Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: Jon Watts (“Cop Car”)
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein (“Horrbile Bosses”) & John Francis Daley (“Vacation”) and Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) & Christopher Ford (“Cop Car”) and Chris McKenna (“The LEGO Batman Movie”) & Erik Sommers (“The LEGO Batman Movie”)

No one wanted this, the third different Spider-Man film franchise from Sony in 15 years. Most of us liked the first two films starring Tobey Maguire from director Sam Raimi. I guess someone liked enough of Marc Webb’s first film in the 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield and a pre-Oscar Emma Stone to warrant the sequel that killed that franchise.

Spider-Man’s origin story, like Batman’s, should be etched in stone somewhere on a list called “Things We Never Need to See Depicted On Screen Again.”

But of course, in this golden age of comic book films, the most popular, kid-friendly hero can’t stay benched. Marvel came a-calling, offering Sony a deal they couldn’t refuse: let Spider-Man (which the studio has the film rights to) join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and we’ll let you borrow elements for the MCU for stand-alone Spider-Man films, which sputtered out after “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” just as Marvel was kicking things into overdrive. This marriage begat the latest film featuring the wise-cracking web slinger, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Picking up just after the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which is recounted by Peter Parker (Tom Holland) via social media videos, “Homecoming” focuses on Peter’s high school life while he awaits another call from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to join up once again with the Avengers. Meanwhile, Peter dons his Stark-made Spidey suit—filled with tech, natch—to stop petty crime around New York. When Peter runs across some criminals using salvaged Chitauri tech, he inadvertently stumbles into the path of arms dealer Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a once-honest man driven to the underworld when the government and Stark muscle him out of the salvage business. All this while he’s trying to win the affection of cute older girl Liz (Laura Harrier).

I don’t know  that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the best Spider-Man movie—a distinction that still belongs to Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2”—but it’s certainly the most fun. The movie is a genuine laugh riot at times, shamelessly aping the ‘80s output of John Hughes to mine hilarity from teenage awkwardness. Holland’s Peter feels like the first real “teenaged” Spider-Man we’ve ever gotten, and his clumsy pining over Liz and his nerdy goings on with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are fun enough even without the web swinging. Alas, this is Marvel movie, though, and previous viewing of damn near everything that came before it, though not absolutely required, is highly advised. Though not as hefty a presence as marketing may have implied, Tony Stark hangs heavy over the film, especially in the suit, which at times makes Spider-Man seem more like a kid version of Iron Man that swings from webs instead of flying than the webhead everyone loves (also, where’s the spider sense, or the super strength?)

Still, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” almost improbably, delivers an essential, delightful version of a movie no one wanted in the first place.

Spotlight

November 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”)
Written by: Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) and Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”)

It might not have all the complexity of journalists tracking down a serial killer, like in the 2007 crime thriller “Zodiac,” or the melodrama needed to spur scribes into breaking open a story on the suspicious death of a congressman’s mistress, like in the 2009 political thriller “State of Play,” but the relevancy of a newspaper reporter’s job is made evident in the sincere, insightful, fair and extremely well-paced “Spotlight.”

In a news industry where Buzzfeed headlines and Kardashian selfies are constantly trending for the mainstream masses, it’s refreshing (and equally discouraging) to know a majority of wordsmiths just a decade ago cared more about reporting the truth than creating click-bait content. Not only is “Spotlight” great cinema, it also has the power to remind audiences that a hard-hitting exposé should always be a crucial element of the ever-changing media landscape. Without professionals doing this kind of work (and not just recording grainy cell phone footage), how can anyone be held accountable?

