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Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Movie Review


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Spider-Man Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot riding on it. Billed as a coming-of-age story constructed in the vein of a 1980s John Hughes movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming is also the first joint venture between Sony and Marvel with Marvel controlling the content of the film. It brings Spider-Man firmly under the control of Marvel Studios and fully into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is intended to re-launch perhaps the most famous Marvel Comics character into a series of successful solo movies.

It is likely to succeed very well in this ambition.

The best – the very best – thing Spider-Man: Homecoming has going for it is star Tom Holland. Marvel movie fans got a taste of the actor in Captain America: Civil War when he joined the super hero clash and the screen lit up whenever Holland was on it. Pitch perfect in that movie, the actor is even more appealing here in his solo venture. Following two very good performances as Spider-Man (in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield), Holland had a bit to live up to as he stepped into the high tech tights. He is more than up to the challenge. In fact, for my money, he is the best of the bunch. That is saying something as the others were very good themselves.

Tom Holland makes the movie work. Though he is surrounded by wonderful actors (all the students in the movie are terrific, especially Zendaya as Michelle and Jacob Batalon as Ned), his energy outshines them all. This is quite a feat when considering Michael Keaton and Robert Downey, jr (not to mention Jon Favreau) are all on hand. Keaton and Downey, jr as as one would expect, both fully committed to their roles as the antagonist The Vulture and the mentor Iron Man respectively. Keaton, in fact, is a far more fully developed villain than we have come to expect from most Marvel movies and Downey, jr is so good as Tony Stark that it is difficult to determine where the character stops and the actor starts.

A common issue with these movies is that they try to do a bit too much, and Spider-Man: Homecoming suffers a bit from this malady. I loved the cameos (especially the one at the end!) but are they critical to the film? There are some nice set pieces, though some of the action sequences are fairly muddy in their execution. The entire side trip to Washington, DC seems excessive and unnecessary. It seems to me that everything that scene accomplishes could be handled in New York which is where the character belongs. But Spider-Man: Homecoming is Holland’s movie and, while it is not a perfect film, Holland makes up for all of these shortcomings and then some.

Beyond casting Holland, the filmmakers make two important decisions for Homecoming. First, they do not re-tell the origin of the character. Been there. Done that, thank you very much. Second, they put Peter Parker in high school. Spider-Man has always worked best as a teenager going through the struggles of coming-of-age. This Spider-Man has girl troubles, homework and a curfew (that he regularly breaks). He is trying to understand who he is and what he can do. He is carving out his place in the world and the movie does a terrific job with that arc.

Here is a Spider-Man that changes over the course of the film. Here is a Spider-Man that is funny and engaging. Here is a Spider-Man that is not driven by angst (the best versions of the character are not). Here is a Spider-Man that simply wants to be heroic.

Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds in evoking a feel of high school movies of the past (think The Breakfast Club but Anthony Michael Hall with superpowers). It succeeds in incorporating the character into the fuller Marvel Universe. It succeeds in launching this version of the character. It succeeds in being a fun, summer entertainment and places itself firmly on the list of very good – not great – Marvel movies.

In many ways, it does feel like Spider-Man has come home.

 

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING receives FOUR AND A HALF (because Holland is just SO good) FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOODS out of a possible FIVE.

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The Theory Of Everything – A Movie Review

TheoryWell made, well acted, well shot, The Theory of Everything is everything an audience could want from a bio-pic. The story of Stephen Hawking’s marriage to his first wife, The Theory of Everything is a wonderful film. Strengthened by two Oscar nominated performances by Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane, his first wife, the movie transports the audience into these character’s lives and worlds. James Marsh has created a lovely film and the beauty of the movie stands somewhat in contrast to the sadness of the subject mater.

Most people going into The Theory of Everything know the basics of Stephen Hawking’s story. Affected by a particularly rare strain of ALS, Hawking found himself confined – all but motionless – to a wheel chair when he was a very young man. That his plight didn’t stop him from becoming – arguably – the most famous scientist of the 20 and early 21st centuries is an amazing feat. Amazing, too, is the fact that his personal life – his romance with and marriage to Jane – survived much of his physical deterioration. There is a message in The Theory of Everything about love triumphing over these kinds of incredible odds, and it’s a good message. There’s also a message that people in love can only bear so much before love starts to strain.

When their relationship begins to break down, it is heart wrenching. Redmayne and Jones created such a believable union that its dissolution is quite affecting. There is a reason they were both nominated for Academy Awards. It is obvious the two understand and love each other and it is precisely because of their understanding that they know when their marriage is over. No shouting, no histrionics. Just an end. I didn’t need more of their disagreements to comprehend they’d come to the end of the line and the film wisely doesn’t include them.

What I would have liked to have seen more of is the conflict that Hawking and Jane had over religion. In reading about their real story, The Cinnamon Girl discovered that this disagreement between them led to argument after argument and, while the movie doesn’t live and die with Hawking’s scientific theories – a good choice as I (and, I assume, much of the audience) would have been lost by them – it would have been interesting to watch these two spar over this most important distinction. Jane was a devout believer in God. Hawking was not. This is an interesting area to explore. Marsh’s movie doesn’t go that way, and that’s fine, but I, for one, would have enjoyed the conversation.

