director Jon Watts
viewed: 07/16/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
My kids got back from camp for a brief weekend before other summer travels and I posed to them the idea of seeing a movie. Either Spider-Man: Homecoming or War for the Planet of the Apes. Surprisingly, they agreed on Spider-Man (they never agree on anything), and so Spider-Man it was.
I didn’t have high expectations, despite having liked Tom Holland’s brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War, was it?
Color me surprised. This is probably the second best Spider-Man movie, next to Spider-Man 2 (2004).
They dialed it back down a lot here, letting Spider-Man fight a more localized villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. He’s scavenging and stealing alien technology from government clean-up sites and selling the weaponry to small-time crooks. More like old-fashioned Spider-Man comics, the story is more concise and less existential in its threats. Peter Parker is believably a teen (though maybe barely) and the cast around him, particularly Jacob Batalon as his chubby, funny pal and Zendaya shows promise as the next film’s “MJ”.
It’s funny throughout. I particularly liked the Captain America PSA’s.
It’s not great film-making, but it’s more fun than it seems, and then you start to realize that the bar isn’t all that high for Spider-Man movies. It still has other issues and short-comings, but we all enjoyed it, and that is not a common enough result of a movie these days.
director Patty Jenkins
viewed: 06/03/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
I’m sorry to say it, but Wonder Woman sucks. It’s a very bad movie. Especially at the beginning and then again at the end. Somewhere around the middle, in part due to Chris Pine who gets to be a little humorous, and in part to the WWI battlefield sequence, it picks up. But in the end, it’s awful.
I went in wanting to like it. I think it’s great that it’s the first female-directed film to earn such big money at the box office. I’m all for more female directors. But more for our Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, Ana Lily Amarpour, and Julia Ducournau, women who make great films and should absolutely be seen and lead the way for more.
Wonder Woman is not it. The fact that it’s made bank means that Patty Jenkins will get another shot at it and hopefully will open doors for others. For DC, it’s their first big non-Christopher Nolan hit and will no doubt bolster their franchise leading up to next year’s Justice League.
But it makes no advancement for anything else.
Gal Godot is beautiful but she doesn’t have a lot to do when not pausing in slo-mo to hit a style shot. Diana can read every known ancient language but come to the modern world and she’s a gorgeous fish out of water and naive to boot. Pine merely has the better role and lines and gets to be more charming. Quite a shame and ironic.
And the film’s visual style seems like a brightened up Zack Snyder, who was a producer and contributed to the story as well.
director James Gunn
viewed: 05/06/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
In 2014, James Gunn performed a magic trick, turning an obscure Marvel Comics entity into a major Marvel Studios franchise in Guardians of the Galaxy. Shareholders and fans thrilled.
No longer obscure, but rather hotly anticipated (by my 13 year old daughter among many), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes shooting out of the gate of summer fare 2017. Like any sequel, more is more, when it comes to the stuff that fans loved the first time: comic banter, AM radio tunes, stunning sci-fi visuals, and baby Groot.
But as is also common in sequels, more is not always more.
Guardians 2 is more, 136 minutes more.
The real flaw though is in the script. It’s nowhere as sharp and funny as it should be. And then the whole “daddy” or “family” issues theme. It’s heavy handed. It’s cliché as cliché can be and super-tiresome. And here it really sucks the life out of the movie.
Favorite elements: David Bautista as Drax gets the best lines and moments, nicely paired with opposing counterpart in Pom Klementieff as Mantis. And most of the visual design and character designs are stunning and super-fun.
Least favorite element: Bradley Cooper’s Rocket.
Coming out of the movie, my son was unsurprisingly unimpressed. My daughter was not nearly as enthusiastic as I would have thought, considering she laughed through much of it.
I don’t know if all of the fans will be happy, but I’m pretty sure the shareholders will be.
director James Mangold
viewed: 03/05/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
My daughter was very excited to see that Logan was to be released on her 13th birthday. And for her birthday, I took her and a couple of her friends to see Logan. It’s a small sample size, but based on my experience, 13 year old girls LOVE Logan. It even brought tears to their eyes.
