Space Explorer Man

Seth MacFarlane IS Space Explorer Man in the risky new space adventure from 20th Century Fox out now in theaters everywhere. Having already conquered genres as diverse and varied as raunchy cartoons, naughty bromances, and dirty westerns, it was only natural for MacFarlane to test his effervescent wit and visionary talent on a space movie next.

In addition to writing and directing, MacFarlane also stars as Captain Orville Galois. But everyone just calls him ‘Space’ for short (short for Space Explorer Man, that is). As his name implies, Space is an intrepid explorer man of deep space.

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MacFarlane uses his very white face and body to develop a complex characterization of Captain Space. This characterization draws on many traits of famous explorers of the past: Neil Armstrong’s pioneer spirit, James Cameron’s keen intelligence, and Buzz Lightyear’s bravura, take-no-prisoners attitude.

Space also has a passion for late twentieth century pop culture that all of the other characters find deeply perplexing, as the movie is set four centuries in the future. “Is Milli Vanilli the name of the next alien species we are to encounter?” they wonder before realizing Space is once again referencing something none of them have heard of for no reason at all. This quirk is later revealed to be the result of serious brain injury Space suffered as a child on the planet Dorgon.

In addition to obsessing over forgotten ephemera from centuries past, the childhood brain injury occasionally causes Space’s mental faculties to fail him altogether, such as in the scene he is assigned a new ship by his commanding officer. The alarmed commanding officer watches as Space begins to shove marbles in his mouth, thinking they are candies. When informed of their true nature by his superior (since in his submental state his mouth is unable to discern the flavor and texture of marble), he spits them out like an untamed beast.

The brain injury is also blamed when Space commits hideous acts of savagery against alien species, or whenever he reveals his shockingly retrograde attitude towards women.

Of course, MacFarlane knows a lot about marriage and long term commitment and is eager to explore that subject as he is deep space. To accomplish this, Space’s ex-wife and his current girlfriend are both members of his crew. As you can imagine, this drives a lot of the movie’s conflict, at least when the character’s aren’t busy discovering new planets and stars.

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Space Explorer Man on a space exploration adventure.

I’m grateful to report, Space Explorer Man boldly goes where no space movie (or television series for that matter) has gone before. Unfortunately MacFarlane’s comic sensibility doesn’t mesh all that well with the optimistic, pioneering sci-fi adventure with cerebral themes that he tries to create. If only someone was to make the same movie but without all the pop culture references and bizarre attempts at postmodern humor. Or maybe a TV show, who knows?

TL;DR – Enormously imaginative and original, Space Explorer Man is an exciting and wondrous space movie only marred by an awkward yet piquant sense of humor MacFarlane seems unable or unwilling to shed.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“I was especially taken with the costumes: how did MacFarlane imagine such a stylish yet plausible outfits for his space ship crew to wear.” – Brayton Exira, Collider

“The social commentary struck me as a little tone deaf, especially the debate between Captain Space and his ex-wife over whether an alien baby should have received gender reassignment surgery.” – F. Debnie Amberson, NPR

“Sort of like if A Million Ways to Die in the West was set in space.” – Trim Richulds, Entertainment Weekly

Space Explorer Man finally transcends Family Guy and MacFarlane’s other work by being something more than a copy of an iconic television series or movie filtered through his irreverent sensibility.” – Gulluzar Baboudjian, Boston Herald

“I couldn’t help but stare deeply into Captain Space’s beady black eyes.” – Mother Waddles, Daily Mirror

“I felt like I was hallucinating as I watched this garbage fire of a movie. I just couldn’t believe it was authorized, funded, or (God help us) released.” – Nikita Urevich, Film Freak Central

“A deeply offensive waste of everyone’s time.” – Mameh Immanuel Sisma, The Guardian

“Seth MacFarlane is back, baby! And he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

Melonmeter® Score:

50% liquid & seed retention – galia melonA SORT OF GALIA MELON, OR THE EAST ASIAN SARDA, CLAIMED TO CAUSE ANXIETY AND EVEN BIOLOGICAL REVULSION IN SOME PEOPLE

 

It (2017)

If you’ve been missing the Addams Family, you will absolutely love It (2017), the new franchise spin-off that also doubles as the kick-off entry to the rebooted Addams Cinematic Universe (ACU). It (2017) is an entertaining melange of macabre comedy and gothic horror that depicts the origin story of Cousin It.

For newcomers to the Addams Family franchise, Cousin It is a short being whose entire body is surrounded by a thick draping of beautiful golden hair. Over the front of this draping, It wears a pair of dark sunglasses. On top of the draping, It often dons a brown bowler derby hat or a dark velvet beret.

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Cousin It has long been considered the most enigmatic member of the Addams Family, so it’s no surprise that Guillermo del Toro chose to tackle the character first as part of his long term commitment to shepherd the ACU from now until his death several decades in the future.

Del Toro’s obsession with the eery and unfamiliar has been well-documented, and Cousin It is a perfect vehicle for his Lovecraftian impulses as a storyteller. The movie opens in a world of subterranean tunnels where Cousin It was born to the branch of the Addams Family that is entirely felted with hair.

The hairy burrowing vole beings have strange customs and beliefs, but before long they notice young It’s distinguishing sense of fashion and unusual taste for sunlight. It’s unclear whether they want to banish or reward It for being so different, but in any case the vole beings send It off to live with Professor Doctor Fester.

