Monthly Archives: July 2017

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” Movie Review

Director Luc Besson has given us a pretty kick-ass sci-fi space opera for a modern generation… called The Fifth Element, 20 years ago. And now, we are here. Let’s deal with it. This ambitious science-fiction action-adventure was released on July 21st, 2017. Estimates say that at a budget of nearly $200 million, almost all of it crowdsourced, this is the most expensive European film and the most expensive “independent” film ever made. This proved to be a disadvantage for the film, as it has yet to break just $50 million worldwide and will likely experience losses in the hundred million range. Based off the influential French comic book series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the PG-13 rated story follows Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as Valerian and Laureline, two space-traveling agents who are in charge of fixing problems for the United Human Federation. They visit the intergalactic space station Alpha, which houses thousands of races and cultures from all over the universe. One of these races is an endangered kind that begins a series of pseudo-terror attacks and it’s up to Valerian and Laureline to figure out what exactly they want. Now when I say that the graphic novel was influential, I really mean it. So many iconic space operas, from Star Wars to Babylon 5, have taken visual inspiration from it. Just the way the technology looked as well as some of the alien designs paid homage to this series. In an ironic twist, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets the adaptation seems to want to pay homage to the early birds of that genre which itself highly influenced. Even Luc Besson’s cult classic The Fifth Element took inspiration, and that was a really enjoyable sci-fi. But Valerian is not enjoyable at all; in fact, it’s one of the worst movies of the year. Dane DeHaan is an undeniably great actor, I’ve seen it in The Place Beyond the Pines and Chronicle. But here, his character is supposed to be like Han Solo, in that he’s the most badass human being in the universe. And it’s really hard to buy him as it, considering that the titular character is a bit of a conceded prick for most of the runtime. Cara Delevingne, however, may just be a lost cause for the acting world. Her performance in Suicide Squad was a mixed bag for me, and now she tries to come off as a sexy gun-wielding savior of the universe. She is definitely sexy, but her scenes of action turned me off. The supporting cast is filled with a surprising amount of big names. Clive Owen shows up for the first movie I’ve seen in awhile and was pretty good in his own role. Though I have to say, it was fairly easy to see where his arc was going in this one. Singer Rihanna tries her hand at acting for about a 20-30 minute stretch of the film and does a surprisingly nice job. Her character was relatively interesting, even if it tried to ham-fist social commentary into the story. Meanwhile, John Goodman, Rutger Hauer, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock… are all given so little to say and do that it’s downright criminal, and ultimately feel more like glorified cameos. Hawke was particularly annoying, reminding me too much of Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element. In many ways, Luc Besson is like this generation’s version of George Lucas. By that, I mean that he has an incredible imagination and sense of creativity but these ideas are not always executed in the best way possible. There are some really neat concepts and ideas in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to be savored. One of the races in the movie is based on beach-like terrain and uses sea pearls to fertilize everything. After the opening scene, our heroes arrive on a seemingly barren planet. But as soon as they put on special glasses, they see hundreds of markets, bizarre style, in an alternate dimension. But perhaps the coolest thing was the technology. Being a big sci-fi nerd, I love to see what kind of tech the world is able to offer. And one exhilarating chase sequence sees Valerian running through a wall and then shooting his gun to be able to walk on air. On the technical side of things, it’s a reasonably competent production. Alexandre Desplat’s score is an engaging, if not quite a memorable one. But the biggest thing this has going for it, by far, are the special effects. Utilizing 2,734 visual shots overall, the CGI is pretty impressive and sometimes just gorgeous. However, many scenes required some extensive green screen work and it didn’t always look convincing. But for the most part, it did look pretty. But it just comes down to the fact that this movie is detrimentally overstuffed with pointless characters and unnecessary subplots. Besson gives Marvel Studios a run for their money on how much you can pack into one movie. The romance aspect between Valerian and Lauraline is present in the film just as it is in the comics. But Develingne and DeHaan do not share good chemistry, so their hard-to-get relationship came off as forced and stupid. That whole thing occupied roughly 30 minutes of the movie. It’s already 2 hours and 17 minutes long, so if they just shaved that whole thing, it would be much better. While it’s undeniably ambitious in the scope, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a beautiful but insufferable mess with hollow characters. It’s a mystery movie without any suspense, it’s a romance without any chemistry or friction, and it’s a space opera with not much charisma. I was actually looking forward to it, but now I can safely say I saw it. At least I can say that much.

