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

Baby Spider-Man

My run of good luck with Spider-Man reboots ended earlier today. I watched Baby Spider-Man, and I must warn you that it doesn’t hold a candle to Spider-Man: Homecoming or Spider-Man: Middle School Dance. It just proves the old saying, not all Spider-Man reboots will be of equal quality.

It’s not that Baby Spider-Man doesn’t have its moments. The prologue, set in the womb of Peter Parker’s mother, is a wordless symphony of astonishing visuals accompanied by an evocative Philip Glass-penned score. A spider mutated by amniotic fluid bites the fetal Peter Parker, transforming him forever into Baby Spider-Man.

Unfortunately, when the action jumps forward a year to Baby Spider-Man webslinging around his crib, the movie turns horrible very quickly. The spider bite gave Parker not just the usual spider powers, but also the premature ability to speak and think like an adult. Seth MacFarlane provides Baby Spider-Man’s voice, and as you can probably imagine this makes for an absolutely torturous experience for everyone in the audience.

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By the time Baby Spider-Man has his first big confrontation with Baby Carnage, I had already dozed off a couple of times. It’s difficult to understand what audience Baby Spider-Man is intended for. It’s full of puerile, childish humor that’s too raunchy for a family audience. And it includes almost nothing from the decades of Spider-Man lore, making it anathema for comic book nerds.

I’m sure when Sony and Marvel set out to make a fresh batch of Spider-Man reboots, they knew full well that not all of them would come out right. But I’m sure they didn’t mean to produce this unappealing mush, and I bet they hope it disappears from audience memory as quickly as possible.

TL;DR – Not all Spider-Man reboots can be winners, and Baby Spider-Man pretty much falls apart as you’re watching it.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“What the hell is this?” – Buzanne Witherford Weathers, Salon.com

“Stop. Just stop.” – Sonso Sunez, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Audiences be warned: this film has nothing to do with Alec Baldwin’s Boss Baby / Baby Driver series. Steer clear of this mess.” Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“Utterly embarrassing and shameful.” – Romy Micthell Lucker, CNN.com

“Seth MacFarlane should have his tongue cut off for subjecting us to his ‘take’ on Spider-Man.” – Legs Lavish, New York Observer

“At 81 minutes with credits, Baby Spider-Man feels crude, lazy and entirely perfunctory.” – Tom Huddleston, Time Out

“Quite possibly the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“At its best, the lengthy prologue feels reminiscent of a film by Terrence Malick or Godfrey Reggio. As for the rest of the film: the less said, the better.” – Granison Maltman, Paste Magazine

Baby Spider-Man seems almost calculated meticulously to suck the life out of its audience as much as humanly possible.” – Felix Vasquez Jr., Cinema Crazed

“Truly a hideous waste of time.” – ZahRa NiSa, ComingSoon.net

“What a loathsome, irredeemable, turd of a film Baby Spider-Man is.” – Clobbish Sanderson, Wall Street Journal

“Here’s hoping Spider-Man 2099 and the rest of the reboots to come are a lot better than this trash.” – Emerentia Krogmann, IGN Movies

Melonmeter® Score:

4% liquid & seed retention – watermelon-512  ALMOST NO JUICE OR SEEDS AT ALL, BARELY EVEN A CANTALOUPE, DON’T TRUST YOUR GROCER IF HE HANDS YOU THIS™

 

Spider-Man: Middle School Dance

The second Spider-Man reboot out this week takes a very unconventional approach in adapting the beloved comic book character to the screen. And that’s a good thing. Where the movie falls short is all the awkward references to rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, shoehorned in for the dumb kiddies and Marvel fanbros who care about that kind of stuff.

Spider-Man: Middle School Dance features the youngest Peter Parker we have yet seen on the silver screen. Though Parker’s only 11 years old, I must emphasize that this is not yet another Spider-Man origin story. When the movie begins, he already has his Spidey powers. No time is wasted explaining how he got them.

As indicated by the title, the movie is about Peter Parker (Jared Gilman) attending his first Middle School Dance. The entire film unfolds in real time using one long take documenting the entire dance event. We see Peter arrive, feeling nervous because he has no date. He couldn’t get up the courage to ask Gwen Stacy OR Mary Jane Watson, and he spends much of the first act skulking in the corner with the other nerds without the moves to make it on the dance floor.