Professor Doctor Fester is of course Uncle Fester before an unfortunate lawn bowling accident left him bereft of his wits and ambition. (I’m sure we’ll find out more about what happened in Fester’s Follies, due out this Christmas.) Fester takes Cousin It under his wing, and they set off on all kinds of wacky adventures together.

I would describe the rest of the movie as just a straight up buddy comedy, except Fester and It encounter such creepy and unsettling creatures along their merry way. That’s unlike any other buddy comedy I’ve ever seen. Except for Men in Black. So it’s sort of like Men in Black, I guess.

TL;DR – Another Guillermo del Toro classic featuring more creepies and crawlies than you can shake a stick at, It (2017) is also a promising restart to the venerable Addams Family franchise.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Once the creepy hairy vole beings make their exit, it’s bedtime for bonzo!” – Bethpage Ballpark, Salon.com

“It (2017) is like the Iron Man (2008) of gothic comedies.” – Benedict Seal, Bloody Disgusting

“Guillermo del Toro’s unerring sense of the macabre serves the material well.” – Troni Uwchlan, New Orleans Times-Picayune

“It’s awful nice that they gave MC Hammer a cameo.” – Epock Tines, The Baffler

“Cousin It is back, baby! And he’s better than ever. Or she’s better than ever? They’re better than ever? I’m really not sure about the gender of this one.” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“Here’s hoping Fester’s Follies will offer us something a little more substantial.” – Legs Lavish, New York Observer

Melonmeter® Score:

84% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Assassins vs. Killers

Late summer is the time of year when the studios dump their mistakes and boo boo movies that didn’t quite work out the way they planned. That seems to be the case for the new action thriller Assassins vs. Killers. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the movie is actually much better than I expected given that it’s been dumped in the late August junkyard.

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Emily Blunt stars in Assassins vs. Killers as a sexy yet lethal killer

Emily Blunt stars as a sexy yet lethal killer opposite costar James McAvoy who plays a charming but deadly assassin. When they are both assigned to execute the same high-placed UN diplomat, they end up in a pulse-pounding cat and mouse game that is as erotic as it is fatal.

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James McAvoy costars in Assassins vs. Killers as a charming but deadly assassin

The action scenes are the reason to go to a movie like this, and they don’t disappoint for even a minute. While it’s nothing you haven’t seen in Hard Boiled, The Killer, The Raid: Redemption, The Raid 2, Ip Man, Ip Man 2, Ong-Bak, Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning, or Ong-Bak 3, each fight and chase is expertly choreographed, not to mention sexy and stylish and full of smooth moves and cool guns.

But what elevates this movie above the usual late summer action doldrums is the two main villains. Jason Statham oozes frightening intensity as the Chief of the League of Killers. Part-reptilian, the Chief is descended from long dead lizard overlords.

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Jason Statham as the part-reptilian Chief of the League of Killers

Even better is Lucy Liu as the Grand Imperatrix of the Assassin’s Guild. It’s great to see Liu back in action after all these years, and she plays the part-insectoid Imperatrix with an alluring joie de vivre. The Grand Imperatrix is born of fearsome insects but hides it under her elegant white robes. She’s also just a straight badass who combines wizardly eastern wisdom with karate chopping kicks.

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Lucy Liu as the insectoid Grand Imperatrix of the Assassin’s Guild

I also enjoyed Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare as the top henchmen to the Chief and the Grand Imperatrix respectively. Their performances were over the top, and they each made the most of their lengthy and grotesque death scenes.

The movie’s plot is mostly predictable, but embedded within it is more compelling allegory than you usually get with this type of brainless action fare. It turns out the leaders of the Assassin’s Guild and the League of Killers are working together to dominate the globe in secret along the lines described by sociologist C. Wright Mills in his landmark 1956 book The Power Elite.

By the end, McAvoy and Blunt must join forces to overthrow the evil alliance of insect-people and reptilians who deprive us all of our liberty and freedom. And they also have sex with one another, and it’s hot.

TL;DR – Assassins vs. Killers is a pretty damn good movie with violence, sex and a meaningful message you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Lucy Liu is back in action and she’s better than ever, baby!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

Assassins vs. Killers contains not a single recognizable human character or moment throughout its hundred or so arid minutes.” – George “Ramble” Bortz, Arizona Republic

“Sort of like if every other character in The Raid: Redemption was secretly an evil reptilian or insectoid monster.” – Brayton Exira, Collider

“With Assassins vs. Killers, director Paul Greengrass delivers the most effortless fusion yet of the political themes of his early films and the action conspiracy thriller tropes of his later movies.” – Kokia Cookei, Empire Magazine

“The mythology describing an alliance between insects and reptiles to rule over humanity was somehow both entirely nonsensical and deeply unsettling all at once.” – Lonesy Windrows, Washington Post

“Am I only one lamenting the total absence of Jeremy Renner’s crooked smirk in this one?” – Ernie van Schledorn, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“Deadening to the senses and corrosive to the soul.” – Book Denison, Associated Press

Melonmeter® Score:

71% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

 

 

Atomic Blonde

You absolutely have to go see Atomic Blonde, the new film about the pioneering female pilot who flew the Enola Gay B-29 bomber that dropped an atomic warhead on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The film is more than just an exhilarating action adventure story, it’s also a powerfully moving historical drama about the resiliency of the human spirit.