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“The Void” Movie Review

With high-quality horror movies like Get Out earlier this year and total shitfests like Wish Upon infecting this summer, this movie got a bit lost in the shuffle. Now that it’s been released on Netflix, I’m here to tell you whether or not it’s worth your time. This independent horror thriller from Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest before getting a small release of only 50 theaters on April 7th, 2017, doubling its tiny $82,000 budget. The film was a passion project for the directors on Indiegogo where they raised all of the funds. Eventually, Jonathan Bronfman, one of the executive producers for the film The VVitch, discovered it and brought it to DFilms to be distributed. The 90-minute plot follows a policeman who brings a dying man into a secluded hospital in the middle of the night. The staff and patients inside soon realize that they are surrounded by a group of hooded cultists who will not let them leave. Couple that with some truly weird creatures hidden within the hospital itself, and now we have ourselves a big thrill ride. This is clearly an homage to horror films from the 1980’s, specifically the filmography of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg. And honestly, that is my favorite decade of horror movies, as each one that came out was perfect in just about every aspect. It also seems to take some inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In an era where so many horror directors base their films off of something that came out recently, it’s refreshing to see a pair of people who understand modern horror’s roots. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows from 2015 proved as much. But while The Void starts off strong and promising, it fails to leave any lasting impact or impression. The most obvious way that it pays homage to the masters of the genre is that Gillespie and Kostanski had a big itch for using practical effects. They specifically avoided the use of CGI, and instead decided to rely heavily on practical effects and makeup. The hooded cultists are wearing real robes with triangles painted on them. The characters are confined in real hallways at night time. The monsters they encounter are fused together with makeup and real prosthetics. So much of the movie feels real and gives it this lived-in element. Another way in which the directors pay tribute is through the otherworldly soundtrack by the Canadian band Blitz/Berlin. The tracks are synthesized beats and ambient noise designed to create the tension of a scene. No single track is really that memorable, but it felt right at the moment and pretty fun to listen to. It definitely added to a dripping atmosphere that was so creepy and suspenseful to be sucked into. As far as characters go, they’re all pretty much exactly what you would expect them to be. The only person in the cast with any real work to their name is Ellen Wong, and she had a pretty minor role. No, the real star is Aaron Poole as the everyman cop. He’s the one who’s constantly trying to keep order in this increasingly chaotic situation. You see everything from his point-of-view from the beginning to the twisted conclusion. So you immediately empathize with him, as well as some of the other people stuck in that hospital. But where the film falters is that there is a huge gaping pit in information regarding much of the film’s lore. Where did these hooded cultists come from? What do they truly want out of our protagonists? How long have the monsters been around in our world? The ending doesn’t offer us much help either, as it kind of convolutes these questions into oblivion. “But dude, not everything has to be explained to us. Some things are best left to interpretation by the beholder.” I agree with that sentiment, my fellow cinephiles. But there is a distinct difference between giving us hints of an answer and withholding information to a point where the story begins to make no sense. Both leave people wanting more, but only one of them is actually satisfying. I thought The Maze Runner taught us that already. I will say that it’s nice to know there are still young fans of old-school horror movies and even take inspiration from them. And even though it’s not original by any stretch, it did feel much fresher and fun than a lot of contemporaries in the genre today. But still, The Void is an empty practice in nostalgia-inducing aesthetic and practical special effects. It’s great to watch with your friends at night on the couch at home, but not really worth much of a second viewing. Much less $10-12 in paying a ticket to see it theatrically.