Directed and co-written by Oscar nominee Tom McCarthy, whose track record has been so impressive (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win”) since breaking out in 2003 that we might one day forgive him for whatever the hell last year’s Adam Sandler vehicle “The Cobbler” was supposed to be. Spotlight brings the filmmaker back to true form. Set in the early ’00s, the drama tells the story of the Boston Globe‘s investigative “Spotlight Team” of reporters who uncovered a global sex abuse scandal and cover-up rooted deep inside the Catholic Church that ultimately spawned criminal accusations against 250 Roman Catholic priests. For their work, the team was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

That journalistic determination leading them to the source of the crimes is the main focus of “Spotlight.” While the stories of the individual victims and perpetrators is paramount in breathing life into the story, it’s the Globe’s writers’ efforts to deliver these remarkable revelations that serve as the lungs of this compelling narrative. Oscar-nominated actors Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) lead this impressive ensemble cast, including Rachel McAdams (“Southpaw”) and Liev Schreiber (“Pawn Sacrifice”) as the Globe‘s new earnest editor who wants the paper to concentrate more on local coverage. What they find at the core is a corrupt system where the crimes of Catholic priests had been swept under the rug for years.

Where McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”) shined most with the screenplay is in the fact they did not sensationalize the subject at hand, respected everyone involved and stayed fiercely objective (even the Vatican’s official radio station called the film “honest”). In doing so, “Spotlight” is also able to point out the faults of its hero reporters and show that despite the immense accountability they inherit when they choose to take on an assignment like this, they are still flawed human beings that make mistakes. Nevertheless, this isn’t a film about the people, per se, as much as it is about the procedure. “Spotlight” takes the research, analysis, interviews, red tape, dead ends and backroom politics of investigative journalism and turns it into an art form.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

October 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Biutiful”)
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Biutiful”), Nicolás Giacobone (“Biutiful”), Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. (debut) & Armando Bo (“Biutiful”)

As an actor who has donned a mask and cape in a couple of “Batman” films, Michael Keaton knows all about the pitfalls of big franchises and having audiences expect a certain thing from a certain actor. It’s also no secret that as far as high-profile gigs, Keaton’s career has been relatively quiet over the past decade. Perhaps it’s the built-in winking irony of art imitating life that makes Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” so delightfully perfect. Or maybe he’s just that damn good.

After becoming synonymous with the superhero character Birdman that spawned an action movie franchise, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is struggling to get people interested in his first foray into writing, directing and acting in a Broadway play. When an accident happens on stage injuring an actor, his producer suggests they bring aboard enigmatic actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). With just days until the play’s official opening, Riggan tries to handle Mike’s unique acting style, his daughter’s disdain for him and the pressures of the biggest night of his career all while trying to ignore the voice of Birdman inside his head telling him to go back to his blockbuster ways.

To call Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” a career resurgence is an understatement as this is a performance that would send even the most highly regarded actor into the stratosphere. Not only does Keaton get to flex his thespian muscles while performing pieces of the play inside the film (and playing them with different emotions at various times), but he nails Riggan’s off-kilter personality quirks, sinking his teeth into every scene while covering the emotional gamut and displaying impeccable comedic timing. Simply put, Keaton has thrown the Best Actor gauntlet for the upcoming Oscars. But it isn’t just Keaton that shines. Norton goes toe-to-toe in every scene they share, and his exaggerated and hilarious take on the uber serious method actor are among the films funniest moments.

A great thing about “Birdman” is that it exists in the Hollywood world that we live in. This allows for the commentary on film and superhero movie culture to hit a lot harder and have moments such as when a news story plays about Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man. When Keaton’s inner Birdman taunts him about how much better of an actor Riggan is than Downey, it makes a greater comedic impact as a result. The ideas of holding up a mirror to pop culture society go even further, poking fun at critics, the modern culture of celebrities and social media.

