Spider-Man Homecoming Review

The Plot

Peter Parker adapts to life back at home in New York after his recent brush with the Avengers. Under Tony Stark’s mentorship he explores his new suit and amazing powers whilst struggling with typical teenage dramas. When a deadly new enemy appears Peter has to learn quickly what it really takes to be a superhero.

The Good

Comic fans will welcome the return of one of the most enduringly popular heroes in a fun and colourful adventure that sit closer to the original spirit of the comics than perhaps the darker Andrew Garfield version. In particular joining the combined Marvel universe is a big and exciting step for the franchise. Which yield the immediate benefit of allowing Robert Downey Jr to lend his swaggering ego/charm to the film. Building upon the playful chemistry established between the billionaire Avenger and wide eyed teenager in Civil War.

The ‘new’ Spider-Man suit is perhaps the closest yet to the iconic comic book design. This will be welcomed especially by more devoted comic book fans for whom such details matter almost above all else. Faithfulness such as this may also soften the blow of some of the new film’s more significant changes. Such as turning elderly Aunt May into a more youthfully attractive Marisa Tomei.

Michael Keaton continues his amazing career resurgence playing The Vulture. Keaton’s flare for wild eyed intensity and gravel voiced gravitas is a perfect fit for the role, making him genuinely dramatic and menacing by equal turn. It’s a huge asset for the film which offers audiences originality in action sequences and storytelling.

Overall the comedic tone and well-polished effects work makes this latest Spider-Man imagining an easy watch for faithful fans and younger audiences learning to love the character for the first time.

The Bad

Spider-Man Homecoming marks the third reboot for the web slinging hero in barely ten years. While Toby Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s versions both had their flaws they are still very familiar and much beloved by many fans. While Marvel clearly relishes having a guiding hand in the franchise at last, in truth the five previous Spider-Man films have narrowed the available territory for the new series. As a result most of Spider-Man’s familiar villains couldn’t be reused so quickly. While the film and Michael Keaton does a great job at turning one of the comic’s least plausible character The Vulture into something believably menacing, it’s hard to ignore noticing the absence of more familiar threats.

Likewise faced with the awkward reality of having to rehash Spider-Man’s origin story yet again the film simply chooses to avoid that obligation entirely. There’s no flashback scene explaining the origin of Peter’s amazing abilities and no lectures from Uncle Ben about great power and responsibility.

No doubt many audiences may be relieved to bypass this apparently redundant storytelling and merely to proceed on the basis that by now everyone knows who Spider-Man is and how he became the web crawling hero. Unfortunately though it means that this ‘new’ Spider-Man has no clear identity. Basic questions about his origin remain entirely unanswered, which feels even stranger after an entire standalone film than it did after his rushed introduction in Captain America Civil War.

Tom Holland is the most legitimately adolescent actor yet to be given the chance to play Peter Parker. While the young brit does a good job at mastering the American accent and Spidey’s glib wit, he treads a fine line. At times he threatens to be even more breathless and smug than Andrew Garfield was. The problem with making Peter Parker an actual tween is that you’re left with an occasionally immature superhero who’s still finding his feet.

The Ugly truth

Spider-Man Homecoming benefits from the sensible guiding hand of Marvel studios, allowing Sony to finally deliver a big screen version which integrates into the existing Marvel cinematic universe. Though the film gets much right and succeeds in distancing itself from the five previous films some of those changes will yet again be divisive for fans and leave them wondering why Spidey needed to be rebooted again so soon.

The House Review

The Plot

When their college bound daughter misses out on a much needed scholarship a mild mannered suburban couple resorts to opening an underground casino to raise the cash they need to pay her tuition fees. But the surprising success of the venture soon finds them spiralling out of control and coming into conflict with the local authorities and genuine crime lords.

The Good

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are both vastly popular comic stars in their own right and they make for a well-balanced combination as the hapless couple slowly morphing from sensible suburbanites to power mad gangster impersonators. The script plays steadily into Ferrell’s flare for both shouting hysterics and deluded self-confidence. Likewise Amy Poehler clearly relishes flipping between sensible housewife mode and a pot addicted pyromaniac crime lord.

