Tag Archives: Robert Downey Jr.

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man Homecoming

Aren’t we all sick to death of the Spider-Man origin story? You don’t need to be a comic book buff to know about the spider bite, Uncle Ben, and web-slinging. So when it was announced that the Spider-Man tale was going to be rebooted for the big screen yet again – for the third try in the past 15 years – I wouldn’t blame you if you audibly groaned. Of course, this time it was supposed to be different, because Spider-Man is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Still don’t really understand what that means, despite having seen about a dozen of the MCU films? Join the club.) But is Spider-Man: Homecoming really a significant departure from the past iterations of the story that are so fresh in our minds? Well, yes and no.

Mercifully, director Jon Watts (Cop Car) spares us the bulk of the origin story, instead joining Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in progress as Spidey. After getting a taste of the superhero life with the work he did in Captain America: Civil War, we now see him honing his skills. Itching to don the superhero suit at any opportunity and bumbling his way through stopping small-time crime, Peter is really just waiting for Tony Stark and the rest of the Avengers to call him up for the next mission. At the same time, being just 15 years old, Peter still has to navigate high school, which to him now seems like a total snooze in comparison. However, it’s not all bad, since he has best buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) and crush Liz (Laura Harrier) to help occupy his time.

This sets the scene for Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I was actually pleasantly surprised to see how much of the film focuses on the process of Peter coming into his own, both as a superhero and as a teenager. Nowhere to be found is the flashy, perfect badassery of the Avengers crew. Instead, Peter fumbles and gets in over his head, sometimes inadvertently causing more trouble than he prevents. He’s obviously got a lot of heart and skill, but he’s still finding his footing, and Spider-Man: Homecoming works best when it navigates that uncomfortable in-between phase – even down to the touch of showing the awkward process of trying to change from street clothes to a full-blown superhero costume in public. Superhero movies often struggle with humanizing their heroes without either making them seem weak or going the satirical route, a la something like Deadpool. Here, by contrast, I felt more invested in the character because he actually seemed fallible, and we get to see so many of his less glamorous moments.

This added dose of humanity also comes partly thanks to Holland, who balances the many character demands of Peter Parker. Charming and quick-witted, Holland can also bring a vulnerability that is refreshing to see in the MCU. This is underscored during a particular moment during the film’s climax, which (without heading into spoiler territory) finds Peter at an extreme low point. Holland plays the moment perfectly, as well as true to Peter’s age, and I also applaud Marvel for showing their protagonist react in an unexpected way that we haven’t necessarily seen in an MCU film before.

Despite these strengths, the film has its weaknesses, especially when wading into its big action set pieces. The action is just lacking the flow or even the comprehensibility seen in many other films of its ilk. For example, there is a sequence that takes place on the Staten Island Ferry that should have come across as inventive and exciting, but instead it becomes overly complicated trying to figure out the geography of where certain characters are. With some exceptions, many of the film’s big “action” moments lose their punch thanks to sub-par direction. This is perhaps the most compelling argument as to why Marvel should have invested in a director with more of a resume.

Fortunately, I guess, the film doesn’t overly rely on action to tell its story, and it has other strong aspects working in its favour, including the fact that they scored Michael Keaton to play a villain who actually has some substance. As well, the film’s humour and slightly shaggier feel make it feel like both a breath of fresh air, and like a film that could easily appeal to younger audiences in addition to the adult fanboys who have been breathlessly following the MCU from the start.

Those looking for a film to reinvent the superhero wheel won’t find it in Spider-Man: Homecoming, as it does for the most part tow the Marvel line. But by featuring such a youthful protagonist and focussing more on his struggles than his victories, this is a film with more heart than many of us have come to expect from the subgenre. While feeling oddly slight in some ways, Spider-Man homecoming is still a middle-of-the-pack entry in the MCU and makes for pleasant summer viewing at the multiplex.