Beyond it’s talent on the screen and the fantastic screenplay, “Birdman” is a technical feat that is sure to catch the attention of the audiences senses. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu worked hard to create an entire cinematic atmosphere and the results are astonishing. The film features a score containing solo jazz drumming by Antonio Sanchez that allows the offbeat and kinetic parts of the film, and of Riggan’s personality to be heightened even further. Not to be outdone, Iñárritu employs acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to give the film the look of one continuous take. Though the film itself takes place over the span of a few days, Lubezki seamlessly connects his gorgeous swooping tracking shots creating a final product that might give him his second consecutive Academy Award.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about “Birdman” might be how funny it is. Norton is the highlight in this regard, though really, any time that Keaton and Norton share the screen together it is comedic and cinematic gold. Though the deeper and darker parts of Riggan and his inner Birdman might not be explored to their fullest potential, “Birdman” is still a complete blast, and a fantastic snapshot of a man who can’t get out of the shadow of a character bigger than himself. It’s whip-smart, humorous, well-acted, beautiful to look at and easily among the best films of 2014 thus far.

RoboCop

February 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton
Directed by: Jose Padilha (“Elite Squad”)
Written by: Joshua Zetumer (debut)

Question: is it fair to judge a remake/reboot by how it compares to the original film? After all, with the near-instant availability of pretty much every movie ever made via streaming or download, its easier than ever to to tick off essential film boxes on your personal movie watching checklist. Remakes don’t exist in a vacuum, especially remakes of beloved modern classics. If we’re being honest, remakes are at least partly banking on the movie-going public having at least a passing knowledge of the original film.

Answer: yeah, absolutely. And when it comes to the new remake of “RoboCop,” the comparison (probably not surprisingly) isn’t favorable.

Like the gory 1987 sci-fi satire, the modern “RoboCop” centers on Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). As an undercover cop, Murphy and his partner Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are made by a drug lord (Patrick Garrow) they’ve been investigating. After a shootout in a restaurant leaves Lewis hospitalized, the drug lord’s goons go after Murphy by detonating a car bomb in front of his home leaving Murphy comatose and paralyzed.

Meanwhile OmniCorp, a giant corporation responsible for producing robotic drones that keep the peace in war-torn Middle Eastern countries, desperately desires to bring its killbots to U.S. soil. Federal law prohibits robots from conducting law enforcement, however, due to the fact that the ‘bots aren’t capable of human decision-making, a law that is a frequent target of rage for outspoken talk show host Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson). The promise of raking in billions of dollars in the American market leads CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) to a revelation: put a man inside a machine. After convincing Murphy’s wife (Abbie Cornish) the only way to save her dying husband is to hand him over to OmniCorp’s Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), RoboCop is born.

Whereas director Paul Verhoeven’s late-’80s “RoboCop” relished in satirizing hyper violence and corporate greed, Brazilian director Jose Padihla’s PG-13 “RoboCop” sets its sights on the ethical dilemma of drone warfare, only with a muddier, more somber tone. The crux of the too-long subplot about the repeal of legislation banning robot cops – what is this, “The Phantom Menace?”- deals with the notion that a man should be the one pulling the trigger seems to ignore the fact that, well, men pull the triggers on robot drone strikes today. The movie also takes too long to get to the RoboCopping, dispensing buckets of backstory that ultimately doesn’t pay off, taking nearly a full hour to show off Murphy’s new cybernetic construction we all came to see.

Speaking of Murphy, the remake lets him keep his humanity from his initial boot up as RoboCop, a decision that significantly blunts the character’s arc. Instead of memory wipes, this Alex Murphy is less of a soulless automaton and instead just gets hyper-focused and emotionless when his dopamine levels are dialed down.

And, in what is perhaps the film’s worst offense, Samuel L. Jackson’s gets to utter his trademark phrase—motherfucker—only to have it bleeped. Which, when you think about it, sums up the mistakes of a straight-faced, PG-13 remake of “RoboCop” better than anything else.

The Other Guys

August 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton
Directed by: Adam McKay (“Step Brothers”)
Written by: Adam McKay (“Step Brothers”) and Chris Henchy (“Land of the Lost”)
 
While it’s not as dismal as the Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis vehicle “Cop Out” from earlier this year, the convoluted plot and countless misfires and clichés in “The Other Guys” definitely make for a subpar ride-a-long in the buddy-cop action sub-genre. A better name for it might’ve been “Policing for Schmucks.”