Felicity Jones is wonderful as Jane Hawking. She’s sympathetic. She’s devoted to her husband and her children (for most of the movie… more on that later) and Jones manages to convey both of these important aspects of Jane while also creating her as a character distinct from these roles. As she begins to fall for Johnathan Jones (played sheepishly by Charlie Cox who’s going to be very familiar to audiences when he stars as Daredevil in April’s Netflix series) – a man who comes into the Hawkings’ lives to assist them – Jones lets the audience feel her attraction and her pain. Her chemistry with Redmayne is terrific but Jane exists as equal to him and the fact that she’s able to create such a memorable character in opposition to Redmayne’s more showy role says a lot about her performance.

Eddie Redmayne is the only nominated actor that might give Michael Keaton a run for his money for the Best Actor prize. Engaging out of the wheelchair and in it, Redmayne creates a complete character and one who become even more compelling when he loses the ability to speak and to move. I believe the real Stephen Hawking must have an incredible sense of humor based on Redmayne’s portrayal. There is a glimmer in his eye and always a wry smile on his face. When the movie gives in to an inevitable flashback sequence and we see Redmayne as the young and healthy Hawking, we can really see what Redmayne has accomplished.

It is difficult for the movie to escape on fact, though: the story itself struck me as a most depressing one. Though Hawking overcomes his physical aliments intellectually, and though the title cards at the end of the movie indicate something of a happy life for both he and Jane after the final reel unspools, the fact remains that this is a sad story and one made all the more sad by how good the movie is. In the hands of lesser talents – on both sides of the camera – I would have cared a little less about the characters and the outcome. As it stands, I cared a lot. And I felt a lot, too.

If there is a flaw in the movie it’s this: what happened to the kids? When they are inconvenient for the action of the movie, the film seems to cavalierly forget about them. They disappear for large tracts of the end of the movie. That’s a pretty big miss for a film like this.

However, James Marsh can be forgiven here because the totality of the movie is just so overwhelmingly beautiful. The Theory of Everything is sometimes breathtaking in its composition, often heartbreaking in its story and truly a remarkable film.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING receives FOUR AND A HALF BLACK HOLES out of a possible FIVE.

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And There Came 2015 Oscar Predictions! Best Actor

Over the course of this week leading up to the 87th Annual Academy Awards, And There Came A Day will look at the major categories and make predictions of the winners!

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TODAY’S CATEGORY:

BEST ACTOR

NOMINEES:

  • Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

PREDICTED WINNER – Michael KeatonBirdman

Michael-Keaton-Birdman-interview

This is a tough category for a number of reasons.

First, the personal: I found Benedict Cumberbatch breathtaking in The Imitation Game (which I reviewed HERE). From the moment his opening voice over intoned “Are you paying attention?” I was. Complete and utter attention. His performance as Alan Turing didn’t let up for the entire film and I truly loved it. I think he’s great in everything he does. But he’s not generated much Oscar buzz and I think the nomination is going to have to be prize enough.

Second, the obvious: Steve Carell showed everyone he can ACT. He is so unrecognizable from his iconic turn as Michael Scott on The Office that it’s truly amazing. More obviousness: we’ve known for a long time that Bradley Cooper can ACT! His role in American Sniper is so good it’s documentary quality. There’s no Bradley Cooper there, there’s only Chris Kyle. Those things being said, neither actor seems like the choice this year. They’ll have more chances.

The race is between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton.

Redmayne is truly excellent as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. As the character is less able to speak, Redmayne’s performance only gets better. He paints a convincing portrait of the famous physicist and a heartbreaking one at that. This is the kind of performance the Academy loves.

But Michael Keaton is the kind of performer the Academy LOVES to love. Though he’s not quite old enough to have turned in a career-capping performance (don’t we all hope we’re about to have a Michael Keaton renaissance?) his work in Birdman (a movie I didn’t really love – you can read why HERE) showcases and actor at the top of his game. He is both heart and soul of the film and he turns himself inside out during the course of it. Keaton’s story will win voters’ hearts and the others in this category will have many more shots at the gold.

It’s Batman… er… Birdman’s year!

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Birdman – A Movie Review

birdmanThe subtitle of the movie Birdman is The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance and I know that I would have liked this movie better if I had remained more ignorant of it and had never seen it.

Allow me to explain: I become readily and foolishly frustrated by any movie which I perceive is saying to its audience “Figure me out. Do you have the smarts to understand me? Can you ‘get’ me?”

Birdman, I give up. I don’t “get” you, I couldn’t understand you and, by the end of the movie, I didn’t care whether I could figure you out or not.

I didn’t like Birdman. At all. If you’ve read this review this far, I know you’ve already caught that point. The movie should be admired for much: its performances, its direction, the manner in which it evokes New York City, the emotions it displays and more. I recognize that. It just wasn’t for me.

