Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) – Strong Villain With a Promise for the Next Phase

   “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was a really good film. It is easily the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film of 2019. Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal have great chemistry together as Spider-Man and Mysterio and there are some really great twists. This film also has two great after-credits scenes and some of the best action in any of the films in the MCU. If you are a fan of the MCU or this version of Spider-Man from “Homecoming,” I strongly recommend you check it out. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

The film was directed by Jon Watts and written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers.

The story takes place after “Endgame” and involves Peter and his class taking a trip to Europe. While there Elementals attack and Nick Fury commissions Peter Parker as they work with Mysterio to take on the Elemental threat.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – This film has better action than  “Homecoming” though “Homecoming” has a better emotional core in regards to Parker’s friends. This is a movie that fully embraces the action and that is both a pro and  a con and for me the pro won out. We see giant monsters facing off against Spider-Man and Mysterio using Venice or Prague as the places where the battle is taking place. The action has consequences and you get why Peter chooses the choices he does. You see how Spider-Man is usually fighting losing battles and it is only through his mind and cleverness that he pulls a win out of potential losses.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – S.H.I.E.L.D. is screwed after the “Blip” (the 5 year gap between “Infinity War” and “Endgame”). Fury admits he doesn’t know the state of the world and that most of the heroes are gone, which lets Mysterio step and Spider-Man being forced to step-up. I love the how they are still a threat and undercover but also are secret agents acting with limited information, which ends up paying off later.

The Blip – “The Blip” is the five  year gap between “Infinity War” and “Endgame” and here it is recognized and played for laughs sorrows. It is played for laughs as in a band concert has people pop in on the same day and cause chaos and sorrow in that Aunt May and Spider-Man are raising money for the homeless blipped. The fact that half the population was gone for five years has consequences and Spider-Man knows that better than anyone.

Mysterio – Gyllenhaal carries so much of this film as Quentin Beck / Mysterio. He relates to Peter enough to give up his gift and we see him willing to risk it and all and even win when he loses. Mysterio was the engineer who invented the holograms that Tony Stark used for therapy in “Civil War.” Out of resentment of Tony naming his technology B.A.R.F. he finds others who were wronged by Tony in the past and together they create Mysterio. He is such a fun threat and you can see why he is angry and that he does want to be a hero, even though his way of going about it is villainous. He is easily one of the best Spider-Man live action film villains. His final revenge is brilliant, which is a pro I list later.

Spider-Man / Tom Holland – Tom Holland is amazing as Spider-Man. In this we see the core “With great power comes great responsibility” when Tony Stark gives him the A.I. E.D.I.T.H. The Network controls drones and satellites all over the world and is used through a pair of glasses. At one point Peter nearly gets his classmates killed and after he gives Mysterio E.D.I.T.H. When he finally realizes his mistakes and goes to face Mysterio he is nearly broken and it is only through working with Happy that he is able to finally defeat Mysterio. The lesser plot is his crush on MJ. They do end up together but it is one of the weaker parts of the film.

The End Credits Reveals – There are 2 end-credits scenes and both are great. The first involves a deep fake video from Mysterio’s organization that has Mysterio reveal to the world that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and that he was responsible for the drones and that Mysterio was trying to stop him. This was made even more powerful by J.K. Simmons being back as J. Jonah Jamison who in the MCU is an Alex Jones reporter type. It is such a great scene. Simmons owns this role and the MCU was smart to pull him into their version of the character.

The second film reveals that Nick Fury and Anita Hill were Talos and a Skrull the entire time. He calls Nick Fury and it is revealed that Fury is with the Skrulls in space. Both endings give so much possibilities for the next phase in the MCU. It also explains why S.H.I.E.L.D. had limited information. They were aliens who didn’t know the modern Earth after “The Blip.” The first after-credits scene is stronger but I loved them both.