Charlize Theron stars as Elsinore Perth (aka the “Atomic Blonde”), an audacious woman with a passion for flight who perseveres in the face of the rampant misogyny dominating the military at that time in our history. Theron plays Perth as feisty yet dashing, with a take-no-prisoners attitude that wins over any man dumb enough to step in her way.

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Oscar-winner Charlize Theron as Elsinore Perth, aka the “Atomic Blonde”

After becoming the most accomplished and daring civilian aviator in the world by the early 1940s, Perth became maniacally obsessed with circumventing the regulations that prevented women from entering combat divisions of the United States Armed Forces at the time. Perth determines that the only way to use her ample skills to serve her country effectively is to disguise herself as an 18-year-old boy named Billy Bishop so that she can be admitted to fly combat missions. This leads to some wonderful comic set pieces that recall classic films such as Some Like It Hot.

As Bishop, a preternaturally talented pilot and all around wiseass, Perth rises quickly up the ranks of the U.S. Army Air Forces until she’s flying some of the most dangerous missions of the war. She soon holds the record for bombing runs dropping incendiaries and other payload on dozens of Japanese cities.

Theron deserves another Oscar for deftly switching between Perth’s boyish persona as Billy the flying wunderkind, and Perth herself, a more feminine but equally irascible character. By the time she flies the fateful mission to drop Little Boy on Hiroshima, killing 126,000 Japanese and winning the war for the United States, I was moved to tears by Elsinore Perth’s derring do.

As the credits rolled, I had a lot to think about but was pleased to see real photos and even some newsreel footage of the real life “Atomic Blonde.” Even better, this historical footage was followed by some brief talking head interviews with powerful women of today including Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Theresa May, Sheryl Sandberg and Condoleezza Rice. Each describes how she was personally inspired by Elsinore Perth’s pioneering work as an indomitable female trailblazer in a traditionally male profession.

My only quibble is that Theron’s hair color appeared more auburn to me than blonde. I don’t know the color of the real Elsinore Perth’s hair, but if Atomic Ginger didn’t work as a title, they should have just taken cinematic liberty and allowed Theron her classic blonde look.

TL;DR – Based on true historical events, few films can match Atomic Blonde’s potent combination of awards-worthy dramatic acting, pulse-pounding action and suspense, and gorgeously lensed flight sequences.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Charlize Theron is back, baby, and she’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“The movie seems to sweep U.S. complicity in war crimes under the rug a bit too casually for my tastes.” – Epock Tines, The Baffler

“It has beautiful cinematography, a star performance that is shocking in its authenticity, a careful eye for nuance and detail and an irresistible blend of action, drama and even comedy that should spell automatic success.” – Dian Rizki II, Austin Chronicle

“When it takes to the skies Atomic Blonde really soars with thrilling recreations of Perth’s bombing runs.” – Kokia Cookei, Empire Magazine

“If you’re the kind of person who deplores the modern vogue for debunking historical figures, and who welcomes the opportunity to indulge in heroic feats and exotic locales, then this is the film for you.” – Sukhdev Sandhu, Daily Telegraph

“As Perth sees the flash of the atomic explosion, her eyes light up in shock and then she erupts with monstrous peals of laughter. I felt chills shoot up my spine.” – Mameh Immanuel Sisma, The Guardian

“The film discreetly tiptoes around Perth’s responsibility for the incineration of tens of thousands of Japanese in favor of swashbuckling adventure and rip-snorting spectacle.” – Youtan Poluo, New England Movies Weekly

“The hair color kerfuffle really threw off the whole experience for me.” – Ginger Thorch, NewsBlaze

Melonmeter® Score:

99% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

The Emoji Movie

The Emoji Movie is the first silent film to receive a major release in North America since the The Artist (2011). But even The Artist had a rich and varied musical score to accompany its images, and the silent films from the Classical Hollywood era often included live musical accompaniment by a pianist, organist, or even an entire orchestra.

Not so with The Emoji Movie, which is entirely 100% silent for every frame of its ninety-one minutes. The images of living, breathing emojis going about their highly eventful lives is truly captivating in the absence of  any sound. The movie truly is an “adventure beyond words.”

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An adventure beyond words that’s also in B&W.

I found it an eery experience, sitting in a dark theater with an audience of other emoji fans, stricken with silence until cascades of baleful laughter or scattered gasps would shudder across our bodies in response to the antics of Smiley, Winky, Poop, Ice Cream, Meh, Devil and the other characters who people this animated opus by the director of Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters.

Soon it seemed as if the faces of the audience around me were just as much a part of the film as the emojis themselves. Next to me, a lady cried, and I thought to myself: “This person represents how I’m feeling perfectly, if only her skin were yellow and her features more generic, I might use her appearance to represent my emotional state on the SMS messaging format.”

When I looked behind me I saw a boy whose face colored with embarrassment as Poop shrieked up on the big screen, and in that moment that I was that boy, feeling uncomfortable and unsettled, and that boy was me, and the faces encircled us so that the boundaries between screen and reality disappeared.

