Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Spider-Teen’s European Vacation

Opening today at a Marvel multiplex near us all:

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
(Dir. Jon Watts, 2019) 


So with this sequel to SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, we’re now at the end of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In what’s being called the epilogue to AVENGERS: ENDGAME, we catch up with Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) eight months after the events of that bloated epic.

Peter, still a high school student despite Holland being 22 when the film was shot, joins his class on a two-week summer field trip to Europe where he finds that various locations including Venice, Prague, and London are being terrorized by ginormous monsters called Elementals.

Our web-slinging protagonist is recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson in his third appearance in a Marvel movie this year) to fight the Elementals with the help of Mysterio, a character from the comics, portrayed by an invested Jake Gyllenhaal wearing Roman centurion-style armor.

Peter often has to sneak away from his classmates, such as the returning Zendaya as MJ (Peter’s love interest), Jacob Batalon as Ned (Peter’s best friend), and Tony Revolori, to get caught up in overblown battles in which there’s much destruction and dizzying bombast. Between these battles, there’s some frothy rom com material where Peter competes for the affection of MJ with the douche Brad (Remy Hii from CRAZY RICH ASIANS who is over 30).

There’s also a bunch of comic moments courtesy of the also returning Martin Starr as Peter’s teacher, Marissa Tomei as Aunt May who is maybe beginning a romances with Tony Stark’s former bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau), and a new character named Mr. Dell (J.B. Smooth).

These breezy bits of downtime are much more amusing and watchable than the action sequences surrounding them. It’s like a teen comedy that has to cut to big bursts of spectacle every five to ten minutes.

FAR FROM HOME is only intermittently fun, and way less satisfying than HOMECOMING as it has lost much of that film’s fresh feeling. The villain, Mysterio, isn’t fleshed out enough to make much of an impact, and the concept behind the Elementals isn’t very compelling either. 


However it’s a competent summer superhero movie, and a decent entry in the franchise. I just doubt I’ll remember much of it months from now, or less. But that could be said about most of the Marvel movies.

More later...

Friday, June 28, 2019

YESTERDAY: Cutesy Yet Not Within Or Without Its Charms

Opening today from here to across the universe:

YESTERDAY (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2019)



Danny Boyle’s 13th full length feature has a very juicy premise. Imagine (sorry) a world in which the Beatles never existed. Well, that’s what happens when aspiring British Indian musician Jack Malik, played by the invested but maybe a bit too wide-eyed Himesh Patel (The Eastenders) gets hit by a bus while riding his bike, at the same moment that there’s a fantastical global blackout.

Shortly after he wakes up in a hospital with two teeth missing, he finds out that nobody knows any of the music of the Fab Four, and even think that their most famous song, “Yesterday,” is his own composition.

Jack’s manager, Ellie, played by Lily James (BABY DRIVER, DARKEST HOUR) gets him gigs in which to premiere the unknown tunes, but they don’t take off until they meet a producer named Gavin (Alexander Arnold). Gavin records some of Jack’s stolen songs at his studio named “Tracks on the Tracks” because it’s located by the railroad tracks.

Before long, it seems that the entire world knows the Beatles’ work as performed by Jack, with pop superstar Ed Sheeran (playing himself in an extended cameo), and dollars-in-her-eyes talent agent Debra Hammer (SNL’s Kate McKinnon) paying particular attention.

But Malik’s guilt increases the more songs he puts out there (Patel performs many classic John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison standards including “The Long and Winding Road,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Help,” and “Hey Jude,” which Sheeran wants to change to “Hey Dude”).

YESTERDAY also features a rom com element as Jack pines for Ellie, but she is frustrated by having waited a decade for him to make his move. They are a cute couple, and the film is cute itself – perhaps a bit too cutesy. It’s not without its charms, but Jack Curtis’ screenplay, from a story by Jack Barth, is padded instead of fleshed out and the last half hour doesn’t seem to know where to go with its story. It also contains an ending that’s too pat, with the resolution being less that satisfying

Boyle does his best to compensate for these shortcomings with a lot of flash such as locations’ names are shown in giant colorful letters that float through the air, and there’s a fantasy sequence in which Jack sees images of his fame, and impact. He almost makes it all work, but despite all the good lines, valid laughs, and likable performances – both of the acting and music – YESTERDAY is extremely watchable yet still a throwaway.