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“The Big Sick” Movie Review

Oh, come on. If I met someone as awesome and adorable as Emily, would I abandon my family and traditional ways of life just for her? You betcha. Produced by comedy legend Judd Apatow, this romantic comedy premiered to great reviews and accolades at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival before Amazon released it on June 23rd, 2017. It has earned back $25 million at the box office and rankings among several best-of-the-year lists by critics already. The R-rated story stars Kumail Nanjiani as a caricatured version of himself in a script that was co-written by him and his wife Emily V. Gordon. He’s a struggling stand-up comedian who is taken with a young white girl in Chicago. Coming from a conservative Pakistani family, he has to lie to them in order to keep them happy and also deal with tough love when Emily is put into a coma. Now he has to interact with Emily’s parents and wrestles with what he actually wants to do with his life. The romantic comedy has always been something of a hit or miss for me. For every 500 Days of Summer, we also get a stinker starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. If there were one genre in film that could be categorized as being the “easiest,” then I guess rom coms would probably take the cake. That being said, I am always willing to branch out and try new things, and in the case of The Big Sick, all of the advertisements promised me that it would be different. Thank God I listened. Previously best known for the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, Nanjiani is a wonderful discovery in this movie. He has a tender and wholesome presence that is punctuated by a rib-cracking sense of humor. He was funnier than Bo Burnham in this movie, which says something. One of his funniest moments is when he describes to an open-mic audience the “hierarchy” of jobs in Pakistan, with doctors at the top and comedian at the bottom- even below ISIS. Zoe Kazan is great as Emily, sharing great chemistry with her co-star and a strong personality. I mean really, anyone would ditch their loved ones just to spend time with her. Surprisingly, though, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter shine as Emily’s parents in their best roles in years. The only thing either of these two has done of note in the last 15 years were fun stints in animation; Hunter in The Incredibles and Romano in Ice Age, respectively. But here they give great performances as the parents, capturing the realism of a moment like this. In fact, I think it would be a fair bet to say that Romano qualifies for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. As far as technicality goes, there’s not much to say here. The soundtrack is filled with contemporary songs that feel appropriate to the moment. And some of Michael Andrews’ minimal score is fitting for some of the more emotional moments in the hospital. Most of it is just a bit of ambient strings and synthesizers. But what made me feel a bit warm inside was that the bits centered around the comedy club Kumail spends his nights at really felt real. Just the way the cinematography was shot and the atmosphere and even some of the hilarious routines made it feel as though I were sitting at a table watching an open-mic night. Kevin Hart tried to do this last year with the theatrical release of What Now? but it just came off as tacked on and commercialized. Here, director Michael Showalter uses those moments to help build characters and their quirky personalities. Where the film peaks, though, is the second act of the story when Emily gets sick and sent to the hospital. Normally, a romantic comedy, no matter how enjoyable or subversive it may seem, will ultimately subject to a formulaic structure that we’re all used to seeing. Guy and Girl meet for the first time, Guy and Girl hit it off, Guy and Girl have a nasty emotional fight, but in the end Guy and Girl get back together and live happily ever after. And this being a Judd Apatow production, it certainly seems like that’s how it’s going to go down. But the second act of The Big Sick dumps that structure down the drain and offers something highly original. It shifts the focus of Emily and Kumail over to Kumail and Emily’s parents and his parents as well. Even in 2017, cross-cultural relationships are still considered controversial, no matter how progressive your home may proclaim itself to be. Ever since 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, many auteurs of cinema have been trying to push the idea of interracial couples into the mind of the modern population. Even 2017’s Get Out had a similar sentiment on this issue, though that film had a bit of a more out-there premise that shook its head at realism. But even still, this film touches on that concept rather brilliantly. Kumail comes from a Pakistani from, a people who have the unfortunate distinction in America of heralding from the Middle East. While there are terrorist jokes abound in here, it mostly focuses on his unconventional home life. Arranged marriage is a common practice and you can’t argue against your family’s way of life. You have to become a doctor or a lawyer, and if you fail, you’ll be thrown out of the family and have all contact cut off from you. That’s tough. It’s not strictly speaking the best movie of the year, but The Big Sick is certainly the most original romantic comedy in years and one that packs some great laughs. It’s funny, relevant, different, and filled with some nice feel-good moments. What more could you want?