We became a series of circles, ideograms – shapes of all sorts. Upon seeing ourselves as shapes, we shuddered, felt our skin crawl, experienced panic attacks, sweated, palpitated, and felt nauseated or itchy. The shapes appeared to be full of holes, and some said the holes seemed “disgusting and gross” or that “something might be living inside those holes.”

As the holes secreted fluids which solidified into crusts, the silence became infinite and total. New layers of rot appeared, but the quiet cleansed away the filth until we could breathe once again, each of us an icon upturned to the sun.

TL;DR – Artificial intelligence will soon replace us all with emojis and other ideograms. You best prepare yourself, fool.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Hear that? It’s the end of the world.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

“I don’t think I can say anything funny about this movie, because it makes me want to die.” – Lizzie Plaugic, The Verge

“I had no intention of seeing The Emoji Movie — we all have our limits — but David insisted we attend the screening.” – Buzanne Witherford Weathers, Salon.com

“Lacks humor, wit, ideas, visual style, compelling performances, a point of view or any other distinguishing characteristic that would make it anything but a complete waste of your time.” – Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

“A demonstration of artistic abdication at its most venal.” – Shigit Naffelow, Hollywood Reporter

“It is one of the darkest, most dismaying films I have ever seen.” – Emily Yoshida, Vulture

The Emoji Movie is almost as bad and brutally depressing as everything else in 2017.” – David Ehrlich, indieWIRE

“Disregard that PG rating and keep your children far away from director Tony Leondis’ vile animated faux-comedy. Beneath its trippy surface lurks an insidious philosophy hazardous to impressionable minds.” – Tomris Laffly, Time Out

“It’s hideous!” – Jeremy Lucido, Starfucker Magazine

The Emoji Movie is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen. At no point in this rambling, incoherent disaster do the filmmakers even come close to expressing anything that could be considered artful or worthwhile. Everyone on this planet is now dumber just by virtue of this movie existing. I award it zero stars, and may God have mercy on us all.” – Nathaneal However, Guernica Magazine

“It was worse than The Angry Birds Movie!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

Melonmeter® Score:

50% liquid & seed retention – galia melonA SORT OF GALIA MELON, OR THE EAST ASIAN SARDA, CLAIMED TO CAUSE ANXIETY AND EVEN BIOLOGICAL REVULSION IN SOME PEOPLE

Dunkirk!

I’ll be the first to say it: Dunkirk! is the most heartwarming family film of the decade. And if you have a love of animals, or an interest in man’s unique relationship with dogs, you absolutely have to see this film.

Dunkirk! follows the story of old Uncle Shuckburgh (Michael Caine) who has a close relationship with Dunkirk, his golden retriever.

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Dunkirk, the titular pup from the major motion picture Dunkirk!

Shuckburgh’s brother died on the beaches of Dunkirk in World War II, and Uncle Shuckburgh has named every dog he’s owned over the years after that fateful historical event. It’s one of his many English eccentricities.

The movie flashes back to the late 1930s to see Shuckburgh and his brother growing up together in prewar England. Through these scenes I got a sense of the two brothers strong sibling bond as well as their passionate love for dogs and accompanying red hot hatred of cats.

Back in the present day, Uncle Shuckburgh begins to find he’s having more and more trouble remembering things. He’s less up to completing simple tasks, like picking up his dog’s doo doo with a plastic bag on their afternoon excursions. He tries to play off these little incidents like it’s nothing, but his kids (Anne Hathaway and Christian Bale) can’t help but notice, and insist that he see a doctor.

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Uncle Shuckburgh (Michael Caine) completely at a loss as he tries to remember where he is.

In the moments preceding Uncle Shuckburgh’s appointment with the doctor, we get a few brief glimpses of what happened to the old man’s brother in the war. The trailers for the movie are entirely composed of these momentary flashbacks, leading some to mistakenly believe Dunkirk! is a war film. But as I watched this sequence, I realized Uncle Shuckburgh had fantasized visions of what he was told happened to his brother.

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Flashback scene showing Shuckburgh’s older brother. (He’s the one whose entire face is visible.)

After the examination, the good-humored Dr. Robinson (Cillian Murphy) delivers the family some bad news. Uncle Shuckburgh has a rapidly advancing case of dementia. The rest of the film deals with the fallout of this diagnosis, focused mainly on Uncle Shuckburgh’s struggle to keep custody of Dunkirk against the gentle reprimands of his family and eventually the legal demands of animal services.

In the end, Uncle Shuckburgh befriends a young man (Joseph Gordon Levitt) whose love of dogs and manner of speaking remind Shuckburgh of his long deceased brother. The two begin an intimate relationship, and as Shuckburgh drifts off into the depths of insanity, he finds final comfort in knowing that someone he trusts will be taking care of Dunkirk after he’s gone.

It’s a simple tale, but it’s expertly crafted by the most acclaimed filmmaker of our generation: Christopher Nolan. Having already tried his hand at sci-fi (Interstellar), sci-fi action (Inception), superhero action (The Dark Knight trilogy), period piece (The Prestige), mystery (Memento), and mindbending cerebral drama with a strong female lead (Insomnia), it was inevitable that Nolan would next turn his attention to the most timeless genre of all: the animal-driven family film.