Existing fans of both stars will find quite a bit to enjoy in a film that offers a fairly steady stream of increasingly silly shenanigans that combine’s low brow one liners with occasional bouts of madcap action.

Jason Mantzoukas best known for countless scene stealing supporting roles works well as the film’s third wheel, playing the gambling addict friend who enthusiastically steers the duo from one disaster to the next. He spars well with both Ferell and Poehler keeping things from becoming too monotonous as a mere two hander.

Though at times the film flirts with becoming a more cliché mafia parody thankfully it never quite slides too far down that painfully overdone route. The film seems self-aware enough to at least ensure it doesn’t solely rely on lazy ‘Casino’ and ‘Goodfellas’ references.

The Bad

The House is fairly predictable as it treads comfortably familiar ground for its well known leads. Faint hearted audiences may find some of the films more surprisingly blood soaked set pieces makes for uncomfortable viewing. Likewise those that are usually left unamused by Ferrell’s trademark hysterics won’t find anything to change their mind in this performance. It lacks the quotable genius of Ferrell’s more memorable work and the film largely blends instantly into his increasingly generic back catalogue. Honestly the film’s characters and antics would perhaps have felt more at home in a straight to DVD offering or a prolonged SNL skit.

It’s worth noting as is so often the case, the official trailer largely squanders most of the films funniest moments, so if you are likely to head to cinemas avoid watching this first if you can.

The Ugly Truth

The House is an easy watch and a mostly satisfying guilty pleasure. Ferrell and Poehler keep admittedly generic material watchable due to a combined charisma and earnest enthusiasm.

Review by Russell Nelson

Despicable Me 3 Review

The Plot

Reformed supervillain Gru finds his new life as a hero thrown into turmoil thanks to a new adversary Balthazaar Bratt and the discovery that he has a long lost twin brother Dru. Meanwhile his loyal Minions question their place in Gru’s crime free adventures and his new wife Lucy comes to terms with being a mom to their adorable adoptive daughters.

The Good

Despicable Me perfectly combines the key elements of classic children’s entertainment. The absurdly popular Minions provide silly slapstick humour, an infectious soundtrack propels colourfully inventive action set pieces and Gru and his girls deliver a genuinely emotional message about ‘family’. It’s an increasingly well practiced formula which allows the forth film in the ever growing franchise to largely match audiences high expectations.

Steve Carrell slips effortlessly back into his vaguely eastern European drawl as criminal mastermind turned family man Gru. The Office star also manages to find enough vocal variety to play Gru’s flamboyant brother Dru as well, giving distinctive personalities to the Gru-some twosome as they bicker and bond.

Kristen Wiig clearly delights in returning as super-agent Lucy, giving her quest to become a ‘super mom’ a perfect balance of humour and heart. South Park co-creator Trey Parker is also a great fit for new villain, the 80s obsessed Balthazaar Bratt. It’s a fun character that lends the film an excuse for plenty of playful action and continues the fine villainous pedigree of the series.

In truth though it’s Nev Scharrell as the adorably unicorn obsessed Agnes who shamelessly steals every scene she’s in. It’s her endearingly wide eyed glee that best capture the true spirit of the franchise, perhaps even more than the irrepressible Minions.

While the Minions are of course still a constant presence, Despicable Me 3 wisely avoids being too overly reliant on them. Having had a whole spin off film to themselves this new sequel uses them a little more sparingly, helping to further preserve their unique charm.

Overall Despicable Me 3 is a worthy continuation of the series and packed with a near perfect balance of humour, heart and cartoon magic.

The Bad

The stunning box office success of the original Despicable Me made sequels and spin-offs absolutely inevitable. While countless children still can’t get enough, some parents might be suffering from a little bit of Minions overload. Especially after the recent spin off movie focussing shamelessly on the banana loving gibberish speaking sidekicks.

Given how perfectly resolved the plots of the first two Despicable Me films were, some cynics may also have wondered whether or not the never-ending series is merely being prolonged to facilitate the vastly lucrative burst of Minions merchandise that accompanies each new release.

Though there’s undeniable a commercial incentive for the studio to keep going, thankfully there’s still enough depth and sincerity in these increasingly beloved characters to deliver a deserved continuation of their stories.

