Tag Archives: Michael Keaton

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After years of negotiations, Sony finally did the smart thing and shared its precious rights to Spider-Man with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Because of that, Spider-Man ended up being one of the highlights of the awesome Captain America: Civil War, which got everyone super excited for his first Sony-Marvel solo film, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The verdict? Pretty damn good. Homecoming was just about everything I had hoped it would be, and many of my concerns about it turned out to be unfounded.

First of all, as promised, Homecoming is part of the MCU but also a standalone film. It helps if you have seen Civil War, where Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man first appeared, but it’s not imperative. The film uses the famous airport scene as a segway so we don’t have to be reintroduced to the origins story all over again. In that sense, Homecoming feels like a sequel of sorts at times.

Second, Homecoming is, as they claimed, a different Marvel film. They weren’t lying when they said it was a high school movie, a teenage coming-of-age film with a John Hughes vibe. For those too young to know who John Hughes is, think Lindsay Lohan’s Mean Girls or Emma Stone’s Easy A, or Hailee Steinfeld’s The Edge of Seventeen. It’s got a lot of light humour and witty dialogue, not too much heavy drama, and plenty of high school-related themes. In other words, it actually features an environment and issues a high school Spider-Man would be dealing with, like girls, popularity, keeping secrets, etc.

Third, the trailers did not give too much away, as I had feared. After seeing the first couple of trailers, I had in my mind how the movie would pan out, and I’m glad to say it was quite different to what I had expected in terms of progression and characters. There are a few neat surprises and choices I thought worked well.

Fourth, and thank goodness, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) did not dominate the film as the marketing suggested. Iron Man was in all the posters and a good chunk of the trailers, but that was just to sell the movie. This is very much a Spider-Man movie in which Tony Stark plays a small but pivotal role. He has a significant presence, but  Downey Jr doesn’t take up much screen time — more than a cameo but less than a major supporting character. I think director John Watts gets it just right.

The performances are excellent. Tom Holland shined as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in limited screen time in Civil War, and he’s just as good carrying a 133-minute movie. Apart from actually looking like a real teenager, he’s extremely likeable and captures that teenage angst perfectly. He’s my favourite Spider-Man to date.

And thanks to Michael Keaton, who plays his third-winged superhero/villain (Batman, Birdman, and now Vulture), Homecoming has one of the best bad guys in the MCU. I was a bit meh about Vulture before because he felt like just a bad version of Falcon, but Keaton elevates his character, giving not just justifications for his actions but also multiple dimensions to his character. It’s not his abilities or gadgets but his character and demeanour that makes him great. He’s empathetic when he needs to be and menacing and terrifying when wants to be. Kudos to Keaton, because villains have always been the weakest link in the MCU, and now they have a new baddie who can rival Loki.

The minor characters are a bit of a mixed bag. I initially thought going for the diverse casting might end up being a problem, though eventually, it all worked out for the best. Jacob Batalon plays Ned, a new Asian character and Peter’s affable best friend. There were a few times he got somewhat irritating, but that’s what he’s supposed to do. Laura Harrier is Liz, the girl Peter has a crush on. At first I didn’t think she was a good fit for the love interest, but later on, I understood why they chose her. Two bigger names that made splashes when they were cast — Zendaya and Donald Glover — were relative disappointments in that they barely go to do anything. On the other hand, Tony Revolori gave us an interesting and funny version of bully Flash Thompson, while Marisa Tomei did her thing as “hot Aunt May”.

In terms of action, Homecoming is not revolutionary but holds its own in the MCU. I would say it’s on par with any of the action sequences we’ve seen in any of the previous Spider-Man films in terms of excitement and creativity, except with better special effects (the movements of the pure CGI Spider-Man are more realistic). That said, despite some excellent set pieces, I would have preferred a little more action and a better climatic battle. But that’s just me.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t say Homecoming is one of the best MCU movies, but it’s a very good one targeted more at teenagers and young adults rather than small children and older audiences. It’s a very good Spider-Man movie, a very good coming-of-age movie, a very good high school movie, and a very good comedy, plus it’s got one of the best Marvel villains ever in Vulture (Michael Keaton).  I Throw all of that together and what you end up with is a light, fun and entertaining experience that doesn’t quite add up to “great”. It’s nothing that will absolutely blow you away, but hey, Marvel can’t give us Iron Man, The Avengers, or Civil War every time. I’d put it on the same level as say an Ant-Man, maybe even a shade higher.