Nolan’s signatures are present in nearly every frame of the movie, from the non-linear structure (the film jumps back and forth between multiple timelines) to his use of light and darkness and the contrast between the two to show Uncle Shuckburgh’s decay and Dunkirk’s growth and maturation, sometimes all within one scene.

Plus, Nolan films his lead beautifully. Dunkirk is a gorgeous specimen of a dog, and we get to see him the way he was meant to be viewed: in the enormous 70mm cinema format.

Nolan’s characteristic use of rich colors (such as in the golden Dunkirk’s lustrous yellow brown fur) and deep shadows (cast across the Dunkirk’s fur) are juxtaposed with big, epic landscapes. This is especially true during the sequence when Shuckburgh gets lost with Dunkirk on one of their wanders. Thankfully Dunkirk keeps his composure even as his owner becomes increasingly demented and confused.

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Dunkirk maintaining his composure while out on a wander.

Another Nolan trademark stood out in the many shots in which he places the camera behind Dunkirk. This allows those of us in the audience to “see” from the dog’s perspective.

Thankfully, Nolan does not chicken out and rely on fake computer generated effects to animate Dunkirk or anything else in the movie. I can assure you, having seen it with my own two eyes, Dunkirk! uses strictly practical effects to achieve its undeniable magic.

TL;DR – Dunkirk! is an emotionally satisfying film for the whole family, masterfully delivered by the one-of-a-kind visionary Christopher Nolan in full command of his craft and brought to life by a gifted cast that honors man’s eternal love of dogs.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

Dunkirk!‘s plot is fairly uncomplicated. The thrill is in getting to know the golden retriever and his doddering owner in such sensuous detail.” – Tufayel Ahmed, Newsweek

“Director Christopher Nolan delivers this summer’s most precisely crafted family film in the simultaneously inspiring and devastating Dunkirk!” – George “Ramble” Bortz, Arizona Republic

“It’s a series of riveting tableaux, but the star of the movie is undoubtedly the golden retriever, Dunkirk!” – Rosalthe Sadasga, Entertainment Weekly

“Christopher Nolan’s back, baby, and he’s got a dog movie to show us!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“Only Christopher Nolan could make a movie starring a dog so cold and lifeless.” – Legs Lavish, New York Observer

“As a film, Dunkirk! is a powerful work from one of the great directors of our time. As a dog, Dunkirk is simply cute as hell to watch.” – Peter Sobczynski, eFilmCritic.com

“Seldom has a film so eloquently captured the craziness of man’s relationship with his proverbial best friend, nor the terror of dementia, and all at the same time to boot.” – Eustachius Wallingford, The Guardian

Melonmeter® Score:

99% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

I, Spiderman

Spider-Man reboots are not as much movies as they are virtual portals into the world of men who have been bitten by radioactive spiders, or otherwise acquired Spidey-like powers and abilities. This has never been more apparent than in James Cameron’s I, Spider-Man. Though Cameron has exclusively referred to the project as a film, I, Spider-Man is really more of an augmented reality experience.

When you enter one of the nearly 4,000 theaters playing I, Spider-Man this weekend, the first thing you will notice is the Lenovo headset placed on your seat. You will be instructed to strap the device onto your face in much the same way Spider-Man himself wears a mask to conceal his secret identity.

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The Lenovo headset uses a single pair of cameras for tracking movement as well as a remote control. You will also need a compatible mobile device (e.g. iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, etc.) which you will insert beneath some reflective lenses in order to see the images properly superimposed on the surrounding environment

Once you’re set up, it’s off to webslinging around midtown Manhattan with Spidey senses a-tingling! You will actually experience haptic tingling sensations via the vibrations of your mobile device.

Even better, when you look in the mirror sans Spider-Man mask within the seamlessly integrated, Cameron-approved Spidey reality, you will be able to see your face merged with a Tobey-type actor. And I, Spider-Man is the only Spider-Man reboot in which YOU get to choose the villain from among three different choices: Venom (Zoe Saldana), Kraven the Hunter (Giovanni Ribisi), and Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio).

Thankfully, the highly intrusive references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that have plagued most of the recent Spider-Man reboots are deftly limited in I, Spider-Man to D’Onofrio’s reprisal of his role as Kingpin. Credit the notoriously exacting Cameron for his most tasteful approach to worldbuilding.

And while we’re on the subject of James Cameron, it looks like we finally know what caused the recent delays of the several Avatar sequels promised by that genius explorer of the deep seas. The secretive filmmaker seems to have taken an extended break from the Pandora Cinematic Universe so he can make a brief visit the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Throughout the film-like experience, Cameron is clearly having fun experimenting with Lenovo’s technology. This is most astonishingly apparent when Gwen Stacy speaks actual words scraped from emails, texts and social media of your IRL lovers, exes, and objects of desire. Innovation is no surprise coming from Cameron, but I was taken aback by his dramatic use of the social possibilities of mobile device integration.

Of course, the ‘film’ also fulfills the wizardly auteur’s long-held ambitions to bring Spider-Man to life in a way only he knows how. Now he can turn his full attention back to the Avatar sequels, which may one day outnumber Spider-Man reboots depending on whether the predictions of climate scientists hold true.

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James Cameron and Spidey, together at last!