Birdman is a brilliantly directed film. Alejandro González Iñárritu knows how to make a movie, that much is clear. He creates a world that may-or-may-not exist (because I think the entire movie might all take place in the mind of main character Riggan Thompson, but, guess what? I couldn’t figure out if that was the point or not) but is absolutely seamless. Staging the film to make it appear as if it was one continuous shot was an amazing choice. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another film attempt this. It was audacious and worked well with the claustrophobic nature of the story.  Iñárritu also balances the real world of New York City (and there is a pretty incredible moment staged in Times Square that will make you think “how did he do that?”) with the bizarre world of Riggan Thompson’s mind ably, alternating readily between them. He maintains a fairly regimented approach with this conceit right up to the end of the movie, which I felt violated any internal logic that he’d created, but, again, I am not smart enough to figure this thing out. I am smart enough to say this was an amazingly directed movie that got the most out of its actors.

Michael Keaton, on the road to an award for Best Actor I think, plays Riggan Thompson, a sixty-something actor who starred in two massively successful superhero movies in the 1990s. He’s trying to revitalize his career by staging and starring in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver short stories.  Raymond Carver? Wow, this movie must be deep. I wish I understood it! Anyway, Thompson is battling a number of personal demons – his daughter is a recovering drug addict and his personal assistant, his lover reveals she’s pregnant, his ex-wife is hanging around his theater, he’s lost a lead in his play and hired a psychotic for a replacement and he feels that the world is laughing at him. Oh, and he’s hearing the voice and seeing the persona he used to play on screen – Birdman – and Birdman isn’t very nice. Keaton, whom I’ve always loved, is very, very good and deserving of his Best Actor nomination. He is the center of the film, present in almost every scene. If we don’t care about him as he falls to pieces, there is no movie at all. We do care about him and that’s a credit to the actor because the character is all-over-the-place. Is he dreaming? Is he psychotic? Does he have superpowers? Keaton plays all of this well and it’s clear from his performance that Thompson doesn’t really know what’s going on in his own head, either.

Other actors could have played this role, but only Keaton, with his Batman background, bring a meta-level of awareness to the part. He’s perfectly cast.

Emma Stone, as his daughter, and Edward Norton, as the obnoxious and, potentially, dangerous actor that Thompson hires to replace his lost lead are very good as well. Both are nominated for Oscars, and they should be. Stone is broken and angry and vulnerable throughout the movie and I got senses, at various times, that she was going to be Thompson’s salvation. Norton is crazy and macho and incredibly self-important (perhaps, Keaton-like, playing upon his own real-life persona) and his scenes with Keaton really crackle. Zach Galifinakis is on hand and more than competent in a role that asks him to tone down the zaniness we’ve come to expect from him and Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts and Andrea Risenborough acquit themselves well, too. Clearly Iñárritu can bring out the best in his casts.

So, with great direction and great performances, what didn’t I like? Everything else. I knew what type of movie this was and I tried to follow it. I tried to be prepared for a certain level of pretension (check!), for unlikable characters in unpleasant situations (check!) and for an ending that would be anything but uplifting (check!… er… wait, was it uplifting?!?). But I found Birdman to be an incredibly well made, well acted morass which said “figure out my message – it’s a GOOD one!”

I couldn’t figure out the message. Between monologues about the meaning of life and the National Geographic shots I never figured out, I lost interest in trying… and this was before the ending which I found utterly confounding.

Birdman is a good movie. It’s simply not for me.

BIRDMAN receives TWO GROWLING INSULTS out of a possible FIVE.

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And There Came Academy Awards Season

The 87th Annual Academy Awards Celebration will be held on February 22. The show will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and that should be a lot of fun!

Unless you’ve been under a media blackout (kind of like I tried to be after the Denver Broncos lost last weekend), you’ve seen the list of nominees.

This is the first year in quite a long time that I want to see all of the films nominated for Best Picture and will try to make that happen prior to February 22. And There Came A Day will review all the ones we’ve not yet reviewed and post new reviews as soon as we’ve seen the films… this quest begins today as HJ jr and I go to see Birdman later.

And There Came A Day will be posting all manner of Oscar material (including, yes, of course, how the Star Wars films and stars have fared in the Oscars during the daily Countdown to Episode VII posts)

oscars

In case you haven’t seen the full list of nominees, here are the major categories:

BEST PICUTRE

American Sniper

Birdman

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything 

Whiplash

BEST ACTRESS

Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon – Wild

BEST ACTOR

Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper – American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton – Birdman

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

Laura Dern – Wild

Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game

Emma Stone – Birdman

Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Robert Duvall – The Judge

Ethan Hawke – Boyhood

Edward Norton – Birdman

Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu – Birdman

Rickard Linklater – Boyhood

Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher

Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

 

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Batman ’89 Lives On

In the wake of the 25th anniversary of the release of Batman, Cinema Blend has posted a really thought provoking article about the legacy of the film you can read HERE.

Apparently, without Batman the cinematic landscape would have been quite different.

It’s an impossible perspective with which to argue.

batman1989

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Worried about the Batman Casting… You’re not Alone.

Time travel back with me 25 years… there were a lot of concerns back then, too.

Read the article from newsarama.com HERE.

keaton-batman

Relax, every one (including you, Magister,) Affleck is going to work out just fine!

Batman Superman

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