2011 Oscar Post-Mortem

My predictions ended up with an iffy 14/24 accuracy. Not great, but adequate, I’d say. And am I disappointed that The Social Network lost to The King’s Speech? Yes, but it seems like my favourite movie of the year is always nominated, but never wins. But now to the telecast, which I thought, for the most part, was pretty enjoyable.

Highs

  • Anne Hathaway. She did a much better job hosting than I’d expected (here I was thinking that James Franco would be the one to liven things up…) Her boundless exuberance was just the remedy for a lagging, overly long ceremony (as the Oscars often are). She cheered, she sang, she poked fun at herself, and she had an endless array of gorgeous outfits.
  • The opening. Inception, The Social Network, True Grit, The King’s Speech, and Black Swan all received visits from Hathaway and Franco, and the cameos from Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman were nice touches.
  • The unending love for Hugh Jackman. He’s kind of become the new Jack Nicholson. He’s not nominated, he just sits there and smiles and has a good time. The presenters and winners seem happy to see him, and he becomes something of a touchstone for them to play off of.
  • James Franco’s grandma.
  • Kirk Dougals’ epic presentation for Best Supporting Actress.
  • Justin Timberlake’s riff on Kirk Douglas’ epic presentation.
  • Zachary Levi performing “I See the Light” from Tangled. Mandy Moore sounded great, too, but for someone who is not primarily a singer (I didn’t even know he could sing before Tangled), Levi came off as a total pro.
  • “That’s gross” – Cate Blanchett
  • Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s presentation for Best Visual Effects. Can they just get married already?
  • No clapping during the “In Memoriam” segment. Good call.
  • Sandra Bullock’s presentation to the Best Actor nominees. It was the perfect balance of wit and respect.

Lows

  • The auto-tuned “Year of the movie musical” segment that they created. The Twilight one was kind of amusing, but the others were lazy and tedious.
  • The framing of certain categories with clips from classic movies. It felt a bit forced and random to me, and seemed to unnecessarily lengthen the telecast.
  • Melissa Leo’s speech. Sorry, but I didn’t find it charming. It was kind of annoying and fake, in my opinion. She rambled, and the f-bomb wasn’t interesting.
  • Kind of: James Franco. He had some pretty funny moments (the white unitard, the Marilyn Monroe getup), but he generally seemed out of step with the rest of the ceremony. I don’t think that he was as terrible as some people are saying, but perhaps not the ideal host.
  • The finale. I feel like a heartless bitch, but dragging all those 5th graders up on stage just seemed like the most contrived, obvious finish the show could have gone for.
  • This is kind of a random note, but I would have liked to see a broader scope in terms of the films that they celebrated. Not even in terms of the winners, but just which films got shown/mentioned throughout the broadcast. There were two lengthy montages for the Best Picture nominees, but scarcely a glimpse of any other 2010 films. I get that the show is about the nominees and winners, but the Oscars should also be about celebrating the film industry in general. What about non-winners like The Town, Tron: Legacy, Shutter Island, Easy A, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kick-Ass, and Jack-Ass 3-D? They all found devoted fanbases and helped make 2010 the year that it was in film.

Best Speeches

  • Colin Firth (Best Actor, The King’s Speech). Always a class act. The wry humour was wonderful, and I love that he’s sang the praises of Tom Ford all season.
  • Natalie Portman (Best Actress, Black Swan). I liked that she thanked the behind-the-scenes people on set, as well as the people that helped her get where she is.
  • Lee Unkrich (Best Animated Picture, Toy Story 3). He gave a gracious, inspiring, economical, and eloquent speech.
  • Luke Matheny (Best Live Action Short Film, God of Love). Matheny probably never thought that his NYU school project would win an Oscar, and his surprise and exuberance was refreshingly sincere. It’s nice to see a “regular” person outside of the big Hollywood machine get recognition.