 

Okay: MJ – Zendaya is a great actress but her character doesn’t do much in this beyond being a love interest. She finds out who Spider-Man is over the course of the school trip and her and Peter end up together. Overall her character is okay in this, which is a shame as she was great in “Homecoming.” They should not have put MJ in the “Love Interest” box. I wish that there had been potential for romance but Peter’s responsibility pulling him back from that, given Mysterio’s plans and what happens after.

Aunt May and Happy – This is an awkward romance that is also mostly played for laughs due to how it makes Peter feel. It wasn’t bad but it was screen-time that could have gone to developing MJ as a character, more about life after “the blip” or more Mysterio time. It wasn’t bad but it could have been cut.

The Cons:

The Teachers – The Teachers are played for jokes and really lame. I wish they weren’t so much at the front of the film. Their humor is awkward and they cause a clash of tones with how serious the main Mysterio plot is. The jokes at times are sitcom level bad and we aren’t given a reason to care about either. The rival had better development for me and he was still a con.

The Rival Brad – Peter has a rival in this film, his name is Brad and he is weak. He takes away from MJ’s development and feels tacked on. We at least get some recognition of “The Blip” where it sounds like he was Freshman before and now he is a Senior but it is only briefly touched upon. If they plan to make him a venom, that might work but only as finding his own self worth. Brad only exists as an outcropping of Peter’s insecurities which doesn’t develop MJ. The character was pretty forgettable and I would have traded his role for more screen-time for Peter’s friends or Mysterio and his organization.

This is a film that could have been great. You have a compelling villain, romance and Peter Parker growing but it having consequences. So why do I not see this film higher? This was easily the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film but that doesn’t give it a pass. This isn’t “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” or “Infinity War.” I really like this version of Peter Parker and what the MCU has done with him. He isn’t in personal stakes like Morales and his Uncle but the personal wishes versus responsibility are still key. Mysterio lets him give up responsibility and he pays the price for it at the end. That is is quintessential Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I really enjoyed this film and I think any Spider-Man fan will enjoy it immensely. This is a film that Holland and Gyllenhaal could have carried on their own.

Final Score: 8.9 / 10

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019): A Film With no Likable Characters

Velvet Buzzsaw Cast & Character Guide | ScreenRant

     There aren’t many great “Netflix” films and this film continues that. I like that we are getting all these new original and oftentimes experimental films but so often these films have characters that are completely unlikable or a plot reveal that just isn’t scary or says anything. All these cons are things that “Velvet Buzzsaw” suffers from. This is a film that had so much potential (premise of haunted artwork is just cool) but it is a film that I would not recommend. The premise and initial tension are the only things holding this film up.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” was directed and written by Dan Gilroy.

The story follows art critic Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose lover Josephina (Zawe Ashton) discovers many paintings from her deceased neighbor Vetril Dease. When she steals them and the exhibit picks them up strange things begin happening around the Studio which leads to Morf investigating as his life begins to fall apart.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of haunted paintings is really neat. What if the images could come to life and get you? It is a creepy concept because art is everywhere and in this instance all it takes is the paint spreading for the horror to travel to other things that would be in an art studio giving haunted abstract art or bringing speaking robots to life. This concept done right could easily become a favorite horror film for me, this is not that film.

The Tension – The tension is one of the few good things that works in this film. Weird things happen and people start dying leading to it continuing to build. The problem is by the time the final comes around it doesn’t matter how good the tension is because none of the characters matter. They are all terrible people so you have no reason to hope they survive the scenes that build up to deaths.

The Cons:

The Characters – The characters are why this movie sucks. The premise works, the tension works but the characters are awful and even if they were wrote that way, they should at least be directed to be sympathetic. By the end of the film I hated all of them and because of it I didn’t care what happened to them so the basic horror premise became meaningless. If you have a cast full of characters and them dying is what is raising the stakes, than you have to be given a reason to care about said characters. Not a single one of these characters were sympathetic. They were all selfish and back stabbing and those who could have been sympathetic never got properly developed.