The only complaint I will share is that once I, Spider-Man had ended and the credits had rolled, the Lenovo headset proved terribly difficult to remove from my face. Though I pulled with all my might, I found it impossible to break the machine’s force of suction. An usher had to pry the headset off of me and many other patrons suffering the same problem using an imposing set of forceps provided by Lenovo to deal with such incidents.

I don’t mind telling you the operation to remove the I, Spider-Man experience from my face was extremely painful, and I cried for a very long time just as the sensitive Peter Parker would have if he were in my shoes.

TL;DR – Despite the occasional need to remove it from your face using a pair of forceps, I, Spider-Man succeeds by offering audiences a once in a lifetime chance to experience what it’s like to actually be Spider-Man as conceived by the visionary mind of James Cameron.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Get this fucking stupid piece of shit off my goddamned face!!” – Corban Goble, Vanity Fair

“I finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of fighting Vincent D’Onofrio, making this one of the best films of the year.” – Bunlak Hergrobe, Flick Filosopher

“I can’t wait to get my hands on the rumored expansion pack, which will unlock Gwen Stacy and all three villains as playable characters.” – Frank Swietek, One Guy’s Opinion

“Spider-Man endures in all of our eyes because he is surgically locked to them via Lenovo headset.” Belvis Bunjamin-Pennebaker, ScreenAnarchy

“You can definitely file this one under https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Spider-Man_reboots.” – Dusty Benry, Dark Horizons

“I had to go to the urgent care clinic to get the Lenovo headset removed and I know I’m not the only one. This film is class action lawsuit waiting to happen.” – Alissa Wilkinson, Vox

“Spider-Man is back, baby and you are Spider-Man, so you are back, baby, and I love you just as much as I love Spider-Man! Wow!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“If there’s one Spider-Man reboot to rule them all, it’s definitely James Cameron’s I, Spider-Man, which will go down in history as the only film in history to cause me to need repeated medical treatments to restore sight to my left eye.” – Griffin Riddle, Radio Times

“Zoe Saldana delivers a haunting performance as Venom. When I went back to play against Giovanni Ribisi, I found the movie suffered dearly for it.” – MacEagon Voyce, The Playlist

“After I received the news from my doctors that the Lenovo headset would never come off of my face without causing fatal damage to my nervous system, I made a decision to live out the rest of my life as best I can as Peter Parker and his alter ego Spider-Man. And as Peter Parker works in journalism, it’s only fitting that I sign this review with his byline.” – Peter Parker (formerly known as Dominique Vivant), Vulture

Melonmeter® Score:

99% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Spider-Man: Cataclysm

Spider-Man is a person we all know and love. He appears in every movie we watch, on every T-shirt in we wear, and in the rearview mirror when we’re driving in our car. I had a conversation with Spider-Man over a hot cup of coffee this morning, and he assured to me he will return to us as was outlined in the prophecy. The only question is what form he will take.

In Spider-Man: Cataclysm, we are introduced to an entirely different Spider-Man, a Spider-Man who is far more in tune with the rhythms of the Millenial Age. First introduced in comic books earlier this decade, Miles Morales is the first black Spider-Man, and just the second time a Latino character has taken on the Spider-Man identity.

Miles Morales as Spider-Man is the next generation, is the future, is all of us confused and shambling youth hoping for something better, and driving for Lyft in the meantime. But in Spider-Man: Cataclysm, the role of Miles Morales is played by Elle Fanning wearing a very dark spray-on tan.

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Elle Fanning as Miles Morales, aka Spider-Man.

Some critics have commented that Sony/Marvel got their diversity wires crossed and attempted to “kill two birds with one stone” by casting a woman to play the first black Spider-Man. I think this “hot take” obscures more than illuminates, as “hot takes” are often wont to do.

Because who is Spider-Man anyway? What defines him? Can we even use that ugly term “him” to describe a human bitten by a radioactive spider and thus imbued with the ability to sling webs and crawl about the walls and buildings that make up the urban jungle in which we must live?

Spider-Man is a genderless, raceless, ageless icon. We project our fantasies onto his masked face, and onto the very strange and distracting high-pitched and heavily accented voice Elle Fanning uses in Spider-Man: Cataclysm.

Cataclysm opens with Miles and his father Jefferson (Delroy Lindo) mourning the recent deaths of two close family members. Prior to the events of the movie, Miles’ mother Rio and his uncle Aaron died in a hail of gunfire that led to an accidental explosion during a battle between Spider-Man and Venom.

Miles comes to believe the world is about to end, and his prophecies gain him a cult-like following across storefront churches in the Bronx. His father doesn’t know what to think about his son’s behavior, which alternates between bombastic preaching and silent brooding.

Meanwhile, Galactus, a cosmic entity who eats planets to sustain his life force, emerges from a nearby nebula and prepares to consume Earth. All over the world, astronomers and soothsayers point out the giant in the night sky and gape in wonder.

Fearing the final reckoning is at hand, Miles reveals his double life as Spider-Man to his father. As a result, his father becomes convinced Miles is responsible for the death of Aaron and Rio, and disowns him.

When Galactus descends, Spider-Man mounts a last-ditch effort to save the planet, and must enlist the help of the Avengers to help him. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and even Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) must all work together with Spider-Man and his legion of dedicated followers to defeat Galactus once and for all.