Yet, it’s touching that Boyle and company would make a movie with the message that the Beatles’ brilliance would shine even in a world devoid of their presence. Even if in the end, the love they make isn’t equal to the love they faked.

More later...

Friday, June 21, 2019

TOY STORY 4: The Rise Of Forky

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

TOY STORY 4 (Dr. Josh Cooley, 2019) 


When I first heard a few years after TOY STORY 3 that Pixar was possibly planning a fourth entry, I didn’t like the idea at all. 3 had such a beautifully emotional ending that felt like a perfect conclusion to the trilogy. It just seemed a bit cynical to milk the franchise any further.

But I must say that I fairly enjoyed TOY STORY 4. I still don’t think it was really necessary but with all the gags that land, the gorgeous animation, and emotional impact how can one care?

So nine years after the third installment, but just a few years later in the movie’s world, we catch up with our beloved gaggle of playthings in the care of preschooler, Bonnie, voiced by Madeleine McGraw, who we met at the end of the previous adventure. Woody, again voiced by Tom Hanks, stows away in Bonnie’s backpack on her first day of kindergarten orientation because he’s worried about her being overwhelmed.

After some mean kid takes Bonnie’s arts and crafts supplies and tosses them in a waste can, Woody retrieves what he can of them, along with some trash, and the little girl fashions a toy made out of a spork, a couple of mismatched googly eyes, a red pipe-cleaner for eyes, a little putty for a mouth and eyebrow, and popsicle sticks for feet. Bonnie names her new friend Forky, and he becomes her new favorite toy.

To Woody’s surprise, Forky, comes alive with the voice of Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Veep), with movable appendages. Problem is, Forky thinks he’s trash (which he is) and keeps jumping into trash cans to be back where he thinks he belongs.

Bonnie takes Forky and all her toys, including Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), tricertop Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and plastic piggy bank Hamm (Pixar regular John Ratzenberger), on a road trip with her parents in a rented RV.

Still on his kick to get thrown away, Forky hurls himself out of the vehicle’s back window and Woody goes after him. Woody is able to find Forky and while walking to the RV Park that Bonnie’s family is staying, Woody is able to convince him that he’s more than trash – he’s a toy and has an important role. When they get to town, they come across a shop called Second Chance Antiques, where Woody sees Bo Peep’s lamp in the window.

Woody and Forky journey into the store where they meet Gabby Gabby, a ‘50s-era pullstring doll from the voiced by Christina Hendricks. Gabby Gabby is initially a sweet character, but it turns out that she’s the film’s villain, who’s plotting to steal Woody’ voice-box. Folks might be tipped off to this from her foursome of creepy ventriloquist dummies that follow her orders.

Also during this antique store segment, Woody is reunited with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who was absent from 3, so that their special relationship can be rekindled.

This is as far as I’ll go with the plot as the second half is a busy bunch of chase sequences punctuated by tender, and poignant moments, all of which are effective and fun. There are highly amusing cameos by Mel Brooks as Melephant Brooks, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as carnival toys Ducky and Bunny, Keanu Reeves as stunt motorcyclist Duke Caboom, Carol Burnett as Chairol Burnett, and Carl Reiner as Carl Reineroceros which help the film keep its humor flow going.

While I originally didn’t want TOY STORY 4 - the full length debut by director Cooley - I have to admit that I found it on par with the rest of the series. Also I really loved Forky. He’s a hilarious piece of trash, I mean toy, that Hale voices wonderfully, and I’d love to see more of him. Dammit – I didn’t want 4 and now I’m pinning for 5? This is how Pixar gets you.

More later...