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“Dunkirk” Movie Review

Holy shit, that was so intense! This highly anticipated war thriller from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan was released internationally on July 21st, 2017, earning back $113 million in its opening five days. It is projected to gross even more than that and has the potential to do so. If the reports are true, Nolan wanted to make this film for many years but waited until he had enough experience in America to confront such a British topic. So in a way, it could be said that his entire career has been leading up to this movie when it finally entered production late in 2015. Based largely on a true story, (a first for the director) Dunkirk is set in World War II in 1940. 400,000 French and British soldiers have been trapped on a beach just 26 miles away from the coast of England. The Nazi army has completely surrounded them and is slowly encroaching on their position from every angle. But a distress call has been given out and now hundreds of pleasure yachts and fishing boats are riding across the English Channel in order to rescue as many of the soldiers as they can before it’s too late. To date, I have loved almost every single film Christopher Nolan has made, with The Dark Knight and Inception being among my all-time favorites. His storytelling is absolutely unparalleled by anyone else in Hollywood and consistently challenges wide audiences. So when I heard that he was making a thriller about one of the greatest miracles in human history, I was naturally excited to see what he would possibly put together. And now, Dunkirk can be added to the echelons of films like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line of World War II films that can be studied and beloved for a new generation. That’s what this movie is. In fact, I’m convinced that it is a masterpiece. Let me just start off by saying that this film is not what you would call conventional filmmaking. It contains Nolan’s trademark of skipping around a timeline and providing little hints before coming back in a big emotional payoff. It is told through a triptych narrative, meaning that it is shown through three different perspectives. In this case, we get to see the action from the soldiers stuck on land, the destroyers and civilian boats rescuing at sea and the British fighter pilots from the sky. Often, a scene that occurs features a character that was previously seen in a different time of day, and can admittedly get a little confusing if you’re not paying close attention. In a way, it reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a plot structure so complicated that it doubles back if you don’t try and process everything. And the film looks and sounds gorgeous. Through the use of 65 mm IMAX cameras, the first-ever ones to be handheld, Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema really captured a wide, almost vérité-style look to it all. The color pallet is an interesting one as the focus on the beach, sky, and ocean creates a unique look at war, with one of my favorite shots being in the nighttime when a vessel is being burned asunder. I saw this movie in 70 mm, which created a bigger anamorphic frame. Much like Interstellar, this is one of those rare features which is perhaps best experienced at the theater rather than at home. Not to mention the incredible sound design. You can literally hear everything in each frame of the film, whether it’s the sound of a gunshot or that ticking clock. Whenever we went back to the beach and the German planes came swooping back in, you could hear them slowly screeching nearby. And unlike any jump scare from any horror movie, it was absolutely and terrifyingly effective. Continuing his long partnership with the director, Hans Zimmer composes the musical score for Dunkirk. And this soundtrack is so unlike any of his other work yet also strangely familiar. Combining electronic synthesizers with orchestral pieces once again, he does a great job at earning emotional responses without having to manipulate the audience. But he also uses diegetic sounds such as a ticking clock on a pocket watch and the waves of a beach. This effectively creates an immersive atmosphere. Much like his previous epics, this film features a large ensemble cast of great actors. Of them all, newcomer Fionn Whitehead is perhaps the one that can be called the lead, even in a cast that includes big names like Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Harry Styles. (Who was surprisingly good) But even so, he barely speaks a word of dialogue in the first half of the movie, hell, so do a lot of the other characters. It was intentional that this is almost like a silent film, but in doing so, many have complained about the character development or lack thereof. Nolan did, after all, warn his audience that they weren’t the concern for him, and I agree. This movie is about capturing a moment in time, a zeitgeist if you will. That moment was swift, horrific, terrifying, and almost hopeless. In war, a lot of people will die scared and alone, and do they always get satisfying arcs or a moment to shine or a time to get you emotionally invested in them? Not always. Instead, they do such a great job at immersing you in this moment and making you feel like you could be anyone of these characters. While some other war films have been greater at character development, Dunkirk is an immersive experience into the hell of war, and perhaps the most patriotic British film ever made. This is probably the best movie of the year so far, and now one of my favorite war films out there. Just be sure to manage your expectations.