Just when they think they have subdued Galactus, the massive planet eater bursts into four great beasts. The first beast is a lion with the wings of an eagle, the second is a bear waving giant bones with its fists, the third is a leopard with four wings and four heads, and the fourth is a massive serpent with ten horns. One of the horns speaks very pompously (voice of Nathan Lane).

Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the cultist Servants of the Spider’s Word eventually trap each of the four beasts. They turn the beasts over to the Guardians of the Galaxy who imprison them in an egg made of the rubble of a thousand starships.

Joseph Kosinski’s direction has a spectacular grandeur, but it’s the human moments between Miles and his father that really make the film worth watching. I laughed, I cried, I prayed for humanity, and so will everyone else who watches this movie. And we praise Elle Fanning for her derring do. She is Spider-Man, just as much as you or I.

TL;DR – Visually striking and thematically rich, Spider-Man: Cataclysm draws its bizarre power from its strong production values and a perplexing performance from Elle Fanning.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“If I have to watch any more Spider-Man reboots, I’m going to puke.” – Darla Blaugrana, Newsweek

“I feel like Elle Fanning wasn’t the best choice to play Miles Morales, who is half black and half Latino.” – Brive Hoxhauer, LA Weekly

“More than most films, Spider-Man: Cataclysm is full of soaring ambition. Just try not to think too hard about any of it.” – Thurman O’Herlihy, Seattle Times

“The most interesting scenes feature Miles Morales preaching a prophecy of doom to poor, underprivileged communities of color.” – Uriah Ward, Christian Science Monitor

“Elle Fanning is back, baby! And she’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“Elle Fanning, infected with a sickly gleam, plays the leader of new religion, and her penchant for manic sermons is so dynamic will that she keeps the film afloat all on her own.” – Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AV Club

“It would have behooved Marvel to cast a person of color to play Miles Morales.” – B. Conner Yonk, Toronto Sun

“Let’s hope that I, Spiderman recaptures the magic that made many of the other Spider-Man reboots so joyous to watch.” – Alissa Wilkinson, Vox

“Is this supposed to be funny?” – Tsinoglou Luther, Detroit News

“What are you even doing?” – Gower Halstatt, ReelViews

Melonmeter® Score:

90% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Spider-Man at the Wedding

I have lost track of how many Spider-Man reboot experiences I have absorbed in the past few days. I know Spider-Man can be a baby, I know he has been and will again be an old man. I knew him as an awkward tween and I will know him once and again as a close personal friend of Tony Stark. I met a Spider-Man from an antique land who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert…” And so on and so forth on and on into infinity.

Following the thundering whizzbang operatics of Spider-Man 2099, it is refreshing to be witness to the much subtler pleasures of Spider-Man at the Wedding. Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of the late 1980s Spider-Man comic book storyline in which Peter Parker finally marries Mary Jane Watson is an understated, caustic comedy of manners.

Like his sometime creative partner Wes Anderson, Baumbach has chosen to use Marvel’s boatloads of Spider-Man reboot cash to rework one of his older movies. Actually, the story I’ve heard is that Baumbach actually delivered five different scripts to Marvel:

  1. Webslinging and Screaming – Spider-Man and his friends are stuck in a post-collegiate malaise.
  2. The Spider and the Lizard – A bildungsroman with a warring Aunt May and Uncle Ben on the verge of divorse as backdrop.
  3. Parker – A script which imagines Peter Parker in middle age, regretting that he never got bit by that radioactive spider.
  4. While We’re Mutants – Spider-Man and Mary Jane are taken in by the charms of a younger, hipper Cyclops and Jean Grey.
  5. Spider-Man at the Wedding – This is the one that got the greenlight.

Marvel rejected the others for various reasons, though it seems elements of each have been incorporated into Spider-Man at the Wedding in the form of flashbacks and digressions that give the film a loose, paunchy feel at times.

But the main storyline is simple enough: the grouchy Dr. Otto Octavius (Ben Stiller) is invited to the wedding of Peter Parker (Jesse Eisenberg) and Mary Jane Watson (Greta Gerwig). He sullenly vacillates about whether to attend since he doesn’t approve of the match and wants to kill them both.

Otto shows up at the ceremony but he looks visibly uncomfortable as Peter and Mary Jane take their vows. To make matters worse, most of the Avengers are there: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is actually officiating the marriage.

At the reception, Peter and Otto butt heads over past disagreements. In the reception hall they exchange verbal barbs, but outside the hall they get in a series of violent skirmishes as Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus.

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After this sequence, the movie sort of peters out in the series of flashbacks and digressions I mentioned earlier. There are brief scenes from Peter’s life as a younger man, and a subplot involving Mary Jane Watson and her old flame Harry Osborn (Adam Driver).

The first two acts of the movie are solid filmmaking. They’re funny and poignant and more human than any other Spider-Man reboot I’ve ever seen. But the end didn’t really work for me. Luckily, there’s always more Spider-Man reboots where that came from.