3.75 stars out of 5

Spotlight (2015)

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I had relatively high expectations going into Spotlight, the film that appears headed straight for this year’s Best Picture Oscar if critics are to be believed. For the most part, the hype is justified.

Most people know about the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests, but not nearly as many people know about the journalists who uncovered the story. Spotlight is the fascinating true story about the eponymous team from the Boston Globe that worked tirelessly to expose the systemic child abuse being swept under the rug by the Catholic Church for decades.

Like all good true stories, this one feels meticulously researched and respectful to the subject. From the very start, you get a great sense of something remarkable brewing, and director and co-writer Tom McCarthy does a commendably patient job in allowing the characters and story to develop, much like how a real journalistic investigation peels back the layers bit by bit, with the occasional exciting breakthrough. The way McCarthy depicts the subtle push-back from the predominantly Catholic community in Boston helps explain why this dirty secret stayed a secret for so long. The pacing is so important to a film like this, and McCarthy manages to get it perfect.

The film also features without a doubt the best ensemble cast of the year, led by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci. The great thing about the cast is that they’re not just there to create an impressive list of names — each of them has a key role to play and they all deliver memorable performances. It’s hard to think of another instance in recent years where so many big names are so balanced that each can have such meaty roles in the same movie.

The thing that impressed me the most about the Spotlight is the way it portrays the church and the Boston Globe journalists. As disappointing and infuriating it is to learn about the extent of the cover-up, I never got the feeling that the Catholic Church was being vilified beyond what the facts implied. The same goes for the portrayals of the Spotlight Team — they’re neither saints nor heroes, just a bunch of journalists who are extremely dedicated to their jobs (and who make me ashamed to think I once considered myself a semi-journalist). This even-handed approach makes cannot be understated — it makes all the difference in a movie like this.

While Spotlight is an exceptionally well-made film that ticks all the boxes, it’s not the kind of jaw-dropping experience that will have most casual viewers running out of the cinema declaring that it’s the best thing they’ve seen this year. Personally, I appreciated the film more than I was entertained, excited or thrilled by it.

That said, it’s not that kind of film. In some ways, Spotlight reminds me a little of last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman, in that the film has it all on paper — intriguing premise, masterful direction, great script and terrific performances — but doesn’t quite hit it out of the park in terms of building an emotional connection . The difference, however, is that I found Spotlight to be the much more involving and compelling film because it at least made me care for the characters and what they were fighting to unveil, as gut-wrenching (especially as a parent) as it was to watch at times.

In all, Spotlight is a fantastic film with an important story to tell, and it’s told brilliantly with a superb cast and outstanding performances. While I consider it a riveting drama that’s perhaps easier to admire than enjoy, that should not stop it from being regarded as one of the best films of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Shockingly, the last film Tom McCarthy wrote and directed was the Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler.

Movie Review: Birdman (2014)

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I was real amped up to see Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I had zero idea what it was about and had only seen the poster and flashes of the trailer — but I was convinced it would be brilliant from all the critical acclaim and award nominations. Even word-of-mouth reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with only one claim of apparent “pretentiousness.”

And so it saddens me to say I found Birdman a relative disappointment. It’s indeed a remarkable film that deserves the accolades — whether it is the stylish and complex direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu, the worthy Oscar-nominated performances of Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton, or the ridiculously impressive script (co-written by Iñárritu) — but the totality of the viewing experience felt ultimately hollow. It’s a technically amazing work of art that didn’t connect with me at a deeper level for whatever reason.

Birdman is a coal-black comedy; a filmmakers’ film for Hollywood and Broadway insiders. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former Hollywood star who once found fame as the masked superhero Birdman but now finds himself fading into obscurity in the internet age. To regain relevance and self-respect, he writes, directs and produces an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story — with himself in the lead role, of course — on Broadway. That’s the core of the film, though there are always subplots spiralling around him, from his feisty rehab-returned daughter (Emma Stone) and ex-wife (Amy Ryan) to his undermining new star recruit (Edward Norton) and occasional fling (Andrea Riseborough). Also in the all-star cast are Naomi Watts, playing a first-time Broadway performer, a slimmed-down and surprisingly serious Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s lawyer, and Lindsay Duncan as a theater critic out to get him. On top of all that, Riggan has his old character Birdman talking in his ear all the time, AND he might have actual superpowers.

