Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming (or The Pathetic Spider-Boy) *SPOILERS*

There are three major rules to making a good superhero movie: 1. Trust your source material. 2. Trust your source material. 3. See Rules 1 & 2. I know many people (and many friends of mine) liked it, but to me Spider-Man: Homecoming was mostly a drastic, politically correct misfire.

Let start with a few things I liked. Tom Holland is pretty good as Spider-Man. He’s a little young, but can probably play Spider-Man for the next 20 years if he desires. Michael Keaton was enjoyable as the Vulture, a bad guy who isn’t truly evil. He believably thinks he’s doing the right thing for his family after being screwed over by a cold, uncaring system. The CGI and FX were great, as always.

The bad: nearly everything else. Again, has ANYONE connected with this movie read a Spider-Man comic? Unfortunately, probably not, unless you count those awful Ultimate stories. I don’t, those weren’t real comics. The supporting cast is irritating. Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) just exists to shout things the movie is already telling us visually. “OH MY GOD! You can walk on ceilings!” “OH MY GOD! You can shoot webbing!” “OH MY GOD ... “ You get the message. Ned, simmer down. He’s Spider-Man. We get it. For some reason, bully Flash Thompson is now an angry Indian boy. That is some inexplicable PC casting. Laura Harrier as Liz does well as Peter’s crush, who actually likes him back. Of course she is shuffled out for the super-annoying Michelle (Zendaya, whoever that is) who has no earthly reason to be in this movie, other than she is a Disney Channel star and they own Marvel. Her character is obnoxious and toxic. The only redeeming feature is that she wasn’t playing Mary Jane (Peter’s girlfriend from the comics and movies) or his love interest. Imagine my bubble bursting when she announces at the end of the movie that her friends call her “MJ.” No. MJ is Mary Jane Watson, not you. This character could ruin the entire franchise. Neither the actress or the character worked on any level. 

The largest problem with the film is that the Pathetic Spider-Boy (title stolen from Diversity & Comics’ review of the film, check it out here) is a failure. In the comics, Peter Parker sure has his share of bad luck, but he mostly manages to save the day and defeat the bad guys. This Peter is a total knob. He manages to accidently destroy an ocean liner, then can’t keep it from collapsing without the help of another hero. In the end, he is soundly beaten by the Vulture, and would have been killed if the Vulture’s armor hadn’t self-destructed. He’s a screw-up and loser. He and his friends are supposed to be around 15 years old, but they act as if they are 10 or 11. OH MY GOD! YOU CAN STICK TO WALLS!   

The great Robert Downey Jr. with Tom Holland
Another problem is that Spider-Man’s uniqueness and intelligence are downplayed if not outright eliminated. In the comics, Peter Parker invents his web-shooters and web-fluid, sews his own costume and figures out the hero thing mostly himself. Being indirectly responsible for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben has put a weight on his shoulders--a weight that helps make him a true hero (as shown beautifully in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films). In Homecoming, Ben Parker isn’t even mentioned. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) invents the web-shooters, gives Peter a hi-tech costume and basically invents Spider-Man. What does Peter do, except lose at every major task assigned him? He screws up so badly that Stark takes away his costume and gadgets in the middle of the movie, and HE DOESN’T GET THEM BACK! Spider-Man goes through the last half of the movie in a sweatshirt and sweatpants. That was infuriating. I paid $11 to see Spider-Man, not Sweatshirt Boy. Who wants to see that? This is true numbskull writing and directing.

Tomei, not Aunt May
Finally, I’m not sure what to make of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Every Aunt May in comics and the movies has been an elderly woman. Tomei is a very well kept 52 and looks much younger. Tony Stark flirts with her regularly. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but she’s not Aunt May. Read a comic, producers!

Should every superhero movie be exactly like the comics in every way? No. I realize that certain changes sometimes have to be made for different mediums. However, why make a movie with Spider-Man as your source material, then ignore everything that made that character great? I’d understand if this was 1975 and the film was made by a studio that looked at Marvel like a cockroach. However, Marvel Studios was partially responsible (with Sony) for this movie! What hope do we have of anything being adapted well when the company that owns the character can’t get inspiration from their own source material?

The Spider-Man franchise has nowhere to go but up. I hope they make it there. This movie is not recommended.

