Spider-Man: Homecoming – review

Film

So Spidey is back – and now with added baby-faced Tom Holland. Back in the day Tobey Maguire had three goes at the role with Sam Raimi directing: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007). Then Andrew Garfield had a crack with Marc Webb in charge: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014).

And each, arguably, suffered from the law of diminishing returns. Spidey wasn’t dead but he had been battered pretty thoroughly. Then he popped up, teasingly, in Captain America: Civil War (2016)played by a young Tom Holland. And everyone loved his – albeit short – take on the character. Seems Spidey had returned and this time he was part of the MCU.

Hooray, this felt fresh and well-timed.

So we get Spider-Man: Homecoming a year later. Now some say this version of our arachnid hero is the best yet. Not just because having a younger actor play the role REALLY works and makes more sense (he’s supposed to be a schoolkid), but also because Tom Holland just seems a better fit as an actor than Maguire, and certainly Garfield.

Because, frankly, Holland plays to his strengths, making him cocky and intelligent yet vulnerable and with a big heart, which, naturally, brings him to Tony Stark’s attention. For you see, with Homecoming, he’s very much Tony’s protégé, with Tony a sort of tough love father figure towards Peter.

And as part of that tough love, after helping Stark out in Civil War he gets cuts loose, and told to basically stay out of trouble until he’s called upon, with Happy (Jon Favreau) his reluctant minder.

During which time hard-as-nails salvage guy Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is nicking alien artifacts found during the aftermath of the chitauri attack on New York and turning them into weapons – and in doing so becomes the Vulture.

So little Peter has to prove he’s got what it takes to bring Toomes down, change from boy to man, and prove his hero status to become a fully fledged Avenger.

Which is all well and good. But the nice touches for me in this film come from things we’ve not seen before. THANK GOD the filmmakers didn’t show us how Peter got his powers and came to live with Aunt May. We’ve seen it so many times. Save for a quick line about being bitten by spider and how his aunt has been through a lot, that’s it. Great, let’s move on.

More thought along similar lines has also gone into Peter’s suit. As it’s made by Stark it comes complete with gadgets galore and a PA, but with a little twist to contrast Iron Man’s JARVIS. So from the types of web he can use (grenade, taser) to the suit’s modes (kill, surveillance), it adds a lot more to Spider-Man in terms of his capabilities as a hero and how he can fight.

Yet, as Tony points out, he needs to be a hero without the suit (much like Tony’s own journey in Iron Man). So there’s a couple of pivotal – and fairly emotionally weighty – scenes where we get to see what Peter is really made of. And it helps, of course, to have a worthy foe, because in Michael Keaton we get both comic book pedigree (Batman, Birdman) and oodles of charisma, where he can flip from charm to menace at the drop of a hat (he should really play baddies more often, it suits him).

Ultimately, it’s great that Spider-Man is with Marvel now. Sony, for all their efforts, never really found their groove with this character. And given the fact that Marvel just continue to go from strength to strength as they expand their universe, it’s encouraging that Spider-Man is now a part of that. Roll on Thor: Ragnarok.

Spotlight: compelling tale, well told

Film

I’m really not sure what you’re supposed to refer to Tom McCarthy as: Writer? Director? Actor? Hollywood’s messiah? A very naughty boy?

Ok, I may have gone off on a tangent slightly. What I’m trying to say is that this guy is prolific and prodigiously talented. This is a bloke that’s acted in The Wire, written an unaired pilot for Game of Thrones, wrote Up for Pixar, and has now written and directed Spotlight. (Plus a load of other stuff. Diverse doesn’t really cover it.)

For Spotlight he’s assembled a mighty ensemble of actors who play a special investigative ‘spotlight’ newsroom team at the Boston Globe that start to look into cases of priests sexually abusing children and uncover systemic abuse throughout the church on a global scale. And it’s a true story. Oscars, are you shined, dusted down and at the ready?