The Ugly Truth

Despicable Me 3 is a warmly fun addition to a franchise that knows exactly what it’s doing. Capturing all the elements which have made the previous films such a crowd pleasing success guarantees that fans of all ages will leave the cinema just as happy this time around.

Review by Russell Nelson

Nobody Speak : Trails Of The Free Press Review

The Plot

A Netflix original documentary exploring Hulk Hogan’s successful $140 million sex tape lawsuit of celebrity gossip website Gawker and the supposed threat to free speech posed by Billionaires and the Donald Trump presidency.

The Good

Although from its title this documentary is clearly crafted to promote a very specific agenda, amongst its heavy editorial bias there’s enough raw information and extensive access to allow audiences to learn much about principal figures on both sides of the high profile Hogan legal drama. Lawyers, journalists and public figures all touch upon a number of important issues in their various testimonies even if the film inevitably then drifts back to its evil billionaires theme.

The Bad

The film’s attempts to sustain a credible narrative that American free speech and the entire global industry of professional journalism is somehow at urgent risk of dire destruction by sinister billionaires is patently absurd and transparently self-serving. Listening to the former staff of a notoriously tasteless celebrity gossip site and a regional newspaper shamelessly self-aggrandise themselves as heroic victims against totalitarian oppression is at least fascinating viewing.

Sadly the film mostly squanders the opportunity to truly explore the complex legal and social issues surrounding the innate conflict between freedom of speech and privacy in an increasingly digital world. Instead the film choses to make billionaire boogeymen the overwhelming focus of its badly lopsided editorial drive.

The fact that tech billionaire Peter Thiel helped finance Hogan’s legal costs due to his own long standing objection to the type of journalism Gawker represented isn’t the sensational smoking gun the filmmakers clearly imagine it to be. It’s not illegal or unethical and it’s ultimately entirely irrelevant to the legitimate legal process that lead to Gawker being successfully sued for recklessly and stubbornly publishing a ‘sex tape’ obtained under questionable circumstances.

What hotel Hogan’s lawyers stayed at or who paid for their room is meaningless trivia that has absolutely nothing to do with hysterically proposed concepts of a ‘broken legal system’ and the ‘death of fee speech’.

Likewise Hogan’s successful lawsuit against Gawker has absolutely nothing to do with the purchase of a regional Las Vegas newspaper by a wealthy family or hypothetical fears surrounding the Trump presidency. The film tries desperately to tie these three unrelated events together in a portrait of billionaires dangerously stifling media scrutiny.

What the film deliberately chooses to ignore is that a digital world where information can be instantly disseminated globally without cost or censorship of any kind is both an indestructible guarantee of free speech and ironically the only real threat to print and broadcast journalism. A world where people communicate without borders sharing primary audio-visual materials is one in which the importance of traditional media institutions is vastly diminished if not entirely irrelevant.

What’s actually interesting about the Gawker case is how it represents the inevitable conflict between current legal systems, established social norms and the mostly lawless ‘wild west’ of our online lives. Where those new lines in the sand are drawn between free expression and personal privacy are a challenge for the judiciary, journalists and society as a whole. Important practical questions that can’t be resolved merely by being ignored or by attempting to further vilify the wealthy elite.

The Ugly Truth

Nobody Speak is a transparently one sided exploration of some genuinely interesting subject matter. It’s just a shame the filmmakers chose to use such extensive source material  to merely pander to populist loathing for the wealthy ‘1%’ rather than actually address the real challenges facing journalism and the legal system in a digital world.

Review by Russell Nelson

Transformers The Last Knight Review

The Plot

Optimus Prime searches the cosmos for the creators of the Transformers while back on earth mankind wages an increasingly desperate battle against both the heroic Autobots and evil Decpeticons. As hidden secrets of Transformers history are revealed it sets Earth and the planet Cybertron on a collision course that threatens the survival of both worlds.

