films, but it’s still an entertaining finale. Some might be turned off by how it all ends, but I applaud the bowtie. While most directors would have left the door open, just in case the box office receipts warranted a sequel, Shyamalan promptly wrote “Glass” as a final chapter to this superhero story. It feels complete, without the need to tell us anymore or asking us to sit through another chapter, something most superhero movies these days don’t know how to do.

Film Review: “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 58 mins
Lionsgate

Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is a Triple-A rated bodyguard who is proud of the fact the he hasn’t lost a client since….BANG! Oops.

A film that only works in small doses, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is several films in one. First you have an action comedy full of dirty words and exploding heads. Next is a political thriller as the leader of Belarus (Gary Oldman) is put on trial, at the Hague in the Netherlands no less! Finally you have the “bro-mance,” featuring Bryce and hired killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a duo that yells and bickers with each other like an old married couple. Taken separately, you have a surprisingly entertaining (sometimes) film. Put it all together, and you have a mess.

When the film works it’s when Reynolds and Jackson act as you expect them too. Reynolds is all smarm, his character seemingly trying to be the smartest man in the room while Jackson finds new and entertaining ways to use the words “mother” and, well, you know.

Somehow Kincaid is the only witness that can put Oldman’s character away forever, though it’s never really understood how until the end of the film. Throw in Bryce’s old lover, who just happens to be an INTERPOL agent, and you can see how jumbled the film is. Thankfully, the chemistry (and improvisational skills) of Reynolds and Jackson keep the film moving. The action is frenetic, moving across Europe like a Zagat video gone wild, so much so that you appreciate it when Mr. Jackson gets to utter his favorite phrase. “You know you’ve totally ruined “mother fu**er) for me, Bryce tells Kincaid. Hardly. The words flow out of Kincaid like the paint off of an artist’s brush. If only the rest of the film were as much of a masterpiece.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

Media Mikes has teamed with Lionsgate Films to give 50 readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new film “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” in Kansas City.

The screening will be held on Tuesday, August 15th at the B&B Shawnee 18 Theatre in Shawnee, Kansas and will begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is go here and download your passes. The first 50 readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve contest and once the passes are exhausted the giveaway is over.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman, opens nationally on August 18, 2017

Film Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs
Warner Bros

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

There are two funny stories attributed to the late producer Dino De Laurentiis, who produced the 1976 remake of “King Kong.” The first is that, every time his film was compared with “Jaws” he would comment on how “nobody cry when the Jaws die”…and that audiences would be weeping at the end of his film. The other is when he first met producer John Peters, who was not only dating Barbra Streisand at the time but had produced her film “A Star Is Born.” Both movies opened on December 17, 1976 and Peters congratulated Dino on “Kong” out grossing “A Star Is Born.” “I’m not surprised,” De Laurentiis is said to have commented. “My monkey can act!”

1973. As the war in Vietnam winds down, a group of soldiers, led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is chosen to accompany a group to a recently discovered island on a trip funded by the United States government. Finding the island surrounded by horrible weather and storms, the group takes a few helicopters out to make the journey from ship to land. On the way they encounter a big problem. A problem named Kong.

Though it seems like the big ape has been around forever, this is only the eighth film to feature him and the first since Peter Jackson’s remake of the original 1931 classic over a decade ago. Some people didn’t like Jackson’s version but I thought it was well made and really made Kong a sympathetic character. The same holds true here. We learn that Kong is really less of a bully and more of a protector of the indigenous people living on Skull Island. There are lots of creatures roaming around, from lizard-like monsters to giant octopi. But nothing is as big of a threat to the big beast than Colonel Packard, who takes Kong’s protective attack on his choppers as a declaration of war.

Though you really don’t go to a movie like this to see the actors, the cast here is quite good, including a rather dashing looking Hiddleston, strong-willed photographer Larson and World War II vet Reilly, who is truly the heart of the film. Reilly’s former soldier has been on the island since the end of World War II and it’s fun to watch him learn about the world ahead of him while he tries to save the one he’s involved in. Ironically the weakest part of the cast is Jackson, who here plays…Samuel L. Jackson. Clever comments, like “bitch, please” roll from his lips as he continues to plan Kong’s demise. And while Kong isn’t all over the film he appears enough to remind you who’s King. The action is intense and the special effects are well done.

What’s next? Stay through the end credits and find out!

Film Review: “The Legend of Tarzan”

Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Christoph Waltz and Margot Robbie
Directed By: David Yates
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 109 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

As someone pointed out to me at the screening, the only version of Tarzan I grew up on was the Disney version (with that obnoxious Phil Collins song). My research skills did yield a cringe worthy adaptation of Tarzan featuring Casper Van Dien in 1998, but I’m fortunate to have dodged that abomination. So it seems after a nearly two decade cinematic drought, the feral child is back on the silver screen with the help of CGI and a bloated Hollywood budget.

I won’t lie. “The Legend of Tarzan” could have been bad. In fact, I thought it would be. I’m happy to say it’s not. It’s an entertaining movie with typical summer blockbuster faults. I’m sure some segment of the movie going population will be upset because “The Legend of Tarzan” drifts away from the standard Tarzan tale; explorers discovering a wild man who was raised by apes as a young boy. Instead “Legend of Tarzan” starts off in the mid 1880’s with a man named John Clayton (Skarsgard).

Clayton (which feels weird to type when referring to Tarzan), is more well behaved than the monkey speaking savage we’re used to. Clayton is stylishly dressed like a British aristocrat,
instead of a loincloth that manages to always tastefully conceal himself. He also walks upright instead of getting around like a primate in his swanky New World mansion. He lives there with Jane (Robbie) and leads a seemingly simple life.

The couple is called to the troubled country of Congo, although it’s not quite a country yet in this tale. Belgium is swimming in debt and trying to find anything that could possibly recuperate the massive debt they’ve accumulated by purchasing the African country. Their last ditch effort is Leon Rom (Waltz) and his ruthless plan. Rom’s preposterous scheme involves a massive influx of mercenaries that’ll turn the Congo into a slave machine, pumping out human lives, blood stained ivory, and sparkling diamonds.

The actual logic of everything is put in the back seat while CGI and action are the true drivers of “The Legend of Tarzan”. Don’t worry yourself with how studied and sophisticated Tarzan is despite being raised in the wild and only having a few years to acclimate himself to civilization. Don’t even think about questioning why Tarzan is fighting an imperialist who’s saving a debt-riddled country by hiring mercenaries and purchasing rows of 19th century machine guns. Of course a lot of the absurdity is quelled by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, George Washington Williams. With a name like that, and his constant witticisms about the irony of everything, it’s easy to forgive “The Legend of Tarzan” for being more fantasy than action-adventure.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is sometimes too caught up in tired clichés like revenge, the more human than human escapades of its main character and the unlikely buddying of two opposites. But like I’ve stated, this isn’t a serious movie. I’d legitimately be upset if this was a serious movie. Halfway through, it seems like Jackson’s character is one moment away from being lost in the lush jungles of the unexplored Congo and one line away from saying, “Damn nature, you scary.”

“The Legend of Tarzan” is a contrived, silly blockbuster. But on that same note, it’s an entertaining, and funny, summer escape. “The Legend of Tarzan” may have arrived a decade late. Blockbusters these days, at least the successful ones, are remembered for their deep characters and developed storylines. This movie is a simple CGI spectacle with a story that’s reliant on pure visual adrenaline. And well before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that’s all we wanted. But if both those reasons are enough for you to sit back and relax, “The Legend of Tarzan” is your movie

 

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