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That may sound cynical but, unless he messes it up, it’s a bit of a slam dunk. Worthy tale, excellent cast, bang on awards season etc. That said, he’s still got to tell a story which, let’s face it, involves journalists sifting through archives of paper and attempting to interview hostile locals who don’t want to talk. But he makes it work.

The story zips along with ease and the cast all seem to be on their A-game bouncing off each other. Those that take most plaudits are the three key players in the spotlight team: boss (Michael Keaton) and his two lieutenants (Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo), with honourable mentions going to lawyer with a conscious (Stanley Tucci) and editor with steely conviction (Liev Schrieber); for both quietly stealing their respective scenes.

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery play Boston Globe journalists in the film, Spotlight.

And McCarthy, to his credit, just lets his cast get on with it and tell the story. He’s not showy or clever but just lets the tale play out and keeps the pace up, giving the audience credit saying, ‘You’re intelligent moviegoers, you’ll keep up.’

Initially I didn’t get into the groove but after 20 minutes I was hooked and right there with the spotlight team, willing them to tie all their evidence together and bring the whole corrupt system down (It’s not hard to think all priests and dodgy as hell, although I’m sure many aren’t). And the whole experience was made all the more compelling by the fact it’s not only a true tale, but a recent one.

So in case I wasn’t clear, don’t go into this thinking it’ll be full of action and grandstanding. It’s all character and subtlety, this one. You’ll get maybe one scene with a raised voice and one where a guy runs for a photocopier. Other than that, you’ll need your thinking caps on and to be paying attention. But that’s no bad thing, no bad thing indeed.

Birdman: Keaton’s sad sack soars and swoops

Film

In the last fifteen or twenty years, which actor do you go to for deranged and unhinged? Nic Cage? Jack Nicholson maybe? Actors who were wild in their youth tend to mellow with age, or grow old disgracefully. In the case of Michael Keaton it’s been quite some time since he last danced with the devil in the pale moonlight, so it was high time he returned to cinema. Here he’s channelled his talent into creating a character that has to be on a par – in terms of being washed up and on the last roll of the dice career wise – with Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler.

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And whilst the aforementioned film was on the serious and dramatic end of the scale, Birdman comes at things from a quirky yet melancholy point of view. Dark? Yes. Supremely odd? Check. But still a drama, with comedy elements aplenty, taking the time to explore some interesting themes along the way.

In terms of setup we start with Keaton’s Riggan Thomson (great name), a faded movie star, one famous for playing a superhero called Birdman. He yearns for recognition again and, perhaps even more than that, credibility and critical acclaim. In short, he longs to be taken seriously as an actor. And in the theatre he might just achieve that. However this is his last roll of the dice, as his lawyer and friend Jake (Zach Galafianakis) regularly tells him.

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To help his credibility he drafts in a proper theatre actor daaahling, in the form of Mike Shiner (Ed Norton), who then proceeds to steal his limelight on stage and seduce every nearby female he can. This begins to push his buttons – or at least twiddle Riggan’s sanity lever till the dial gets a bit loose.

As a result he is barely holding the play – and himself – together as they approach opening night, and to add to his woes he has: a daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), fresh out of rehab and with whom he is failing as a father; a highly strung actress girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) using her sexuality as a weapon; another highly strung actress, Lesley (Naomi Watts) who craves a similar level of artistic accomplishment; plus theatre critic (Lindsay Duncan) out for his blood and determined to ruin the play.

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a most interesting director. And a most interesting choice for this film. In the past he’s gives us Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful. All pretty weighty tales. He tends to get drawn to exploring death and grief and how we deal with it.

With Birdman, whilst this is the first time he has tackled comedy, these morbid elements still get thrown into the mix. And as we know comedy and tragedy are often close bedfellows at the best of times. One treads a fine line alongside the other.