Best Red Carpet Fashion:

10 Unsung Performances of the 00’s

A few months back, I wrapped up my Best Performances of the Decade series. But while that list included a lot of familiar names and acclaimed performances, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the performances that not everyone has seen. This list contains no Oscar or Golden Globe nominated roles, and I’ve limited myself to performances that received little or no awards attention and were relatively overlooked by audiences (as much as I think that Jim Carrey, Peter Sarsgaard, and Rebecca Hall should’ve been nominated for Oscars, they did receive a considerable awards attention elsewhere for the roles in question, which disqualified them from the list). Here are ten unfairly under-recognized performances from the past decade, in alphabetical order.

Daniel Bruhl – Good Bye Lenin!

Inglourious Basterds may have introduced German actor Daniel Bruhl to a wider North American audience, but it’s 2003’s Good
Bye Lenin! that really showcases his skills. Bruhl’s charismatic performance carries the film, and he nails the sense of whimsy that permeates every scene. Heartbreaking at times and hilarious at others, Bruhl’s performance shows enough genuine charm to cross all language barriers.

Clifton Collins Jr. – Capote

Clifton Collins Jr. is a solid character actor who has lately been favouring tiny roles in big studio films (Star Trek, Brothers). But if there’s one film that proves why he should get bigger roles, it’s Capote. Playing one of the two murderers that Truman Capote investigated for In Cold Blood, Collins makes his character Perry disarmingly and chillingly sympathetic. Collins is every bit as good as lead Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the scenes that they share together are breathtakingly intimate.

Abbie Cornish – Bright Star

Abbie Cornish’s performance as Fanny Brawne, the young love interest of poet John Keats, is just as beautiful as the cinematography in Bright Star. She revels in Fanny’s feisty modernity, but also reflects the melancholy of her restrained life. As Fanny’s relationship with Keats evolves, so does Cornish’s performance – ranging from star-struck to distraught over the course of the film. It truly is a breath of fresh air.

Robert Downey Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

A favourite performance among his fans, Robert Downey Jr.’s work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proves why so many people love him. He’s hilarious, bumbling, and sexy as our protagonist and snarky narrator. Always a scene-stealer, Downey is the epitome of charisma here.

Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild

Previously best known for his work in the teen sex romp The Girl Next Door, Emile Hirsch stunned audiences with his raw performance in Sean Penn’s directorial debut, Into the Wild. Playing a young man who gives up his material possessions and sets out for the Alaskan wilderness, Hirsch is often the only person on screen throughout the film’s 2.5 hour running time. Hirsch takes what could have been a purely preachy character and injects a sense of vulnerability that makes his optimism admirable. He’s entirely charismatic and compelling.

Jared Leto – Requiem for a Dream

Ellen Burstyn received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her work in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, but the unsung MVP of the film is Jared Leto. Leto’s strangely iconic turn as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life coupled with his foray into emo music has made him something of a critical punching bag, but he proves what an amazing actor he can be here. Much like the film itself, Leto’s performance as Harry is dark and harrowing. It easily could have become caricature, but his performance as a drug-addled optimist cuts right to the bone.

Daniel Day-Lewis – The Ballad of Jack and Rose

As one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, it’s surprising to see how often Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in The Ballad and Jack and Rose is overlooked. It may not be as “big” as some of the other performances that he gave in the past decade, but Lewis’ work here is just as good as anything else he’s done. Playing a quietly desperate, confused man, Lewis’ performance is heartbreaking and unforgettable.

Guy Pearce – Factory Girl

Always a chameleon, Guy Pearce’s turn as the legendary Andy Warhol is uncanny. To me, the entire film is underrated, but Pearce’s performance is certainly the highlight of Factory Girl. The character is often downright unlikeable, and Pearce’s snarky screen presence is striking.

Sam Rockwell – Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell is an actor who is just starting to get the recognition that he deserves, and it’s easy to see why with a film like Snow Angels. David Gordon Green’s story of small-town tragedy is disturbingly beautiful, and Rockwell is stunning as a recovering-alcoholic-turned-evangelist. The film’s bombastic final moments are only amplified by the quiet, desperate journey that Rocwell’s performance takes us on.