That skulking continues until Peter learns that his tween rival Quentin Blake (Finn Wolfhard) has some nasty tricks up his sleeve. Blake is a drama nerd, making him the natural enemy of Peter, a science geek. And it turns out, Blake is actually the super villain Mysterio. And he intends to shut down the dance and kill everyone in attendance.

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Spider-Man (Jared Gilman) confronts one of Mysterio’s henchmen.

Veteran filmmaker Wes Anderson makes excellent use of the intimacy of the middle school gymnasium setting. Though Mysterio has no super powers, he is an expert designer of special effects devices and stage illusions, and Anderson gives his machinations a theatricality that really imbues the whole movie with a playful yet enigmatic spirit.

One aspect of the movie that didn’t work at all was the series of phone calls Spider-man receives from the rest of the Avengers. These moments are sprinkled throughout the movie, interrupting the action for Spider-Man to hear from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and even Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).  Each time, they basically ask Spider-Man all the same stuff: if he’s ready to be picked up yet, if he’s having a good time, does he need anything, etc.

The “Avenger phone call” moments are so hamfisted, awkward, and cringeworthy that they almost ruined the entire movie for me. Wes Anderson was reportedly so incensed about having to include these franchise building bits in his vision that he left the set while they were being filmed. Good for him.

TL;DR – Warm, whimsical, and poignant, the immaculately framed and beautifully designed Spider-Man: Middle School Dance takes an idiosyncratic approach to the beloved character under the stylish guidance of writer/director Wes Anderson.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“So far it’s the best Spider-Man reboot I’ve seen this week.” – Siyaka Camacho, New York Daily News

“Better than Baby Spider-Man but not quite as joyful and fun as Spider-Man: Homecoming.” – Darla Blaugrana, Newsweek

“The phone calls featuring the other Avengers really stuck out like so many sore thumbs.” – Book Denison, Associated Press

“The best sequences recall Wes Anderson’s early masterpiece, Rushmore.” – Nathaneal However, Guernica Magazine

“The younger the webslinger gets, the more I’m attracted to him. Maybe that’s just me. Sorry.” – Rex Reed, Lenny Letter

“I’m confused about what order I’m supposed to watch all these new Spider-Man movies.” – Pete Hammond, Deadline

“It’s too bad Jason Schwartzman aged out of playing Mysterio. He would’ve been bloody perfect. :(” – Francis Kennard Colbeck, BBC

“Wes Anderson uses the massive dumptruck of Marvel money will give anyone who is willing to make yet another reboot of Spider-Man to essentially rework Rushmore on a grander scale using the immaculate style he perfected recently with Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.” – Kitila Mkumbo, The Verge

“Spider-Man is back again baby, and he keeps getting better every single time he reboots!!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

Melonmeter® Score:

96% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man is back, baby! It’s been almost three years since the last Spider-Man movie (2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and so it’s way past time for a brand new Spider-Man reboot. Determined to not disappoint a legion of thirsty fans, Sony and Marvel have teamed up to release a half dozen different Spider-Man reboots over the next week. Now it’s time for us to decide which one’s the future of Spider-Man!

First up is Spider-Man: Homecoming, which imagines Peter Parker as a young teen again the way it was meant to be. He has to deal with things like who to take to the Homecoming Dance (hint: Mary Jane’s back!!) and how to deal with Iron Man constantly checking in on him to see if he’s ready to join the Avengers full-time.

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Honestly, I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is really saying something because I usually hate the dumb kiddie Marvel movies. Much of Spider-Man: Homecoming is actually set in high school which makes it way more relatable than most superhero movies these days. Everyone remembers the laughs and tears of being a teenager, and Spider-Man is no different.

Of course, there’s action galore as well. But unlike previous Spider-Man movies, this Spider-Man is so young that he spends most of the movie screwing up. He’s just learning, he needs his training wheels. That felt realistic to me, and the age old teenage cliches about slinging your webs everywhere ring true.

The integration of Spider-Man: Homecoming into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe is seamless. The events of Captain America: Civil War are efficiently recapped via Peter Parker’s hyperventilating Instagram story. Peter and his classmates also have to watch a series of educational videos sprinkled throughout the movie starring Captain America. High schoolers sure do live in phones and videos these days!