On the evidence of this film perhaps he should stick to this approach for the foreseeable future, as he has a knack for it. He also gives us a great sense of the mad, chaotic world of backstage. Indeed, behind the scenes of the theatre are a claustrophobic place, all cramped tunnels and confusing corridors. His camera often right on the shoulders of his cast, twisting and turning and swirling around them as the fight, argue, flirt and despair.

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You particularly get a sense of this from Riggan. As he moves through the back corridors of the theatre accosted and confronted by his team, we follow him closely. At the same time we’re subjected to a musical score that matches the madness, namely a lunatic on a drumkit. It’s entirely possible this isn’t the film’s score, but the soundtrack to Riggan’s unravelling mind. (Actually, that’s still a score, even if it is internalised to one character. See… the madness is affecting me!)

The way Riggan’s alter ego (or subconscious) is personified and harangues him throughout the film slightly puts you in mind of Tyler Durden in Fight Club. Yet here it’s more of a peripheral presence, as Riggan wrestles with the inviting notion of celebrity and recognition versus the tough and uncompromising road of critical acclaim.

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Whilst this is Keaton’s movie by some distance, the supporting cast steal every scene they get. Simply put, they all looked just plain up for it. Considering Inarritu’s past work it seems he’s been storing a world of mischief up his directorial sleeve. Ed Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone… They all get to shine in a scene or two and are all an utter delight. It seems Inarritu has been supping from the cup of quirk formerly held by Wes Anderson. So in that respect it’s refreshing to see another director flourish and take up the mantle. (After Grand Budapest Hotel I feel Anderson may have got a little too quirky for his own good.)

I went into this film with no expectation or knowledge of the plot. I’d not seen the trailer. I knew the cast, but not the fact it was this director. Going by the title you might expect some sort of comedy featuring a shabby superhero. You could call it that. You could. But it wouldn’t be accurate.

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You could say this film flies the flag for character driven pieces, whether that’s cinema or theatre, it favours people and emotions over spectacle and explosions. It takes a thinly veiled dig at blockbusters, but also against the rather ridiculous and overblown world of theatre. And it’s all the better for it.

This film is clearly one that critics will love (for those that haven’t reviewed it already) but, without going out on too much of a limb, it should also be one that audiences will love. And it will most likely be a slow burner as word of mouth spreads. This one will last, people will say. And, in that, Riggan (and Keaton) will be remembered.

And the award goes to… Michael!

My musings

the-dark-knight-rises-michael-caineBit narcissistic to trumpet one’s own name in a blog isn’t it? Well tough, I’m doing it anyway. Reason being, there’s so many brilliant Michaels in the world that it’s high time someone gathered them together and sung their praises.

Obviously the below is only a snippet of the great work Team Michael has accomplished, but it’s a strong list. From drama to comedy, superheroes to period pieces these guys have got all your entertainment needs covered.

In terms of a favourite, I’m torn between the mighty Fassbender, whose career shows no signs of letting up and hasn’t produced anything particularly close to a turkey yet, and the legend of cinema that is Michael Caine – a man who’s only one of two actors to be nominated for an Academy Award in every decade from the ’60s to the present day (the other being Jack Nicholson).

So… if your name is Michael and you’re starting out in the acting profession you’re not only in good company, but have reason to be upbeat that your career too, may follow a similar path.

Or maybe you’ll just crash and burn like Michael J. Fox. After all, it’s only a name.

Michael Keaton
Beetlejuice, Batman, Jackie Brown


Michael Douglas

Wall Street, Falling Down, Traffic, Behind The Candelabra


Michael Shannon

Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter, Man of Steel


Michael Fassbender

Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, Shame, 12 Years A Slave


Michael Sheen

Frost/Nixon, The Damned United, Masters of Sex


Mickey Rourke

Rumblefish, The Wrestler, Sin City


Michael Clarke Duncan

The Green Mile, Sin City


Michael Caine

The Italian Job, Get Carter, Children of Men, Harry Brown, The Dark Knight Rises