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“War for the Planet of the Apes” Movie Review

Isn’t it just the weirdest thing to be rooting against your own species in a conflict for the future of our planet? Is no one else feeling that right now? Just me? Okay. This science-fiction action drama was released worldwide on July 14th, 2017, earning back its large $150 million budget in no time. The third and (supposedly) final entry in the rebooted franchise and the ninth overall entry of the series that began all the way back in 1968 with Charleton Heston, Matt Reeves returns to direct this picture after his outing with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3 years ago. Two years after the events of Dawn, the highly intelligent and respected ape Caesar leads his people into a new conflict with the surviving humans. When a ruthless Colonel McCullough shatters his doorstep and threatens everything he’s built, Caesar must wrestle with protecting his people, controlling his darker self, and seeing a way for the future to hold hope… for either species. I vividly remember seeing the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes and thinking that it was going to be a piece of crap blockbuster that happened to star James Franco. To the universe, I was wrong and so I apologize. And then in 2014, a mere month or so after I began my blog, I was blown away by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, one of the few sequels that manage to outshine the original in almost all departments. So naturally, I was very excited to see what would happen with War, once again directed by Reeves. But I clearly didn’t know what to prepare for because when it was over, so many people walked out of the theater speechless. And after pondering on it for a few days, I’m ready to share my thoughts: go see and support this movie right now. The thing that the original film from 1968 was most famous for, aside from its iconic twist ending, was the convincing and groundbreaking prosthetic makeup. On a similar note, the reboot series has been famous for its astounding and realistic motion-capture photography. For those unaware, motion-capture is when an actor or actress is covered in computer animation but their voice, movements, and emotive responses are all their own. The results can be hit or miss, but whenever Andy Serkis is involved, it is almost instantly the former. The apes in this movie may just be the best motion-capture work I’ve ever seen in a feature film. At a point, I actually thought that the production crew had brought real apes on board to film the various scenes. Not only that but the environments of the San Francisco Red Forest and snowy winter terrain of a base look gorgeous with or without CGI, thanks to cinematographer Michael Seresin. Andy Serkis returns for the third time as the ape Caesar and gives perhaps his best performance to date. The man revolutionized how acting could be seen with the lens, with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings being arguably his most famous work still. But here, he gives Caesar a few tragic dimensions that just make you respect and understand him. He never asked for this war, hell, he didn’t even ask to be the leader of the apes. But he’s been thrown into this situation and has to deal with it and face his past demons, including the traitorous Koba. Comedian Steve Zahn joins the simians as Bad Ape, a hermit from a zoo in California. Putting a character as comic relief in a film like this was a huge risk and could have easily become a gimmicky misfire. But it paid off, and it got some genuine laughs out of the audience. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson is appropriately villainous and unstable as the Colonel, almost the complete opposite from his character in Zombieland. During one lengthy monolog scene, (The ONLY ONE in the entire movie) he gives an emotionally distant story concerning his son and the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to save humanity from extinction. The increasingly prolific Michael Giacchino composes his 6th film score in just over 12 months. And yet, this might be one of his best, next to The Incredibles and Up. Several of the tracks seem to pay homage to legends like Ennio Morricone, mostly consisting of mellow piano and strings and a haunting choir. The opening titles even feature an inventive all-drums version of the 20th Century Fox fanfare, establishing the truly bananas feeling of everything. But it also allows certain scenes to breathe with long takes of verbal silence and sign language between the apes elevated by faint piano melodies driving the characters. I do feel the need to give the disclaimer that, despite its title, War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action movie. While it does open up with a fantastic sequence in the woods and some other moments that occur later on, this is a bleak and mature exploration of dark themes. The necessity and desire for violence, torture, obligations to your species versus obligations to your loved ones, prejudice and hatred. Never flinching and sometimes hard to watch, the film pulls zero punches in regards to subject matter like this. And the characters almost never get the easy way out in the story. But because this is the end of a trilogy, you have to watch Rise and Dawn in order first since jumping right in wouldn’t give you that emotional oomph. And that oomph hits hard and moved me almost to tears. It’s extremely rare for a franchise to move through nine films and have a rebooted trilogy. Even rarer is for that one to be the best out of all of them. But War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the best final installments ever and a deeply, emotionally satisfying conclusion to one of the best trilogies in recent memory. Up there with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Bourne Ultimatum.

