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.

The Get Down: season one, part two – review

TV

The Get Down was, by its own admission, a hugely ambitious undertaking by Baz Luhrmann and his team. With a sizeable investment from Netflix (although they’re seemingly unstoppable these days, so whatever). So it meant that a lot was riding on this tale of late ‘70s New York, painted as a city in crisis – at least in the Bronx, where most of our story takes place.

Plus it’s a sprawling epic. 

It touches on poverty, drugs, sexuality, inner city regeneration, friendship and male bonding, graffiti and self-expression, religion, and the birth of hip-hop, and how music can change your life and those around you. And that’s just for starters.

Which means that, with great ambition comes great responsibility. I mean, this show built itself up to tackle A LOT of weighty subjects and it does so quite well, for the most part. But derails a little come the second half of the season, which we’ll get to.

Moreover, maybe it bit off more than it could chew, with all these subjects vying for screen time. It made it hard to get a handle on the main thrust of the story at times. Was it part documentary, musical, love story, social commentary, musical history lesson or gangster movie? Or all of the above? The mind is liable to boggle.

Which meant, that if you wanted to pick holes in the plot, you could. You’d find loads. But the show’s sheer exuberance and enthusiasm for its material more or less carried it through. And this was helped, in part, by numerous punch-the-air musical moments, delivered by a highly watchable cast. In particular Ekeziel ‘Zeke’ Figuero (Justice Smith), the wordsmith of The Get Down Brothers (loosely modelled on the birth of the Sugar Hill Gang) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) a blossoming disco star; herself trying to break away from the clutches of a religiously overzealous father and the fact she’s come from more or less nothing. 

For all its ambition though, it’s a show of two halves (to coin a football pundit phrase). In that the first half introduced the main characters – framed via a modern-day rap concert (with Nas playing a grown-up Zeke) – and set them on their path to musical glory well enough. And was stylised much like a musical, all primary colours and big hair.

But then it seemed the second half of the season thought it best to get high on its own supply. Which meant it, rather oddly, got pretty trippy. We had the introduction of numerous animated sections in each episode which, whilst fun, seemed like a device to help Baz and his overworked crew take a breather whilst they set up the next big musical set piece. 

The plot, too, seemed a bit spaced out. There were really too many story strands drifting around the place to fully invest in any of them. And by the time the finish rolled around, I was left feeling like I’d seen something quite good, but also quite confused about what it wanted to be.

So top marks for ambition, casting, musical numbers and vision. But sorry Baz, you’re getting a little marked down for execution and story. Still though, overall, it’s a decent show and worth catching. Particularly if you’re a fan of hip-hop and experiencing a little slice of the birth of a musical genre done with real flair. 

Forever: Highlander meets CSI

TV

The other week I started – quite at random – watching a new show called Forever starring Ioan Gruffudd. (The latest charming Brit to take the lead in an American TV show.)

Much like Highlander, the main character, Dr Henry Morgan (Gruffudd) is immortal. He can die, but he comes back to life again. Naked and floating in the nearest body of water. Ok, so a little different to Highlander. Reincarnating naked with a big sword and the Kurgan after you would be a bit of a raw deal.

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Thankfully, no naked swordplay is involved as Henry is chief medical examiner for New York City. An apt career choice, given his intimate knowledge of death. The show quickly establishes his working relationship with Detective Jo Martinez (Alana de la Garza) in a sort of will they, won’t they scenario.

What we get – at least in the first few episodes – is a sort of CSI meets Poirot meets Highlander, with the good doctor solving mysterious causes of death and murder cases seemingly at ease, whilst the police and everyone else follow him around like fascinated groupies.

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As a character he’s articulate, debonair, impeccably dressed and vastly knowledgeable about a great breadth of topics. He’s got a sidekick (of sorts) in the form of an antiques dealer Abe (Judd Hirsch), whom he rescued as a baby.

As a show so far, it’s quite an easy watch. You never feel Henry is in that much danger (or that his secret skill to reincarnate will be revealed, at least not yet). There’s a running storyline about a mysterious stranger who knows Henry’s secret. No doubt the stranger will reveal themselves at some point.

So if you need a light-hearted show with some sparky dialogue, well-plotted stories and occasional ponderous reflections on death and the meaning of life, then give it a go.

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Concrete jungle where accents are made of…

My musings

On my recent return from a flying visit to New York I found myself thinking about the accent. London is littered with accents but there’s something inherently ‘London’ about them all. I think the same applies to New York, whether it’s Brooklyn or Queens or Manhattan there’s differences to be picked out, but a commonality runs through them all.

As such, for us out-of-towners we think it’s all pretty much the same… A New York accent. And so, with films where an actor is putting on a New York accent we’re left thinking, is that good? Is it believable? Do they sound like a native?

What is a native in cities like New York and London anyway? These places were built on immigration and boast a melting pot of accents and cultures. Still – go with me on this – there’s an common accent to be picked out.

Here’s my pick of two actresses that have given it a darn good go in recent times.

Margot RobbieThe Wolf of Wall Street
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An Aussie with a scant filmography to her name (her stint in TV show Pan Am rather than Neighbours probably got her this gig) yet steps up not only with a convincing accent, but a commanding performance opposite DiCaprio.


Scarlett Johansson
Don Jon
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Born in New York you hope she’d do a good job (she was quoted as saying she knew women like this growing up). She still had to ‘put on’ a certain accent though, and happily delivered, going toe-to-toe with Gordon-Levitt’s Jon in this fizzy tale.