The Good

Toy loving youngsters and die hard older fans will enjoy the typical promotional push that comes with another big screen instalment of Transformers. Even if the film almost inevitably doesn’t live up to the hype it’s still another huge public celebration of the much beloved franchise. Young audiences will obviously at least enjoy the loud carnage of fighting robots. While critics and more mature fanboys may once again be left vocally disappointed, in truth many young fans will be oblivious to their concerns and instead merely delight in seeing Bumblebee and Optimus Prime back on screen. While some franchises have consciously matured with their core audiences over time, Transformers remains committed to securing the giddy excitement of 6 year olds. Regardless of any other failings the film at least offers fan a scale of spectacle befitting a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. Against that vast canvas of generic blockbuster grade destruction the film also offers a few rare treats such as a welcome Stanley Tucci cameo and a bigger dose of Robot Dinosaurs and Dragons.

The Bad

The Transformers film series under Michael Bay’s disappointingly persistent control continues to repeatedly make the same mistakes, ignoring consistent criticisms with a stubbornness fuelled by the sagas seemingly bulletproof financial success. The guaranteed box office returns delivered by global audiences hoping to finally see a film which delivers on the vast potential of the enduringly popular franchise merely emboldens Bay to carry on regardless. Once again leaving dejected anyone not seeking the most mindless explosion drenched CGI distractions.

Summer blockbusters can and arguably should be crowd pleasing fun, unfortunately there’s a vast array of shortcoming and obvious problems which largely prevent Bay’s Transformer’s saga from delivering that.

Bay’s myopic focus on CGI intricacies and excessive pyrotechnics at the expense of basic elements of storytelling remains a fundamental problem. As usual, human and robot characters alike are treated as disposable props moved clumsily through a story designed solely to facilitate a series of predetermined action set pieces. Mark Wahlberg still feels noticeably misplaced as the series leading man, bumbling through extraordinary adventures with mundane Bostonian bravado. Former Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins phones in a paycheck performance as an eccentric old plot device, while Bay’s latest token eye candy Laura Haddock struggle valiantly to maintain Oxford professor credibility in a bust boosting cocktail dress.

A serious criticism of Bay’s past Transformers films was that the robots were frequently based on heavy handed racial stereotypes. Bay himself has previously acknowledged these concerns and had vowed to ensure some of the most ‘offensive’ characters didn’t feature in future instalments. Unfortunately the new robots introduced in this film include a snooty British butler and the arrogant Hot Rod complete with an embarrassingly exaggerated French accent. They join a team of robots that already includes a sword wielding Samurai, a cockney hard man and a blustering big gutted American gun nut voiced gregariously by John Goodman.

Bay might offer the defence that it’s just a way of injecting identifiable personality into the alien robots and making the film more internationally accessible for global audiences. But like much of the film’s humour it’s hard to ignore the reality that it often feels lazy and perhaps even a little inappropriate. It would be easier to ignore these choices if the rest of the human cast wasn’t equally two dimensional and consistently drawn from cliché stereotypes.

Ironically for a franchise built almost exclusively around showing off the latest polished special effects wizardry the fact that the film was only partially shot for IMAX means that the aspect ratio changes frequently during scenes. Not everyone will notice this technical quirk but for anyone who does it’s an annoying distraction that worsens already surprisingly messy editing. The action sequences often feel noticeably disjointed as cameras cut between badly mismatched shots trying frantically to capture the practical effects of never-ending explosions, CGI of wildly varying quality and also advance the frequently jumbled narrative.

The film attempts to expand and rewrite the “mythology” of Transformers by integrating it with the overly familiar Arthurian legend of the Knights of the Round Table. Sadly it ultimately takes the franchise even further away from the winning original premise of the good Autobots fighting the evil Decepticons as ‘robots in disguise’. The ultimate result is a painfully long 150 minute mess packed with embarrassingly muddled subtext and woeful dialogue that fails utterly to be funny or dramatic with alarming consistency. The film lurches constantly between Bay’s trademark vacuous lingering shots and horrible shaky cam urgency both equally lacking in meaning or any hint of genuine emotion. There’s something innately hurried and seemingly half-finished about almost every aspect of the plot and production, producing an experience so mindless and joyless that it actually manages to become unforgivably undeniably boring.

The Ugly Truth

Anyone left disappointed by the past Transformers films will almost certainly leave cinemas yet again regretting the price of admission. If you truly want to see a different kind of Transformers film the only real alternative is to stay away this… It’s time to take the camera away from Michael Bay.

Review by Russell Nelson