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“Jaws” Movie Review

So it occurs to me that I can make a blog post about whatever I want, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. But I recently rewatched Jaws for the first time in many years on a format unlike any other out there. So let’s talk about it. This iconic action-horror-thriller was initially released on June 20th, 1975, where it grossed over $470 million worldwide against a small budget of $9 million. This made it the highest grossing movie of all time in the U.S. until George Lucas showed up 2 years later with Star Wars. Based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, which was said to be loosely inspired by real events, the story stars Roy Scheider as Martin Brody, the newly appointed police chief of an island town. During the town’s most lucrative time frame, the 4th of July weekend, they find themselves being terrorized and harassed by a great white shark intent on munching down on all of them. Brody, with the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper and local shark hunter Captain Quint, sets out on a quest to stop the sea creature once and for all. What is it about Jaws that it so well-respected and acclaimed from scholars and fans? Well, for one, it began the term “blockbuster” because, at the time of its release, there were so many people lined up around the street corners under the hot summer sun just so they could see it. It also became infamous for starting the trend of “high-concept” films, which allowed for big-budget Hollywood affairs with a simple premise that was easy to market and didn’t retain much below the surface. However, what sets this film apart from so many others is that there is so much to appreciate beneath simply what you see; because it’s often what you don’t see. One of the most celebrated aspects of Jaws is the fact that the young director Steven Spielberg chose not to show the shark Bruce, which was nicknamed after his lawyer. Adopting the “less is more” mindset from Alfred Hitchcock, he works with his cinematographer Bill Butler to create off-kilter camera angles from both underwater and above the surface. The Master of Suspense even praised the film for paying homage to his style. Even though the shark is known to be the threat of the movie and makes an impact on the characters, it doesn’t even make an appearance until nearly two-thirds into the 124 minute-long running time. In their defense, the shark itself did look pretty fake, but it did produce one of my favorite reaction scenes ever, when Brody quietly tells the Captain the iconic catchphrase, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” But the reason why the big bad beast is sparsely seen is that the production was hard for all parties involved. In fact, all accounts say that Jaws was a NIGHTMARE to make. The cast had a really contentious relationship with one another, probably due to the lack of a finished script. Meanwhile, the shark was initially supposed to appear more often but before filming began, the wiring and mechanisms broke. The lesson from all of this? It is extremely hard to shoot a movie out on the water. But it also teaches us that sometimes, similar to the original Star Wars, a movie will come out best when the odds are seemingly stacked against you. Of course, one cannot simply talk about Jaws without talking about the Oscar-winning score. Before Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., or Schindler’s List, John Williams composed the music for this monster movie and became endlessly iconic. During the more suspenseful moments, he’ll resort to low toned horns and strings repeating two notes. As the tension grows, the notes will be faster and faster and gain more volume as the climax reaches. Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw portray the three men on the boat in the final act of the movie. They do a terrific job with excellent chemistry and surprisingly engaging dialogue that keeps their characters relatively grounded. They needed to work well together, otherwise, this implausible story would sink like a rock. Luckily, they spearhead the rest of the cast and provide a certain humanity missing from most movies in the genre. But let’s face it; there’s no shark that would ever rationally behave like Bruce. This movie could probably never happen in real life, and the events that the book was based were likely exaggerated in order to create more drama. But still, I have not one single problem with this movie. Jaws is a magnificent and compelling thriller that catapulted the Hollywood blockbuster to fame. I saw this again at the “Jaws on the Water” special event hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and it was a total blast. If it’s available, I encourage you to see the movie this way, no matter how scary it may seem. But no matter what, just see it at twice in your life.