Rating: ** stars out of 5

Monday, July 3, 2017

TV Rampage! Netflix Originals: Gypsy, GLOW and Small Crimes

TV Rampage!

Let’s look at some recent Netflix originals, shall we?

What could be better than a psychosexual romp with such a great cast? Watching paint dry, actually. Naomi Watts, a fine actress, plays a therapist who is bored with her perfect life and loving husband (Billy Crudup), and decides to look up exciting people in her patient’s lives. I made it through three episodes of ten before slamming the door on this one. Firstly, her life is actually perfect. She is rich, beautiful, has a fulfilling job. Any material object she desires is at her fingertips. Her seven-year old daughter is going to be gay or transgender (telegraphed so obviously it devolves into camp—is being a boy REALLY the only thing a seven-year old would think about?), but other than that her life is trouble and stress free. Of course she’s bored, she has everything! The character violates all kinds of ethics has no moral compass or conscience. There is very little story here, this is someone’s vanity project with themselves as the audience.

From its laughable PG-rated sex scenes to the glacial pace, Gypsy is TV for rich housewives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It’s boring with an unlikable, morally challenged main character. I’d rather watch a slide show of my great uncle’s vacation to Bronson, Missouri.

Rating: ** stars out of 5

GLOW is a ½-hour comedy based on the great ‘70s organization, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The point-of-view character is Ruth Wilde, played by Alison Brie (Mad Men). Ruth is a down on her luck actress, tired of playing background characters with stunning lines such as, “Your wife is on line 1.”

Reluctantly, Ruth joins the fledgling wrestling group Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, intended to be a syndicated wrestling show. These first ten episodes tell the story of the formation of the league and making the pilot of the syndicated show.

This first season is incredibly well written and humorous. The characters, relationships and situations are a riot and constantly urged viewers to think “I wonder if this really happened?” One of the most interesting aspects of the show is how each lady finds her wrestling persona. From the offensive black woman known as “Welfare Queen” (“I eat like royalty on food stamps ... paid for by the American taxpayer!”) to the Party Girl and Wolf Girl, the organization capitalizes on the zeitgeist of 1970s America. Ruth’s struggle to find her wrestling alter ego is challenging, but when she finally discovers it, the character is perfect for Ruth, the actress playing her and the show.

I can’t wholly recommend the show because of Ruth’s character. She’s hideous. She sleeps with her best friend’s husband in the pilot (which sets up a season-long dramatic arc), and makes another choice midway through the season which portrays her as a horrible person, one whom I don’t want to support or watch. It’s not so much what she does, but how cavalierly she does it. There’s no regret or recrimination, her career and selfishness easily comes before anything else. This stops her from being a sympathetic or likable character.

While I can’t recommend the series, it was funny and entertaining, except for Ruth’s character.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

Small Crimes
I enjoy crime movies, but there has to be more to the story than a sociopathic thug beyond redemption. Unfortunately that’s all there is to this Netflix misfire. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) plays Joe Denton, a cop sentenced to prison for attempted murder. He is released on parole and returns to his community, ostensibly to redeem himself. He doesn’t. He immediately gets involved with the bad people who put him there and continues his criminal career. At first he avoids causing any harm, more out of a sense of not wanting to go back to prison than any thoughts of humanity or doing the right thing. But eventually his actions damage his new nurse girlfriend (the great Molly Parker) and his supportive parents.

Denton is a one-man wrecking crew, steamrolling through the city and its inhabitants to get what he wants. He is evil and beyond redemption. The only thing that humanizes him is his wish to reconnect with his two daughters, a desire the courts and his parents intelligently deny him. At the end of 90 minutes, Small Crimes has added nothing to the world; no lessons, no hope, no insights into the human condition (other than scorpions sting people, big news), and no entertainment value. Avoid this one. Again, reprehensible characters are fine—but they have to be three-dimensional. Joe Denton is not, despite a fine performance by Coster-Waldau.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

It’s almost comforting to know Netflix isn’t perfect. With its excellent track record of continuing cancelled series (Longmire) and high-quality original content (Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black) they seemed bulletproof for a while. But the more original material they create, the more mistakes they will make. Welcome to real life, Netflix!