Surprisingly violent and successfully gritty, Logan takes the Wolverine character as played by Hugh Jackman into the future, the year 2029, where Logan is ailing from blood poisoning, alcoholism, and the bitter, brutal events that led up to the elimination of all mutants. It’s only him and Caliban (Stephan Merchant) left, caring for the very ill Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart).
That is until his clone daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) shows up. She’s like him, with those claws, and when she’s unleashed, she’s a killing machine.
The story then turns to a run for the Canadian border, to some safe haven for Laura and her test tube mutant brethren. There is an amazing poignancy in this, with the current state of affairs and the plight of immigrants in the United States at the moment.
The film has some political commentary, but really it’s a character-driven film, with a lot of brutal dismemberment, slicing and dicing. And for my money, not just the 13 year olds in our party, it works well. Jackman and Stewart and Keen derive their pathos.
It’s a superhero film stripped of costumes and magic, humanized, or at least de-superhero-ized. Easily the best film in the series.
director Brett Leonard
In researching some other Marvel Comics movie thing, I stumbled on the fact that there was a Man-Thing movie, made in 2005. I follow along pretty well and have kept tabs on how Marvel has evolved its own productions, but I really hadn’t heard at all about this movie. Reading up now on it, it’s not surprising.
Produced by Artisan Entertainment, who had also made that era’s The Punisher (2004), and worked out a deal to license some of Marvel’s more minor characters (before Marvel realized that running the quality control was the key to success), Man-Thing was an Australian production, not keenly over-seen by the parent company, and was not released theatrically in the US.
For me, Man-Thing always held a point of fascination, possibly because it started as a comic book in 1974, when I was 5 and growing up in Florida, land of swamps. I always loved monsters. Especially sympathetic things that looked cool.
It might surprise you to know that the cinematic Man-Thing is a horror film, not at all a superhero movie. But it probably wouldn’t surprise you just how bad this movie is.
Australians may be good at a lot of things, but sounding like Cajuns and Creoles is not one of them. Throw in a lot of cheap camera effects that make this look like a SciFi Channel original of the era (it was released as such eventually), and you’ve got a big hunk of junk.
On the positive side, it’s R-rated so an a-typical flash of boobs tells you early on that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Marvel outing. But even as a horror film it’s pretty terrible. And the creature itself, originally meant to be a physical costume enhanced by CGi, winds up being cheap CGi circa 2005, which is a sad fate for any character and far from interesting or terrifying.
But is it bad enough to be good? I’d say it’s close, but I don’t think it achieves even this rather low point of success. Perhaps it deserves its relative obscurity.
director Chris McKay
viewed: 02/11/2017 at CineArts @ Empire Theater, SF, CA
I really didn’t think I’d find myself watching The Lego Batman Movie. My kids are now 15 and almost 13, and while they still like animated movies, somehow I figured this was not going to be one that they were all that interested in. But as they are getting older and knowing that these times of going to see “kids” movies with them is a thing probably not long for my world, I’m happy to indulge them.
My daughter really enjoyed it, watching throughout with a smile on her face. The comedy is pretty quick and incessant.
I liked it. Not overly though.
Still, it might have been the best DC superhero movie to date.
director David Ayer
Great idea, great character designs, a wholly rotten mess.
The worst: Jared Leto. Easily.
Perhaps the character that embodies this mess most is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. A hugely popular character, Robbie is designed well, but every single thing she says is a quip to be cut into a trailer; she is absolute nothingness.
Making the villains into “good guys” seems counter to the concept of why this idea could have been interesting. There’s not psychology here except standard generic screenwriter mentality stuff.
Who knows how much studio meddling brought this down and how much a pile or crap it was anyways. It’s amazing that DC has developed such a definitive record of failure since Christopher Nolan delivered the last of his Batman series. And if anything, this seems to promise only more failure to come.
director Scott Derrickson
viewed: 11/05/2016 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA
I actually had to drag my 15 year old son to Doctor Strange. He’s in full-on revolt against superhero movies. My daughter, who has been pretty into the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, was a lot easier to convince. It’s been a dry autumn for movies, so I was more willing than normal to go see the latest superhero fare.