I really can’t recommend this film. I’m picky with what horror movies I watch and this film is a great example of why. I need to care about characters or else jump scares and tension building means absolutely nothing. Again, I didn’t hate this film as the concept and the tension were done well, but a story with no compelling characters is a story I will never recommend to anyone. This is a Netflix original film that really isn’t worth your time. Like many Netflix films I wish there was more to say, but it is hard to do so when the film itself says and means nothing.

Final Score: 4 / 10

 

Okja (2017): Where Miyazaki Meets Horror

  “Okja” is a strange and wonderful film. This is a film that starts like a Miyazaki film and ends like horror movie and inbetween tries to political satire and be an all around adventure story. Did it work? Enough to the point that I did enjoy this film and recommend it. Netflix is getting better at putting out quality original work and this is a shining example of a great film of theirs that shows the streaming platform (and often times going cheap) can work for quality original works.

The film was directed by Bong Joon-Ho who co-wrote it along with Jon Ronson.  Bong Joon-Ho also was one of the seven producers on the film. The others were Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Dooho Choi, Seo Woo-Sik and Ted Sarandos.

The story involves the Mirando Corporation sending lab designed super pigs around the world to be raised by farmers in the best Pig Competition, where the winner will be crowned in 10 years. During that time Okja, one of the pigs is raised by Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her Grandfather (Byun Hee-Bong). When the corporation returns and takes Okja Mija goes on a journey to save her friend and fights herself being manipulated by different political factions who want to use Okja to their own ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Flawed Characters and Ego – Most of the minor characters in this are compelling in the ways their egos and drive them and make them flawed. There is Jay the leader of the Animal Liberation Front who believes in consent but ignores it for the overall aims in the end, there is Lucy Miranda who wants to make her company better than it is but not face the darker side of the slaughter house and there is the Grandfather who wants his granddaughter to have success but in the end misses how important Okja is to her. These characters make the narrative interesting.

Magical Realism – Giant Pigs created in a lab transported around the world for a Best Pig competition that will take place 10 years later, and one of them is raised by a little girl in the mountains…it is right out of a Miyazaki film and was part of what made this film so fun. I’ve always loved the fantasy in magical realism and this film captures that really well.

A Critique of Ideology over People – Both the ALF and Mirando Corp don’t care about people, only ideology. We see this in how Lucy’s sister turns on her, on the lying that K and Jay both do to Mija in order to serve their overall goals and in the end the hero of this film has no ideology and just wants to be with her pig Okja. This is the core theme of the piece and from that do good where you can as you are and don’t let ideology consume you.

The Cruelty of Factory Farms – The film is extremely against factory farming and you get to see all the parts of it as the Super Pigs get slaughtered and how their different parts go to the different areas of the supermarket. Mija sees this first hand at the end and it is really well done…this is when the film turns into a horror film as we see it all through Mija’s and Okja’s eyes.

The Cons: The Satire – The Corporation doesn’t feel like it is full of people and the ALF is so disconnected and all over the place that they are hard to take seriously as a force. This really brings down the satire as our villains become a bit too cartoonish, which hurts the satirical argument in play.

This is a flawed film that also manages to just be great. Certain characters feel like caricatures (the Mirando Corporate characters as a whole (except maybe Lucy) and some of the Animal Liberation Front Members) but this didn’t bring down my overall enjoyment film. This film is solidly great and now that I’ve watched this and “Snowpiercer,” I can’t wait to see what director Bong Joon-Ho does next.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Nightcrawler (2014): The Perfect Job for a Sociopath

nightcrawler-2014-film-poster

    “Nightcrawler” is a wonderfully disturbing film within the same vein as “American Psycho” and “The Good Shepard,” where we follow the rise of a broken person who is unable to relate to others and is a textbook sociopath. It really is fantastic and worth taking a look at. I’ll get into what made it so good in the assessment.

    “Nightcrawler” was directed and written by Dan Gilroy and produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, Tony Gilroy, Jennifer Fox, David Lancaster and Mitchel Litvak.