It’s a delicious mess of interesting ideas and characters that moves around at neck-breaking pace, but the script and direction of Iñárritu manages to keep Birdman a very tight and controlled experience where everything is by design. One of the most noticeable things about the film is the deliberate lack of cuts. Apart from a few minor exceptions, most of the movie rolls along as though it was filmed in one long continuous take, with the camera moving around from one set piece to another and following one character after another. On the one hand it keeps the pace up and the action fluid without breaks, much like real life, while on the other it provides a nice contrast to the stage production depicted in the film. I was impressed by it (as I was when I saw Gravity the year before) and didn’t find it a distraction, though at times it felt like a decision intended to add to the “wow” factor of the film’s technical superiority as opposed to something that adds substance to the film’s narrative.

The film also weaves multiple ideas and techniques in a clever way by embracing traditional movie cliches — the aging actor’s last hurrah, the rebellious offspring, the egotistical performer trying to steal the limelight, the biased critic, etc — and putting a twist on it. The choice of Michael Keaton as Riggan/Birdman was obviously intentional, given that Keaton hasn’t exactly done much since he played another masked crusader all those years ago, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that Edward Norton was chosen to play an actor with a reputation of being difficult to work with. Yet both guys run with the roles and deliver arguably two of the best male performances of the year to nab well-deserved Oscar nominations.

With all these established names in the cast, it’s probably more difficult for the acting to be poor in this film than for it to be absolutely terrific, and even watching it you get the sense that the actors are having a lot of fun showing off what they can do.

I actually think Birdman is in some ways very similar to The Grand Budapest Hotel (review here), coincidentally another Best Picture nominee leading the Oscars pack with nine nominations. Both critically-acclaimed films are tightly wound and have bold, supremely confident scripts filled with rapid-fire dialogue that will probably be used as examples in screenwriter classes around the world. Both are also clever comedies, though the humour in Birdman is darker and more subtle.

Just like The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, I also found Birdman difficult to form an emotional connection with. In both cases I was in awe of the production — the script, the direction and the acting — and yet I wouldn’t consider either one as a film I loved, a profound experience, or something I would want to watch over and over again. To put it another way — I can point to truly great things about the films rather than point to the films as truly great. The individual components of Birdman are undoubtedly top-class, but the whole came across less than the sum of its parts. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Birdman or was not entertained by it, it’s just that I found myself more impressed by it than being genuinely fond of it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Need for Speed (2014)

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I love Aaron Paul, but I’m fairly certain I prefer him as a meth cook than a racing car driver.

Need for Speed (not the drug, of course, as Aaron Paul prefers blue meth), based on one of the most successful video game franchises of all-time, tells the story of Toby Marshall (Paul), a former professional racer who turns to tuning performance cars to make a living. Tragedy strikes, as it usually does, and Toby is made to suffer for it, but soon after he’s plotting his revenge. And that revenge somehow entails driving in a racing car across the country with an attractive British lass (Imogen Poots) while lots of people try to kill him.

Video game adaptations that aren’t utter crap are hard to come by these days, and I guess you could make an argument that Need for Speed is not utter crap. It’s certainly not great, and not even particularly good, but it’s passable entertainment. And its box office success (US$186 million on a US$66 million budget) means there could be more entries. That said, the status of Fast & Furious as the definitive Hollywood car racing franchise remains safe.

The most positive thing I can say about the film is that its driving sequences are done pretty well. I personally don’t care much about cars but even I have to admit that the vehicles look very pretty, and they look even prettier driving at 200+ miles per hour while weaving through traffic, escaping gunfire and evading the police. I didn’t see the film in IMAX or 3D, but I can imagine it being quite a visual feast (the IMAX at least, not so sure about the 3D).

Everything else is where I struggle to come up with positive things to say. The plot, of course, is preposterous. You know that just from the short description I gave above. None of it really makes any sense, and if you think about it too hard your brain might explode. Revenge through racing in an underground competition? — I still can’t get my head around it. The motivations of the characters and their reactions are all over the place, and it’s best if you try and treat it like a video game for the sake of your sanity.

