Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Weekend Movie Roundup- Spider-Man: Homecoming

Every weekend me and some friends gather to consume adult beverages and watch movies. We tend to end up watching the good, bad and ugly of what's currently available. This weekend it was Spider-Man: Homecoming. Being the comic book movie geek, I had already seen this on the big screen but was totally up for a second viewing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a thoroughly enjoyable movie free from the burdens of a hero origin story. Since this version of Spider-Man was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, we can skip the radioactive spider bite and the 'Oh wow I have super powers" phase . All of that can make for a crowded and rushed movie. I might say that I missed the Uncle Ben storyline that leads to the iconic "With great power comes great responsibility" theme.

The story picks up after the events of Captain America with Peter Parker back to his regular high school life and finding it an utter bore in contrast to duking it out with and against members of the Avengers. He impatiently waits for a call from Tony Stark that obviously is not coming any time soon. Through a series of nightly adventures that are not really that adventurous, he stumbles upon a group robbing an ATM and they are using what is obviously not technology of this Earth. For the uninitiated or those who just don't pay attention, this is a reference back to alien tech left behind in the first Avenger's movie. The villain of the piece is a working class anti-hero wannabe played excellently by Michael Keaton. You might be tempted to feel sorry for him in a populist sort of way until you realize he's really menacing and dangerous.

The rest of the story plays out with a good balance of action, humor and character building. Tom Holland is youthful and exuberant as he web slings through New York and faces serious threats he's not prepared for. Jacob Batalon deserves a new Oscar category for best sidekick as Peter's best friend who helps him keep his secret... So enjoy the past attempts at brining Spider-Man to the big screen for what they are but I think we"re now getting the story the character deserves.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Foreigner

"A particular set of skills" - A whole new genre of movie seems to have been created when Liam Neason uttered those words on screen in 2008. Does that seemingly harmless person you pass on the street secretly possess the ability to turn into a precise killing machine when confronting the bad guys that also walk among us? Now it is Jackie Chan's turn to join this list of movies that range from the really well done to the "how did this get made?".
Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan) works hard, owns a restaurant in London, and does his best to provide for his daughter Fan. An everyday errand to pick up a dress sees her killed alongside a dozen others when a terrorist bomb explodes nearby, and a devastated Quan turns quietly towards a path of vengeance. A previously unknown faction of the IRA claims responsibility which draws the attention of Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) who was an IRA member in his youth before serving time, reforming, and bringing the fight into the political arena instead. Hennessy knows more than he’s letting on but also doesn’t know it all, and while he’s handling pressure from the British government he faces an even bigger challenge from a tired old man grieving the loss of his daughter.
Based on Stephen Leather‘s novel, The Chinaman, The Foreigner packs a hefty amount intrigue, action, and double-crosses into it's nearly two-hour running time. It’s far from a usual Chan film both because he’s only in roughly half of it and because IRA-related plot turns are given equal attention, but the combination works well to deliver intimate thrills and satisfying beats.
Writer David Marconi (Enemy of the State) keeps a smart balance between the two halves ensuring neither thread grows stale, and while both are engaging separately things heat up when they collide. It’s maybe far too easy to identify which member of Hennessy’s crew is involved, but that’s far from the point as more layers are stripped away to reveal blame and motivation galore. Brosnan captures his anger as well as his growing frustration at the loss of control to both his own people and Quan’s determination.
Chan may still be thought of mostly as a “funny” guy, but he’s played these serious roles before, and he’s played them well. Chan’s strength will always be as a physical entertainer, but he more than acquits himself here as a man who’s lost everything. There’s a tangible pain in his all but defeated face as he lets go of the past and sets his sights solely on revenge.
The supporting cast is solid with memorable turns from the likes of Rory Fleck Byrne, Charlie Murphy (no, not that one), and others. The Foreigner doesn’t break the mold, but it never tries to — and doesn’t need to.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Book of Henry

Jaeden Lieberher has built an impressive resume for his 14 years. When I think of him, the movies St. Vincent, Confirmation and Midnight Special come to mind and of course he is currently starring as the sad, earnest Bill in Stephen King's IT. In St. Vincent he really excelled at playing as a wiser than his years child who has to act as a guide for the flawed adult characters. The same idea plays out here to the nth degree. The title character of Henry is a child genius with a powerful intellect that allows him to see all of the possible scenarios that life may bring. To cope with the benefits and downside of such insights, Henry plots out plans for every outcome in the other half of the title - his book.

Henry's domestic situation, being raised with his younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) by single mom Susan (Naomi Watts) is portrayed as quite idyllic and almost whimsical. You may notice though that Susan is just one of the kids too. She has handed over most of the "adulting" to Henry and honestly who wouldn't. She plays video games while Henry plans out the family's financial future and hangs with a work buddy (Sara Silverman) while Henry entertains his little brother in ways that only a true child genius could come up with. Now movies need conflict and here we are served up some dark fare. In his precise observation of the world Henry has discovered that his next door neighbor (also a single parent) is abusing his daughter Christina (Maddie Ziegler). He has tried to alert adults who are either clueless or intimidated by Christina's father who is (wait for it) the chief of police. In his book, Henry has detailed all the actions he could take and how they may or may not work and has come to a grim conclusion. 

At this point, I reach a difficult part of this review. I don't want to spoil anything so forgive the vagueness. The Book of Henry takes two unexpected turns. The first will cause confusion and make you distrust people who make movies trailers. The second can only be described as tectonic in that it shakes up everything.  How you react to these twists will probably determine your final thoughts on the movie. Will Susan continue to put so much trust in Henry's mind or will she step back and become the parent? The end is a bit too much of a pretty package for me but overall I was glad I stuck with it to see what would happen.