    The story revolves around Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an employed man who steals from a construction site and kills and steals the watch of the security guard who discovers him. He tries to get a job with the construction company he is selling to the stolen goods too but is unsuccessful but when he stumbles upon a crash and a nightcrawler recording the event for money for the local news, Lou sells his stolen goods to enter into the business. From here the story unfolds as he gets more obsessed in the creation of the narratives and is his disregard for life beyond a tool to climb the ladder is made more apparent. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is amazing! It keeps the dark feel and captures the world through Lou’s eyes. Events also feel raw too as we see what he sees through the eyes of a camera so the scenes create another form of tension that way. Robert Elwist did great.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has a dark tone and feel to it and pervades a sense of danger. In that way it is almost a direct expression of Lou who we come to realize is pretty dangerous in how he knows how to push peoples’ buttons and manipulate them to his own ends and power. James Newton Howard was the right guy for this soundtrack.

Okay/Con: The Minor Characters – Because this movie is through Lou’s eyes we don’t really get to know the side characters that well. We only know them as much as they matter to Lou, which narratively makes sense but I think also shows how this was Gilroy’s first time writing as well as directing so characters like the first Nighcrawler Lou meets could have been explored or the guy on the news who works with Nina but never fully goes against her. They feel lost because they don’t matter to Lou. I also feel this applies to the detective as she only functions as an antagonizing force and not a character in her own right.

Nina – Nina is a cutthroat anchor on the vampire shift of the news and is willing to do anything to get ratings up. She’s a fascinating character as the only one we see push her buttons is Lou who at one point blackmails her into sex because he wants sex and feels set on money. It’s a creepy scene and she fights how she can but in the end he knows her too well. She’s older so we get that from experience she’s gotten cynical where she only wants stories that feed the narrative of “Crime is creeping into the suburbs.” When a home invasion happens she takes that story that Lou records and hides the truth showing in the end she’s as ruthless as Lou as she doesn’t morn Rick’s death except in how it tells a good story and feeds the narrative. Rene Russo is fantastic. Her base philosophy is, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Rick – Is a young man desperate for money who Lou preys on for most of the film. It isn’t until the end when Rick begins standing up for himself that it looks like things might change as he could tell the police everything. Sadly he never gets the chance as the story goes south and he gets shot down by one of the home invaders in the street. He was the only one holding Lou accountable and calling him out for his inhumanity…but he gets nothing for it. Riz Ahmed plays this role really well as a man who is at first desperate live and later desperate for respect and for his own morality.

Lou Bloom – This is one of the best roles I’ve seen Jake Gyllenhaal in. He plays the person who doesn’t understand emotions or empathy well and is always wearing a face. Desperation drives the character initially, but once he’s in control it becomes about keeping that control. From blackmailing Nina for sex, to blackmailing Rick for not resisting the job or hiding evidence from the cops so he can paint his own narrative and story that he knows he’ll profit from. He’s creepy and a clear sociopath but a fascinating character to watch. I kept waiting for the fall that never came, which would be the one thing I’d change. We never saw him with his back against the wall which I think hurt the script and knowing his character. Still a fantastic job on Gyllenhaal’s part.

The Ending – Lou is a successful businessman. I didn’t buy this given the detective suspected him and I fully expected the police to do more to stop him creating stories even if they didn’t have any proof. In this way the ending felt hollow. It wasn’t bad persay since it showed how empty the promises to his employees were given what happened with Rick getting killed but it served no purpose the way the ending to “American Psycho” did where we don’t know what’s real but we know what he’s capable of now.

    This was a really good film, but not a favorite. The tone, setting and music are all done really well…but I didn’t care about the minor characters and I wanted someone to fight and hold Lou accountable. He faced resistance at the beginning, but once he started to rise he never stopped, we never saw him fall. When every good protagonist needs a fall, especially one as despicable as Lou. I liked this movie and would recommend it though. It’s worth checking out and even though it’s not a favorite it is worth the time to see it.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10. Solidly good and a great first film for Dan Gilroy.