Happy Hogan, Iron Man’s aide-de-camp, is a constant presence in the background. The fact that Spider-Man is being watched over by an extremely powerful billionaire does not drain the movie of any suspense at all.

Although Spider-Man: Homecoming is zippy, dippy, and goofy, not to mention fun as all hell, it’s hard to say whether this is the best of the new round of Spider-Man reboots because I haven’t seen any of the others yet. Check back tomorrow for my review of Spider-Man: Middle School Dance.

TL;DR – Spider-Man: Homecoming does whatever a second reboot can, delivering a colorful, fun adventure that fits snugly in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe without getting bogged down too often in franchise-building.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“This is the first Spider-Man reboot I’ve seen this week, so I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve seen them all.” – Dominique Vivant, Vulture

“I can’t wait to see the rest of the Spider-Man reboots if they’re as good as this one.” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“I didn’t love Spider-Man: Homecoming, but thankfully there are several more Spider-Man reboots coming out this week so I’m sure one of them will be more to my taste.” – Francis Kennard Colbeck, BBC

“We’ve already seen teen Spider-Man, so I’m not sure why we needed Spider-Man: Homecoming. I’m glad the other reboots will be exploring Spider-Man when he’s of different ages.” – Fabio Chigi, Film School Rejects

“If the eight rumored Spider-Man reboots are going to be as fizzy and funny and warmhearted as this, keep ’em coming.” – Chris Klimek, NPR

“The movie’s not flawless, but it is fun, a big improvement on the non-wowing The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel of recent years. Here’s hoping the other reboots are even better.” – Peter Howell, Toronto Star

“Tom Holland seems to have been born to play the role, infusing the entire film with cheeky teenage energy. And it’s also one of the funniest, most complex blockbusters of the year. I can’t imagine the other Spider-Man reboots coming out in the next few days could possibly be better than this one.” – Rich Cline, Contactmusic.com

Melonmeter® Score:

94% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Despicable Me 3

Corporate cost cutting is a fact of life in the 21st century, and Hollywood is not at all immune to the fiduciary pressures of the business industry. Sometimes, budget constraints can lead to more creative outcomes such as when George Lucas ran out of money to complete Star Wars (1977) and was forced to create all of the classic spaceship dogfights using only popsicle sticks and remaindered house paint. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Despicable Me 3.

In an effort to streamline the increasingly bloated Minions multiverse, Universal Pictures chose to outsource all the voice roles in the movie to Bruce Willis. Never the most versatile or energetic of actors to begin with, Willis is stretched to his limit attempting to create unique characterizations for a variety of different genders and species.

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Felonious Gru (Bruce Willis) and his long lost brother Dru (Bruce Willis) in Despicable Me 3.

One can almost understand the logic of the casting. Once you cast Bruce Willis to provide the voice of the lead character Felonious Gru and his long lost brother Dru (a key supporting character in this sequel), why not just go ahead and have Bruce Willis perform all the other parts as well? This strategy may have worked with a once-in-a-generation character-based comedian like an Eddie Murphy or a Mike Myers, but I’m afraid Bruce Willis just wasn’t up to the task.

To add insult to injury, many of the movie’s scenes are just still backgrounds with barely animated figures exhibiting only the slightest movements. The animators did take care to make sure the lips of each character matched up with Bruce Willis’ voice, but this is a pretty low bar to set for big screen entertainment.

The movie’s most memorable moment actually occurs during the extended post-credits behind the scenes documentary. Bruce Willis, looking sweaty and exhausted after a day in the recording booth, collapses on a couch. While being attended by a coterie of assistant bearing wet hand towels and bottles of Vitamin Water, he suddenly screams: “I never want to do this again!” As the assistants murmur soothing words of sympathy, Despicable Me 3 reaches the closest it ever gets to any kind of genuine humanity.