In “The Other Guys,” Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg star as a pair of NYPD cops whose embarrassing reputation among their fellow officers precedes them both. Allen Gamble (Ferrell), who has been transferred from accounting, would rather spend his time on the force sitting at a desk doing paperwork than be out in the field. His partner Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg), who was involved in an accidental shooting of a beloved sports star, is itching for a big case and is tired of watching the department’s hot shot cops (played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) get all the glory for their death-defying car chases and shoot outs.

It’s when Allen and Terry finally get the chance to prove they can handle a high-profile case (Steve Coogan plays a shady investment banker involved in a white-collar crime) when the film decelerates and lets Ferrell and Wahlberg riff off each other without much direction or substance to their ranting and raving.

Jokes include making fun of Allen for driving a Prius, arguing about what music they should listen to on the radio, a smut-talking old lady, and a scene where Allen has to talk down a suicidal man from a ledge with no formal training. It’s all be done before and done a lot funnier. When the jokes start repeating themselves (on more than one occasion Terry compares himself to an eager-to-fly peacock), it is evident “The Other Guys” has run out of things to say and do.

The only running joke that is fairly humorous is when Allen introduces Terry to his drop-dead gorgeous wife Sheila (Eva Mendes) and proceeds to underrate just how attractive she is. Terry wonders how a woman like Shelia could be interested in a man as maniacal and irksome as Allen.

Thin on character and hilarious moments and overwritten on plot, “The Other Guys” will probably please the biggest of Ferrell’s fans, but these are the same moviegoers that were rolling in the aisles for “Land of the Lost,” “Semi-Pro,” and “Blades of Glory.” Others who like him in smaller, more controlled doses just might need to take a pass on this one.

Post Grad

August 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Michael Keaton
Directed by: Vicky Jenson (“Shark Tale”)
Written by: Kelly Fremon (debut)

It’s no secret college graduates nationwide are having one heck of a time landing a dream job. Even with a fresh degree and a go-getter attitude, finding a career in today’s market is like finding a script in Hollywood without the words “remake,” “reboot,” or “sequel” attached to it. Once you’ve found one, hold onto it tight because chances are another might not come along for a while.

That’s what makes a film like “Post Grad” such a disappointment. Somewhere inside the pages of the predictable and fruitless script, there’s a real story about what it must be like for a young woman to graduate from college jobless, helpless, and hopeless. It’s unfortunate that director Vicky Jenson (“Shark Tale”) and first-time screenwriter Kelly Fremon couldn’t find it amid the clichés and stale characters that mute the entire point of the narrative.

In “Post Grad,” recent college graduate Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) thinks she has it all figured out. Actually, she’s had it all figured out for a while. Even as a little girl, her life plan is something she always intended to follow. With high school and college behind her, the next step is to secure a position at one of L.A.’s most respected publishing houses.

When things don’t go quite as she wants, Ryden hesitantly moves back in to live with her parents Walter and Carmella (Michael Keaton and Jane Lynch), little brother Hunter (Bobby Coleman), and Grandma Maureen (Carol Burnett, who is completely wasted as the coffin-shopping granny) until she can find a job and move out on her own.

There to comfort Ryden during her pity party at home is best friend Adam (Zach Gilford), who wishes he could be more than a shoulder to cry on, and the hunky Brazilian neighbor David (Rodrigo Santoro), who is basically written into the script to give Adam someone to envy and to spout off motivational nonsense as Ryden tries to understand her place in the big scary world.

While Ryden starts off as a respectable character and one that might have actually been able to break all romantic comedy stereotypes, Fremon slowly but surely presses her back into that exact mold. Who could have guessed that someone as well-educated, independent, and charming as Ryden would morph into the one person a girl like her probably despised back when she had a brain in college?

Sadly, Jenson and Fremon don’t respond to her sudden change in principles. It’s all go-with-the-flow from there as “Post Grad” goes from slightly empowering to shamefully unrealistic. Like everything else these days, it would probably be best if Jenson and Fremon blamed this one on the economy.