Mark Ruffalo – You Can Count On Me

You Can Count on Me is a film that I recently caught up with, and while it provided my favourite Laura Linney performance to date, the real stand-out for me was Mark Ruffalo. His character is an insufferable screw-up, yet rather than making him a downbeat loser, Ruffalo revels in his messiness and makes him a purely charming, memorable guy. There are no big “cinematic” moments in the film, but this allows Ruffalo to give an all-around great performance, rather than relying on select scenes to stand out.

Honourable Mentions

Samantha Morton – Control

Michael Angarno – Snow Angels

Ryan Gosling –The United States of Leland

Keri Russell – Waitress

Jason Bateman – Juno

Benicio Del Toro – Thing We Lost in the Fire

Trailer Alert: Due Date

 In today’s second Zach Galifianakis movie trailer premiere, we get a first look at Todd Phillips’ Due Date.

With two naturally hilarious leads, Due Date does looks suitably funny. A few moments in the trailer made me laugh (“Hand me that dog, I will rip it in half”), but overall I was a little underwhelmed. Galifianakis seems to be playing a nearly identical character to Alan in The Hangover (Phillips’ previous directorial effort), and it sort of looks like that film, but with a dog instead of a baby. It looks funny, and I will automatically watch it because Robert Downey Jr. is in it, but it all feels a bit too familiar.

Is Young Talent Being Wasted on Superhero Movies?


I like a good superhero movie as much as the next person. I really liked the first two Spider-Man and X-Men movies, and The Dark Knight even found its way into my top 10 movies of the decade list. But I feel like we’re getting a huge overkill of suited-up action capers. Now we’re even getting superhero franchise reboots within five years of each other, and a lot of Hollywood’s most promising young stars are suiting up.

The cast of X-Men: First Class is coming together nicely. James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement) is playing a young Professor Xavier, while Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Inglourious Basterds) will play his nemesis, Magneto. And just today, it was announced that Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man, About a Boy) will be taking on the role of Beast, while Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) is rumoured to be playing a young Cyclops. As much as I like all four actors, I feel like the X-Men movie franchise wore out its welcome a while ago. X-Men: The Last Stand (if only it had lived up to its title) was borderline awful, and last year’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine felt totally unnecessary.

The same goes for news of the Spider-Man reboot, which will star Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). As well, Chris Evans (who is no stranger to superhero movies) will be taking on Captain America, with An Education‘s Dominic Cooper joining the supporting cast.

But I suppose most actors try the mainstream at some point in their career, if they can. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor known for his decidedly smaller film choices, is making his way to IMAX screens with his work in Inception, and his upcoming roles in thrillers Premium Rush and Looper.

To be clear, I don’t blame any young actor for taking a role in a big-budget movie. The goal is to get your name out there and increase your paycheck, and starring in films like Boy A and Rory O’Shea Was Here for the rest of your life is hardly the best way to accomplish that. But as I see more and more of my favourite young actors sign on to these superhero romps, I can’t help but feel slightly disheartened. As great of an opportunity as a big role in a summer blockbuster can be, I feel like a lot of these actors were already on the rise. And maybe I just take my movies to seriously, but I’d much rather see talented actors in roles that push them and evoke emotion from me. Even when I see Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, which is undeniably fun, I kind of just wish that I was watching him in a different movie, instead. It’s not so much that I’m blaming the actors for taking the roles (because, really, who could resist?), it’s more that I’m getting sick of superhero/comic book adaptations.

**(Side Note: Now that I think about it, perhaps the parade of highly-coifed photos at the top of this post, while quite enjoyable, doesn’t really fit with my plea to respect acting skill over marketability… But that doesn’t mean I’m going to ditch the eye candy any time soon.)