TL;DRDespicable Me 3 is a lazy sequel featuring a bevy of embarrassing performances from one of America’s laziest stars.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“In the autumn of his career, Bruce Willis has begun to reach for the loftier summits of vocal performance in children’s entertainment.” – Trim Richulds, Entertainment Weekly

Despicable Me 3 is a static, deadening calamity that made me want to saw off both my arms and legs.” – Crack Altman, Vox

“The high pitched tones of the female characters were clearly outside of Bruce Willis’ limited vocal range.” – Nur Faizah, PopMatters

“Bruce Willis is back, baby! And he’s voicing multiple characters.” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“The Minions are much less fun to watch now that they all speak in a gruff grumble that is as lethargic as it is incomprehensible.” – F. Debnie Amberson, NPR

Melonmeter® Score:

9% liquid & seed retention – watermelon-512  ALMOST NO JUICE OR SEEDS AT ALL, BARELY EVEN A CANTALOUPE, DON’T TRUST YOUR GROCER IF HE HANDS YOU THIS™

HP7-P2

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I watched HP7-P2 a couple months ago and can’t begin to tell you all how pleased I was with this wonderful product. It really does live up to its billing. And everything it does is so intuitive. The evil wizard Voldemort is a joy to watch and all of the product’s many special effects function flawlessly. Helena Bonham Carter is fabulous and it never gets jammed or feeds more than one piece of paper at a time. I had occasion to give Hermione a real “trial by fire.” The unit does not come with a manual explaining who all the characters are and what they are doing (that sucks). But it’s on the provided CD. I like a paper copy of an operating manual so I printed out all 212 pages Hermioned in “Horcrux” quality. I was expecting the print quality to be so-so at best for this setting but was amazed at how good it looked. And the Hermione worked flawlessly, printing out all 212 pages on 106 pages of paper.

Now for a couple of nitpick negatives. The movie product is not the quietest in operation so don’t expect to be watching it at 2:00AM without waking the neighbors. Not at least unless you enjoy getting yelled at. And the narrative is a little buggy. We had to uninstall and reinstall it twice before it made any sense dramatically to people who haven’t read the book. That’s about all I can think of to criticize so far.

The movie product is very attractive and a lot shorter and less bloated than the Academy-Award winning LOTR-P3. And the illumination for the LCD panel is a very attractive pure white rather than that drab ‘sort-of-green’ that you sometimes see on LCD’s.

Amazing, just amazing.

This was originally posted on August 24, 2011 on A Gilded Planet.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

So I saw the new Harry Potter movie and I have to tell you, it was a major let down. After the hours of entertainment and consistent excellence of the previous six movies, I was shocked that the producers allowed such a collapse in standards for the penultimate episode of this multibillion dollar worldwide franchise.

First of all, the special effects were a mess. I mean, animatronic owls? Really, guys? I remember the previous movies had state of the art computer generated graphics, and there was some of that in this one but other parts just looked cartoony. Some of it actually looked to me like hand drawn animation, which I thought did not mesh well with the rest of the movie.

A lot of the actors’ English accents did not sound authentic. Some would drop in and out of different accents, others just spoke in a way that was nearly impossible to understand. The wands they used looked cheap, as if they were made out of plastic. They looked like toys you could buy at the store.

Many of the sets were very poor. The paint was cracked and honestly some of it looked like the kind of backdrops you would expect in a high school stage production, not a $200 million blockbuster. There were also a lot more house plants lying around than I think would be in a place like Hogwarts.

I was also thrown off by the giant monster truck rally that occurs in the middle of the movie. It completely derailed the story and felt very forced. The long shots of monster trucks loudly revving their engines really took me out of the world of magic and wonder that the filmmakers tried to create.

The product placement was crass and unsubtle. Ron Weasley never mentioned that he liked Mentos in any of the other movies, but in this one he seemed to take out mints every time he was on screen. He held the Mentos packaging in a way that was really unnatural and seemed to designed to get Mentos as close to the screen as possible.

Sometimes, in the middle of a scene, I got extremely frustrated because the camera would drift off away from the main action and just linger for a long time on staircases and other parts of the set. You could still hear the dialogue, but it was really difficult to follow what was going when you couldn’t actually watch the actors perform their parts. Come on, that’s like moviemaking 101 guys.

I thought it was very unnecessary to bring back Dumbledore after he died in the last movie (spoiler alert). But the way they decided to do it made it even worse. Portraying the deceased wizard as a brain in a vat was tasteless to say the least. Especially because the “brain in the vat” actually just looked like a lump of clay in a murky fish tank. The scenes where the characters just sat with Dumbledore’s brain looking uncomfortable were not very dramatic. There was no dialogue, and the actors would enter and exit for seemingly no reason.