TL;DR – Despite a great cast, the characters in Spider-Man at the Wedding are too unlikable to enthrall viewers.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

Spider-Man at the Wedding is minor Baumbach.” – B. Conner Yonk, Toronto Sun

“I don’t understand why there are so many Spider-Man reboots and not a single film about the Martian Manhunter.” – Ramon Llull, The Atlantic

“Far more dyspeptic and talky than any other comic book movie I’ve seen.” – Hixson Grabill, Chicago Tribune

“This one wasn’t for me, but I’m very excited for Spider-Man: Cataclysm which I’m seeing tomorrow!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“For some reason I always imagined Spider-Man having many wives, like the Gypsy King. A wife for every degree.” – Gulluzar Baboudjian, Boston Herald

Melonmeter® Score:

79% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Spider-Man 2099

After sitting through the atrocious Baby Spider-Man, I thought for sure I was stricken with a case of Spidey fatigue. I felt gloomy yet resigned about the remaining Spider-Man reboots I had left to see and review. But when I heard the next Spider-Man reboot on the docket was “more of a sci-fi thing,” it gave me hope that perhaps I might overcome my fatigue for the love of Spidey.

Set near the end of the present century, Spider-Man 2099 is set in a dystopian hellscape in which the need for Spider-Man’s heroics is greater than ever. Unfortunately, Peter Parker (a digitally aged Tobey Maguire) is too old to continue webslinging.

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Having developed a mutant spider to transfer his powers into a younger body, Parker hosts a giant contest to find the next Spider-Man. The contest is livestreamed worldwide by Snapchat in the first of many heavy-handed product placements.

Much to Parker’s chagrin, after several grueling rounds, all contestants are eliminated except for Michael Osborn (Dave Franco), the nephew of his old friend Harry Osborn.

Peter Parker anoints Michael as the new Spider-Man just as the Alchemex Corporation (sponsor of the just concluded contest) faces a major crisis. Alchemex CEO Tyler Stone (Timothy Busfield) is kidnapped by a mysterious entity clad in Gladiatorial armor known as Thanatos (voiced by Patricia Wettig). As his first mission, the new Spider-Man sets out to rescue Tyler Stone.

Spider-Man tracks Thanatos to the site of a virtual unreality portal currently under construction by Stark Industries. He encounters the Net Prophet (Liam Hemsworth), a relative of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who appears in a brief cameo.

Suddenly some security guards appear armed with futuristic bazookas. The guards use their futuristic bazooks blast Spider-Man and the Net Prophet into the virtual unreality portal, which comes online earlier than anyone thought possible.

Meanwhile, Peter Parker discovers some files that lead him to believe that all is not what it seems with the Alchemex Corporation. As he investigates further, he discovers that Alchemex and Thanatos are in league together, and Tyler Stone conspired to have himself kidnapped in order to lead Spider-Man and the Net Prophet into the trap. At this point, it becomes clear that the security guards with futuristic bazookas work for Alchemex.

Inside virtual unreality, Spider-Man and the Net Prophet face off against incorporeal visions that constantly attack them. They learn these are merely manifestations of Thanatos’ discorporative powers.

While that’s happening, Peter Parker finds Alchemex Corporation’s higher ups have hired a privatized police force known as Public Eye to use time travel in attempt to achieve total information awareness.

Spider-Man and the Net Prophet break into Inner Space (Thanatos’ secret sanctum within virtual unreality) to rescue Tyler Stone and also Michael Osborn’s girlfriend Xina Kwan (Fan Bingbing) who got caught up in all the commotion. No spoiler alerts are necessary; I won’t reveal how it all ends.

Honestly, I found the plot of Spider-Man 2099 confusing, the characterizations thin, and the direction muddled and uninspiring. However, it was much better than Baby Spider-Man, and I’m a sucker for dystopian sci-fi, so I guess I’ll recommend it to everyone I know.

TL;DRSpider-Man 2099 brings the Spider-Man into the dystopian future, with dazzling special effects and a grand, operatic sense of scale.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Hey, at least it was better than Baby Spider-Man.” – Clobbish Sanderson, Wall Street Journal

“Spider-Man is back baby, and he’s older than ever! And also there’s a new Spider-Man who is actually young like usual. And it’s played by Dave Franco. James Franco’s brother.” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“Clocking in at two hours and forty-seven minutes, it’s the longest of all the Spider-Man reboots I’ve seen today. Wait, what was the question again?” – Bunlak Hergrobe, Flick Filosopher

“I’m excited to see the next Spider-Man reboot, which I believe is called Spider-Man Getting Married. It sounds like it will be a nice change of pace.” – Darla Blaugrana, Newsweek

“Dave Franco is such a whiner in this movie. I mean Jeeeezus.” – Griffin Riddle, Radio Times

“A triumph of science fiction storytelling: a sweeping tale of mythological scope told with astonishing FX wizardry.” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“Lots of karate moves, cool armor, alternate realities and big explosions!” – Pete Hammond, Deadline

“I miss the old Spider-Man reboots. You know, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Middle School Dance, those were just simple stories about what it’s like to grow up. That’s what Spider-Man is all about. Not all this virtual unreality Snapchat-sponsored killathon crap.”  – Dominique Vivant, Vulture

“Alex Proyas delivers a dutiful sci-fi adaptation of the old Spidey yarn.” – Zook Trujillo, LRM

“I can tell you one thing. I will not be watching any more Spider-Man reboots for the next two days. I just really need a break. I hope you understand.” – Sonso Sunez, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Melonmeter® Score:

60% liquid & seed retention –  icon_fruit1-14-512 SUFFICIENTLY JUICY, YET BLAND, A HONEYDEW