Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Reviews: Spider-man: Homecoming, The Beautiful Fantastic, Gifted, Paterson, Primer

Spider-man: Homecoming: Another in the long list of passable and entertaining but ultimately unimportant Marvel movies. Tobey Maguire set the standard for the Spider-man role in 2002 and 2004; Tom Holland doesn't quite live up to that standard, but he does a decent job. Tom's Peter Parker is more child-like and less complex, a flat two-dimensional comic character compared to Tobey's rich and conflicted adolescent, but that is more to do with this movie's director and team of Marvel-assembled writers (six of them) versus the better director and single author of the earlier movies.

Slightly better is Michael Keaton's Vulture villain, who steals the screen every time he's around. With a little more character development - some more family time or father-daughter bonding - he could have been one of Marvel's rare, fully-fleshed characters. He gets awful close. I almost cared about him. As for everyone else, they are occasionally funny or emotive but ultimately one-dimensional plot points to serve as backdrop.

The plot works well within the movie, but not quite as well within the Marvel continuity: Vulture is collecting the energy materials left behind after The Avengers and selling them on the black market (we here about the sales, but not much about the effect of these sales). Peter is 15 years old, but jazzed up after having been called to be part of the incredibly dangerous fight against Captain America in Captain America: Civil War, and now thinks of himself as interning for Iron Man in the hopes of being made a full avenger. Iron Man wants him to just stick to his local neighborhood until he gets older - which doesn't make much sense, since he called him up to fight Captain America, for goodness sake. Of course, Peter encounters Vulture and tries to prove himself, takes a beating, earns Iron Man's wrath, gets his gun and badge taken away, but decides to solve the case on his own (excuse me, I seem to have mixed this movie up with every cop movie, ever).

The special effects are hum-drum for this kind of movie. In particular I don't like Peter's "suit", which is basically a copy of Iron Man's (given to him by Iron Man) with computer vision, a talking computer, etc etc. It doesn't have Iron Man's armor, but that doesn't seem to matter, since Spidey is invulnerable to any kind of punishment (like every other damn superhero), so he is basically Iron Man light. If there's one thing that makes a superhero movie good, it's when the hero's powers and surrounding characters are limited and markedly different from the other ones'. This movie fails in this regard, big time.

But, continuity and unoriginality aside, there is nothing else remarkably wrong with the movie. The contained plot flows, some scenes are tense, some are ridiculous (I'm sorry, but holding a boat together after it is split into two parts won't stop it from sinking). The scenes where Spider-man and Vulture encounter each other out of costume and each comes to realize who the other one is are done well.

Roughly on par with Captain America: Winter Soldier.

The Beautiful Fantastic: A deliberately quirky movie, pleasant and enjoyable, not too deep. Imagine the heroine of Amelie with a less challenging set of obstacles to overcome.

Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a librarian and an aspiring children's author who lives in a small flat where she is responsible for keeping up the garden, but doesn't. She is faced with eviction unless she overhauls the garden by herself in thirty days. She is too poor to pay anyone (how she acquires and pays for the supplies is not dealt with). The cantankerous old, possibly ill widower next door neighbor is the one who ratted on her. This widower employs a gay (gayish?) young cook, Vernon, but treats him poorly, so the cook quits and decides to cook for Bella instead, who can't pay him, but somehow the widower continues to pay him and Vernon continues to cook for the widower so long as he doesn't have to deal with him on a daily basis. The widower eventually gives Bella a little advice. Also, Bella is interested in this odd young clockwork inventor fellow, who may also be interested in her.

The thing is ridiculously contrived and its premise exists to provide scenes of gardening and the main characters intermingling in humorous or wistful fashion. It's not a brilliant script, but it has its moments. It's ponderous with metaphor, but it's never mean and it's pleasant and fun to watch. The acting and photography are nice. A sweet little diversion.

Gifted: A beautiful, intelligent, and heartfelt movie, something like Proof crossed with My Sister's Keeper.

Chris Evans is Frank, who is raising his insanely gifted niece who was left in his living room as a baby by his insanely gifted sister after she committed suicide in his bathroom. The sister's intentions become slightly clearer as the movie progresses; however, Frank a) has given Mary, who is now 6 years old (McKenna Grace), access to enough mathematical reading material for her to already be well into advanced PhD level mathematics and b) is trying to send her to first grade in a normal school where the kids her age are learning basic arithmetic in the hopes of her having a more normal childhood than his sister. (It's not clear to me what he's been doing with the child until the movie starts.)

Frank lives a spartan life, and his mother, though she loves Frank, thinks the combination of a one room house and inadequate education is going to rob Mary of the chance to solve the same great proof that her daughter was working on. But Frank blames himself and his mother for his sister's suicide.They go to court to figure out who the girl should live with (again, it's not clear why the mother waited until now to make this move; and FYI, the father is basically out of the picture.)

If you overlook the two niggling questions above, it is wondrous to see McKenna (who is actually 11) act with such poise and emotion. Much of the movie is just watching a smart kid try to deal with her broken family, her loving uncle and his protective friend (Octavia Spencer), and the idiot children who inhabit her world, while the other parts are a courtroom drama without any bad guys and without any clear path to happiness for anyone. It's touching and emotional, funny and suspenseful.

Worth seeing.

Paterson: This is a very unambitious movie by Jim Jarmusch, starring Adam Driver as an unpublished poet named Paterson who drives a bus in Paterson, NJ. He has a girlfriend who doesn't do anything but paint everything in the house in black and white patterns but who wants to play guitar. Every day, Paterson wakes up, goes to work, drives a bus, walks a dog, drinks a beer in a bar, comes home, and straightens his mailbox. He steals time to write poems and he hears other people talking about their lives.

I know this because five repetitions of this is the first hour of the movie, after which I'm afraid I gave up. After I gave up I read the synopsis on Wikipedia and discovered that something slightly interesting happens a little after I gave up, and then nothing happens again, a little like Old Man and the Sea but less intense and less literate.

Everyone does a lovely job acting, and the directing and cinematography are all well done, and admittedly that's a nice thing to see. The only uplift in the movie comes from the four poems written for the movie by Ron Padgett; like the movie, they seem a little dull at the start but, unlike the movie, they display flashes of beauty as they progress. This wasn't enough to keep me watching, unfortunately. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I watched it. I just think there needs to be a little more there, there.

If you want to hear from the poet and how he came to be involved with the movie, click here.

Primer: This 2006 movie is probably the definitive focus on time travel for time travel's sake movie. It tells the story of two guys who are working on various chemical/material engineering projects, when they discover that they have invented a time travel box (it's a complicated explanation of waves that travel back and forth between tie periods). They then have various reactions to it: they go back in time and make money by betting on stocks that they know will go up, and eventually have a falling out about whether to continue using the box(es). Like later movies, such as Inception and Interstellar, the movie takes the math seriously enough to try to explain the paradoxes.

The movie looks like it was shot with a budget of a few thousand dollars, but the camera work is good enough for what it's trying to do, although it looks grainy and dark. The acting is fine. The script is ... well, it starts off with techno jumble that was easy enough for me to understand, but as it gets close to the end I just got lost, After reading up on the explanation, I can say that it does make sense, but it seems like they deliberately make it impossible to follow on screen.

More of a curiosity piece than an enjoyable movie. At least it wasn't bad and annoying.
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