Denzel Washington seemed like an odd addition to the cast. I know he’s a great actor, but his intensity seemed to frighten the children in the audience as well as many of the other actors in the many scenes he was in. I don’t want to say affirmative action played a role in his unusual appearance in a movie of this kind, but I’m pretty sure affirmative action played a role in his unusual appearance in a movie of this kind.

All in all, it was a very poor experience from start to finish. Which reminds me, the movie was way too long. I remember the other movies were all well over two hours and I had no problem because they were adapted from very dense books that I have no intention of ever reading. But this one clocked in at nearly four hours, which I think is testing the limits of what’s an acceptable running time for a children’s movie. I actually left halfway through because I was bored and hungry. I made myself a ham sandwich and took a nap but when I woke up I remembered that I wanted to see the ending. So I went back to the theater to catch the last couple of scenes. When the credits rolled I realized why the movie was such a disaster. They had like twelve directors on this thing! Talk about too many cooks in the kitchen. Knowing that, the bizarre tonal shifts – like when a dramatic scene would suddenly turn comedic without warning – made a lot more sense. It’s the worst movie I’ve seen since The Last Airbender (I know, I shouldn’t say things I can’t take back, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it really came close to matching how bad The Last Airbender was).

Here’s hoping Part II is better.

This was originally posted on November 20, 2010 on A Gilded Planet.

Baby Driver

Today sees the theatrical release of Baby Driver, the much anticipated sequel to Boss Baby. Boss Baby took the nation by storm just a few months ago, but 20th Century Fox had such confidence in Alec Baldwin’s vision for the franchise that they greenlit an entire trilogy of movies built around his trademark forever adult baby character. Just like Lord of the Rings.

As to why the sequel is being released when the original is barely out of theaters, that has to do with the maturation cycle of babies, who age in months rather than years. Expect to see the third movie in the franchise in theaters this fall.

Now that we’ve gotten all that talk about franchise’s release schedule out of the way, let’s ask the question on everyone’s minds…is Baby Driver as good as Boss Baby? The answer is an emphatic YES. Baby Driver builds on the laughs, the thrills, and the mystery of Boss Baby such that I can safely say this movie exceeds the heights of its predecessor, as hard as that may be to believe.

Baby Driver opens with the titular Baby (Alec Baldwin) having been removed from his job as Fortune 500 CEO and on the run from the intelligence services of multiple governments as well as a bounty hunter hired by the Chinese Mafia.

babydriver

Baby (Alec Baldwin) hits the road in Baby Driver.

He’s become a Wanted Baby due to his theft of kompromat (a Russian term meaning incriminating evidence used for blackmail) that could lead to criminal charges against some of the most powerful figures in global politics and finance. And what does that mean?  Baby has to hit the road!

In Baby’s single seat car, he’s got to race against time before…well, I don’t want to spoil the twists and turns, nor do I want to disclose any information that could jeopardize lives. All I can say is DRIVE to the theaters as soon as you can to see Baby Driver. You don’t want to miss it.

TL;DR – Stylish, exciting, and fueled by a Alec Baldwin’s rich baritone, Baby Driver hits the road, proving fast-paced CGI children’s movies can be smartly written without sacrificing thrills.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Baby Driver is a frenetic, funky, fast and fun for the whole family!” – Anthony Ray Bench, Film Threat

[REVIEW WITHDRAWN FOR INADVERTENTLY REVEALING STATE SECRETS]
– Hudson Hongo, Variety

“Alec Baldwin delivers a courageous performance, speaking truth to power as only a baby can.” – Mameh Immanuel Sisma, The Guardian

“Like Boss Baby before it, Baby Driver should be seen simply because it is such a bold and wonderful idea.” – Legs Lavish, New York Observer

“Alec Baldwin is back, baby, and he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“The thinly veiled jabs at the Bernie Sanders and his ‘bro’ supporters made me laugh to beat the band.” – Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

[REDACTED AT THE REQUEST OF THE NSA] – Dominique Vivant, Vulture

Melonmeter® Score:

99% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™ (IT DON’T GET MUCH JUICIER THAN THIS, FOLKS)