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“Spider-Man Homecoming” Movie Review

*Insert some witty/stupid quip about being “your friendly neighborhood movie critic” just to regret it immediately afterward* Let’s just get this thing started. This coming-of-age superhero adventure from director Jon Watts is the sixteenth overall installment in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has since nearly doubled its $175 million budget worldwide. The second reboot of the titular character within 10 years, Marvel Studios and Sony finally worked out a deal in 2015 that allowed Spider-Man to appear in the MCU. Sony still has the distribution rights and handles the marketing but Marvel Studios is given complete artistic freedom to do with the character as they please. A couple months after the events of Civil War, Tom Holland returns as our friendly neighborhood web-slinger struggling to juggle his superhero passion with high school. When a new villain named the Vulture rolls into Queens and what’s left of the fractured Avengers team is nowhere in sight, only Spider-Man can take him down. I loved the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy so much as a child and still do today. (Yes, I even enjoy Spider-Man 3) They inspired me to want to be a superhero at a young age. And while Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot was an enjoyable and more realistic take on the iconic character, I didn’t feel like it was necessary. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, meanwhile was a disappointing, wholly underwhelming and rushed sequel that desperately tried to cram in as much world-building as possible. With that background in mind, I walked into Jon Watt’s new version of this character, my favorite comic book superhero of all time, with some trepidation. He may have been the best thing about Captain America: Civil War, but I was not sure how they could possibly reboot him with ANOTHER origin story in only 10 years. But the fact that the single most successful film franchise of all time had commandeered control gave me a bit of hope, and I was glad I had it. Although his actual breakout role was in J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible from 2012, this role was the one that landed Tom Holland on the map of American cinema. At 20 years old, he is the youngest actor to ever portray Peter Parker/Spider-Man but he also may just be the best, even beating out Toby Maguire and the 90’s animation. His portrayal captures everything that Stan Lee had envisioned for the character when he was first sketched in the comic books decades ago. His introduction consists of a clever home video he made of the airport battle scene from Civil War, which establishes his innocence and wants to fight alongside the heroes he grew up loving. While Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, and Zendaya do great work as his best friend, high school rival, and classmate, respectively, Marisa Tomei wasn’t given nearly enough to say and do as his guardian Aunt May. While she is more attractive and naturally younger than her counterpart in the comic book, she just felt kind of wasted. But Michael Keaton totally owned it as the supervillain Vulture. The 5-minute cold open is dedicated to building his character, bordering the line between evil and misunderstood. You understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing, becoming the second-best villain in the MCU behind only Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and proves that some of the best antagonists are the ones with real and clear motivations. But be warned; his suit is all black, and some of the nighttime scenes involving him are hard to follow. Michael Giacchino returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the 2nd time after 2016′ Doctor Strange to give the musical score. Opening with an orchestrated version of the classic Spider-Man theme song from the cartoons, it builds some large sweeps of strings and horns, reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s theme 15 years ago. Since it’s centered on a teenager, the soundtrack also had some fun selections of millennial and 2010’s music that matched well with most scenes. At the very end of the movie, it goes from a surprising last line of dialogue to a smash cut to the end credits sequence with a crazy playing. It was downright awesome and got a big laugh out of me. But what I love most is that it apparently doubles as both a superhero adventure and a high school teen drama. Peter Parker is struggling to fit in at his small school in Queens and simultaneously take care of his single aunt. Yes, it’s just Aunt May. This skips the traditional origin story because let’s face it: we all know how it happens at this point and we don’t want to see Uncle Ben getting murdered again. At the same time, Spider-Man is the new kid on the block trying to prove himself to Iron Man and other Avengers. Unfortunately, he’s so young and naive that no one really takes him seriously, with Tony Stark being his only mentor. At one point, he tells the web-slinger, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you don’t deserve to have it.” Even though it can’t reach the heights of the original Sam Raimi trilogy, Spider-Man Homecoming is a hilarious, briskly-paced adventure featuring a faithful representation of one of Marvel’s best heroes. I had middling expectations to start off and walked out with a great big smile on my face. Especially because the obligatory after-credits scenes were amusing and cleverly set up future installments. And now, I genuinely look forward to what they’ll do with Tom Holland.

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