I never had a relationship with Dr. Strange other than to think he was not really my superhero cup of tea. As a kid I thought he was pretty lame and wasn’t into weird mysticism in my comic books. As a result, I came to this one rather open-mindedly.
Doctor Strange features an origin story, which is just fine here. Unlike Superman or Spiderman, whose origin stories we’ve seen dozens of times, it’s worth getting the backstory here. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the good, if arrogant neurosurgeon, who suffers a horrific crash and nerve damage to his hands, heads to the East (Kathmandu exactly) to find a mystical healing but instead finds magic and expanded realities and superpowers and lots of stuff.
The cast carries this along quite well with Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, and Benedict Wong. There was some criticism of whitewashing with Swinton playing a character who in the comics was Asian. Not familiar with the comics, I don’t know what to say here. She’s one of those cinematic aliens who is also a very fine actress.
Really, what struck me was that Doctor Strange is sort of the head-trippy Inception (2010) of the Marvel Universe. Remember all that city folding on itself stuff? Well what if they did that to the Nth degree non-stop? Actually my favorite scene was Strange’s immersion into the psychedelic reality of multiverses and uber-reality.
It was fun. And as Marvel is wont to do, post-credit scenes suggest that we’ll be seeing the magic doctor in the next Thor movie. The Marvel machine rolls on.
My son was unimpressed. My daughter liked it. Dad can’t win.
director Bryan Singer
viewed: 06/04/2016 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
The X-Men movies keep surprising me. Rising from the ashes of The Last Stand (2006), the re-booted franchise that kicked off with Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class (2011) and renewed yet again by Bryan Singer’s surprising return to the franchise that he first brought to the screen in 2000, in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), this (currently) 2nd trilogy has managed despite odds and levels of narrative complexity, turned out some really decent movies.
Not great movies, mind you, but good movies. Entertainment.
This series took on the added challenge of a reworked timeline, setting the films in the past: First Class in the 1960’s, Days of Future Past in the 1970’s (as well as in the present?), and now Apocaplypse in 1983. Frankly, even trying to get my head around the whole timeline thing is more than I care to strain for myself.
But I think I know why this works, at least to some extent. The X-Men were always a more interesting crew than Marvel stablemates, The Avengers. The Avengers were always sort of Marvel’s mainstream, while the X-men were sort of their “alternative culture”. And ultimately are a more interesting gang of characters.
It’s 144 minutes of mind and butt-numbing action, so incredibly much packed in to this sprawling cataclysmic story. An almost all-powerful villain Apocalypse (a heavily CGI & make-up-buried Oscar Isaac) rises from nearly 6,000 years of slumber to re-boot the Earth. It takes all of the X-men to come together to take him and his associates down.
I often think that one shortcoming of the modern superhero story is that every villain is an existential one, every one is bringing an apocalypse to Earth (or even the universe) and the heroes have to “save the world”. Old school comics had heroes and villains on smaller scale stories that were still compelling.
This story isn’t quite so complicated unless you’re trying to tie it into the prior movie’s narrative (which was complicated and is essentially extended here with the action taking place a decade later — almost 20 years since First Class).
For its broad spectrum of response (seriously “mixed” reviews), Apocalypse hardly seemed like a sure thing. When I told my superhero-loving 12 year old daughter we were going to it, she said, “Yusss!” And when I found myself walking out of the movie thinking, “Gee, I really kind of liked that…” I started realizing that despite the fact that I stopped reading superhero comics around 1983, that I guess the X-men were the ones I liked, far more than a lot of the others.
Lastly, quite as in Days of Future Past, the film’s singular best sequence features Evan Peters as Quicksilver, saving the day in a prolonged time-stretched action scene, here saving the whole Xavier school’s populace from an explosion. Talk about a character crying out for his own movie. It’s kind of clear that Singer has made the case for him, perhaps made the case that Singer should make it himself.