Unlike the Fast & Furious franchise, the characters are bland. Even with an actor the calibre of Aaron Paul, the lead character of Toby Marshall is weak. There’s just nothing about him. The same can be said for everyone else, from Imogen Poots’s obvious love interest to the boring and one-dimensional villain played by Dominic Cooper. As for the radio DJ played by Michael Keaton, who spends the entire film commentating, I don’t even know what to say. It weirded me out, to be honest.

And that’s where the film falls apart — it’s inability to connect with audiences with anything other than action scenes. It sure tries, with plenty of attempts at “emotion” and a hefty running time of 130 minutes, which is just ridiculous, though ultimately there is nothing memorable about it. The really pathetic attempts at humour, even of the cheesy kind, also bothered me, though I was pleasantly surprised that they did not try to sexualise the movie with a lot of scantily-clad ladies or obligatory sex scenes, which I thought were a given in flicks about cool cars. On the other hand, there was no shortage of cringeworthy “whoa”, “yeah”, “cool”, “awesome” moments which I’m sure the younger (and dumber) generations will love.

Overall, more or less what I expected. Nice car racing scenes and a dash of Aaron Paul intensity, but that’s about all that’s got going for it.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: RoboCop (2014)

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Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, made back in 1987, is widely regarded as one of his best movies alongside 1990’s Total Recall and 1997’s Starship Troopers, all sci-fi action blockbusters featuring amazing special effects (for its time) and boasting a sharp satirical edge that made them unforgettable classics. Last year, Hollywood attempted to remake Total Recall (with Colin Farrell in Arnie’s old role) and it was an epic failure. Apart from improved special effects, every aspect of the new film, from the story to the characters to the action, was inferior. Most of all, the charm and wit of the original was all gone.

This year they’ve decided to remake RoboCop, with Brazilian Jose Padilha directing and largely unknown actor Joel Kinnaman (I only knew him as Oliva Munn’s boyfriend) in the title role and a bunch of big names from Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach!), Michael K Williams (Omar from The Wire!), Abbie Cornish and Jay Baruchel in the supporting cast. The result this time is a mixed bag. Some might call it a failure too, but there is no doubt that the remake of RoboCop is much much better than the remake of Total Recall.

This time, the story is set in the not-too-distant future (2028, I believe), when high-powered robots made by the wealthy OmniCorp have replaced soldiers in overseas territories with a US military presence. However, robot cops are still outlawed in the United States, OmniCorp’s largest potential market, thanks to a senator played by Zach Grenier (I know him as annoying partner David Lee on The Good Wife). To get around the legal restrictions, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) comes up with the idea of putting a disabled human in a robot, and that’s where Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a good cop on the verge of death after being betrayed by corrupt cops, comes in. This is all pretty obvious stuff.

The good news about this RoboCop reboot is that apart from the title, the name of the protagonist and a few key plot points, the film is very different to the original. After all, why remake a movie if it’s just going to be exactly the same? This RoboCop places more attention on the internal emotional struggles of Murphy than the original and spends a lot of time on the course of his development and the logistics of operation, most probably because a big star like Gary Oldman plays the scientist/doctor in charge of the project. In that sense, this RoboCop is a much more personal and serious film, though it doesn’t forget to pay homage to the original through some references such as suit and robot design.

The special effects are, needless to say, impressive, as you would expect from a 2014 film. The action scenes are also well done, though I had expected a little more innovation and creativity as the choreography was fairly standard and contained no particularly memorable sequences.

Joel Kinnaman is an interesting choice for Murphy (especially given that A-listers such as Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Keanu Reeves were considered). He seems tall but not really a leading-man type of guy, but neither was Peter Weller (the original). Like Weller though, Kinnaman does have a prominent jaw/lip area and that’s rather important as RoboCop spends a lot of his time with all but that part of his face covered. He doesn’t exude much charisma but does a solid job of playing both the cop and the RoboCop (ie, one with emotion and the other without). The jury’s still out as to whether he’s going to become a bigger star after this.

As for the supporting cast, Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton have the juiciest roles as the sympathetic doctor and the villainous CEO, while it was interesting to see the man who played Omar (Michael K Williams) play a cop instead of a crook. Aussie Abbie Cornish has a thankless role as the distressed and helpless wife, while Jackie Earle Haley is another interesting choice as the commander of the robots given his diminutive stature, but he more than makes up for it with his disturbing versatility. As for Samuel L Jackson, he was pretty much the same as always.

The main problem with the film is that it couldn’t exactly decide whether it wanted to be a serious film or be laced with satire like the original. I’m not saying that the remake had to take the same angle as Verhoeven’s version, and in fact I tend to prefer something fresh. This reboot starts with and features, sporadically, a series of TV segments hosted by Samuel L Jackson that are clearly intended to satirize America’s manipulative right wing TV shows (like those on Fox News). While these segments are semi-amusing and have strong political undertones (though they are nowhere near as good as those in Starship Troopers), they are also completely at odds with the tone and feel of the rest of the film, which is completely devoid of jokes, tongue-in-cheek one-liners and cheesy dialogue. It’s like they wanted to have fun and play it straight at the same time, and the result is confusing and renders the film frustratingly uneven.

I had high expectations for RoboCop and named it as one of my most anticipated movies of 2014 because I loved the 1987 original so much. It’s one of those movies I’ve seen heaps of times and will always keep watching if I happen to stumble across it on TV. I felt there was a lot they could have done with a remake given the advancements in modern technology and medicine since 1987. And I’m not just talking about special effects and character design either. They could have completely revamped the system, introduced some cool new stuff like innovative gadgets or vehicles which would make way for fresh action sequences that would override anything from the original. Instead, apart from showing us how efficient crime fighting would be with all the entire police database and CCTV camera footage in a cop’s head, the film fails to deliver any of those things. On a deeper level, I didn’t expect the remake to recapture the magic of the original, and I didn’t think it had to have the same satirical edge, but I had hoped that it would at least produce some of the same wit. Sadly, it didn’t do much of that either.

That said, if you take RoboCop 2014 as a standalone popcorn flick, it’s actually not bad — maybe even pretty good. The story is still cool, the cast is fantastic, the effects are great and the action is solid. I wasn’t anywhere near bored but neither was I thoroughly entertained like I hoped I would be. This remake is not a worthless one like Total Recall was, though it still missed an excellent opportunity to deliver something truly special.

3.25 stars out of 5

PS: Apparently a Starship Troopers remake is tentatively in the works. I can’t think of a film that needs a remake less than that one.

Movie Review: The Other Guys (2010)

I would say Will Ferrell‘s unique brand of humour is a combination of randomness, awkwardness and absolute stupidity.  When it works (and it sometimes does), it really works.  But when it doesn’t, it’s just tedious and unfunny.

In my opinion, The Other Guys is both the best and worst of Will Ferrell.  There are times when the film is genuinely hilarious, reminiscent of Ferrell at his best (think Anchorman), but when the jokes fall flat, there’s just no nice way to say it — it sucked.  Thankfully, I think the good outweighed the bad in this one by a not insignificant margin.  And that makes The Other Guys one of Will Ferrell’s better films.

The Other Guys is a buddy/cop comedy, what you could probably call a ‘spoof’.  Will Ferrell plays Allen Gamble, a ‘forensic accountant’ in the police department.  His partner is Terry Holtz (Mark Wahlberg) a highly capable detective who is stuck with Gamble due to an unfortunate incident 7 years ago that made him lose all credibility (it’s a ripper).  Together, they are the ‘other guys’ to the supercops in the department, played by Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson (ie the Rock).

Rounding out the impressive cast are Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes and Steve Coogan, and there are a number of cool cameos thrown in too.

Ferrell, as expected, was perfect for the role of the socially retarded Allen Gamble, but Mark Wahlberg was surprisingly good as his straight-faced partner.  Though they have personalities at opposite ends of the scale, the two characters have an authentic chemistry that provides plenty of laughs.

As usual, the trailers revealed way too many of the best jokes in the film — and the one thing with Will Ferrell’s comedy is that it’s never as good the second time around.  That said, there were still a number of random and bizarre but comically successful scenes that will no doubt please Ferrell fans.  As a bonus, the action sequences were quite decent too.  Unfortunately, as is often the case, many jokes (including some of the best ones) were milked way too far.  Let it go!  At times it was like beating a dead horse.  It was the most frustrating thing with an otherwise fairly good comedy.

2.5 stars out of 5