Mike at the Movies

Spider-Man: Homecoming (PG-13) *****

A perfect summer movie—or winter or fall or spring as well. Tom Holland is superb as the 15-year-old Peter Parker (Spider-Man), Michael Keaton wonderfully villainous as Vulture, and Zendaya touching as Michelle, Spidey’s love interest. Well, they’re kids so it’s more a “like interest.”

Problem is that Michelle’s father is also Vulture, which puts him at odds with Spidey who has foiled Vulture’s gang on several occasions by the time Michelle and Spidey head for the prom. Peter Parker, you see, is a “Stark Intern” at his science high school, doubling as a novice Spider-Man—and novice, he is. A greater example of ineptitude and over-reach could not be found. He wrecks stores, drops buses, threatens the lives of innocent bystanders and generally screws up, even with his webs being hurled at full speed and strength. In a moment of humor, one web simply can’t reach its target and falls back into the street, deflated.

There are several spectacular scenes in the film, mixed with lots of humor and twists: one occurs at the Washington Monument, another crazy scene at the Staten Island Ferry, and a concluding episode as Spidey, now demoted to fighting only with his old mask, tries to save Stark’s super plane as it tries to relocate to Upstate New York. All of the fights are, as expected, spectacular in wonderful ways, again, mixed with laughter.

Bit parts are masterfully handled, such as Marisa Tomei, looking far younger and better than her actual age of 53, as Peter’s Aunt May.

It was a masterstroke to present Peter as an eager but inept trainee in high school, even after his wonderful lifesaving performance in an earlier “Avengers” film, referred to subtly here. His main problems come when he figures out how to take the “training wheels” off his character and tries to use his full powers. The film gets funnier and more spectacular as he does so.

There are funny references as well: Keaton as Vulture, an evil Birdman. He won the Oscar in 2015 for his role in “Birdman,” even though it was not as spectacular or high-tech as this one. Tony Stark is greeted near the end by a woman from his past with humorous as well as touching results, Jennifer Connelly has a brief role as Karen, the suit lady, Stan Lee, the historic comics author and artist, and Chris Evans as Captain America cap off the cameo stars.

This is PG-13 but most kids will have seen worse violence in the comics, and this is Spider-Man after all. What do they expect? Ice cream and cotton candy? The humor of the script keeps the violent scenes from getting too serious, Holland’s innocence is infectious. and the special effects are both appropriate and effective. All in all, a perfect summer movie that will have legs into autumn and beyond.

Baby Driver (R) *****

This is one of the finest technical films I have seen recently. One scene especially stays in my mind: a shot of a laundromat with the washers filled with clothes, each washer window a different spinning color. But the story is something else again. The soundtrack is seldom silent as Baby (Ansel Elgort) lost his parents in a crash when he was young and the crash took his hearing or, as a criminal colleague puts it, “He’s got a hum in his drum.” Baby has a vast musical library on cassette, including mixes of real sounds he has done himself, and he plays them incessantly with his iPod.

He got hooked up with Doc (Kevin Spacey) and has to work his debt off. This is done by driving while simultaneously taking care of his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones). We sense immediately that Baby is an innocent. He is a top-notch car driver for escaping with felons, but he does it reluctantly. He drives mostly for Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx). They are not nice people, especially Bats and Buddy. Hamm is a fantastic villain, even given Spacey’s scenery-chewing performance.

“One more job and I’m done,” says Baby as he finishes what he believes is his last assignment. Wrong again. Doc ropes him into one last job, a heist of money orders at the U.S. Post Office.

An eclectic musical score, reflecting his extensive library, accompanies everything Baby does. The music softens considerably when he meets Debora (Lily James). They meet at her job at a diner, and it is instant karma. Baby is even more eager to quit the risky driving and drive off to who-knows-where with Debora.

The escape driving is magical, far superior to that in “Fast and Furious,” Baby has a knack for avoiding almost every obstacle or, if he hits something, it knocks him into a new escape route. But he is always kind: He gives back a woman’s purse after he steals her car.

There are moments of high and low humor as well as horror as things get out of hand, mostly because of Bats’ predilection for shooting when in doubt. The romance is as intense as the driving, and Elgort holds up well under the demands of carrying a feature-length film.

Somewhat stylized in photography and music, the film is entirely enjoyable except for those who abhor blood and guts. Certainly not for the younger members of the family, but challenging and rewarding for Mom and Dad.

The Beguiled (R) ****

With cannon thundering in the background, ever nearer, the girls at Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies find a wounded Union soldier under a tree on their property. Amy (Oona Lawrence) is out picking mushrooms when she finds him and she soon becomes attached to him, almost like a kid with a new puppy. She, however, is one of the few girls not old enough to have other, more serious feelings about him. Miss Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is merely the oldest to fall under the charms of the Irishman with a bad leg. The younger Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a French and penmanship teacher, falls more heavily for him. Elle Fanning, in the blush of first maidenhood as Alicia, is the most dangerous of the girls as she holds nothing back in trying to seduce John McBurney (Colin Farrell) and things soon get almost out of hand.

The young Irishman, proper and polite on the surface, has stirrings of his own, awakened first by the young Alicia who sneaks into his room to kiss him goodnight. John remarks, as he’s healing, “It’s a shame, isn’t it, that I couldn’t remain helpless.” A shame for him as things don’t improve as soon as the women and girls realize what a player he is. Miss Martha (Farnsworth) refuses to turn him in to the Confederate Army and he stays on, becoming their gardener.

The film is breathtakingly beautiful to see, shot with few pans or any movement at all by the camera, making the passion in each scene more and more vivid. The war is evoked with smoke and haze and fog and wonderfully subtle lighting. There is one scene of literal bodice-ripping that seems a little over the top, but the pressure HAS been building so that may be forgiven. There will be those who will say that the film is slow. It is, but this is 1864 and rural Virginia. Things moved slowly then. The “R” is for sexual tensions and some brief bloody scenes of John’s wounded leg, but most young kids would be bored by the subtlety of the plot and action anyway. Best seen on a hot afternoon with plenty of air conditioning and maybe a hankie or two for ventilation.

Despicable Me 3 (PG) ***

I love Gru, I adore the Minions, but I don’t like Michael Bay’s work. He had nothing to do with this film other than inspiration to destroy another city. In this case, it is Hollywood.

Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) is an evil genius who creates havoc with bubble gum. Gru (Steve Carell) meets his twin brother, Dru (Steve Carell), and discovers slowly that Dru is an idiot, spoiled by riches. Dru tries to convince Gru to return to a life of crime. Holding him back, for a while, are the Minions and Gru’s adorable daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). The plot gets mishmashed by the Minions’ arrest, Dru’s rocket of evil intent and Lucy (Kristen Wiig), Gru’s long-suffering wife, who tries to form a relationship with his daughters.

Yes, it sounds like a mess—and it is, especially as Gru and Dru and the Minions close in on Bratt and a famous diamond. The film goes completely off the rails when Bratt tries to destroy Hollywood while Agnes and her sisters look for a unicorn. (“Life is hoping for a unicorn and ending up with a goat.”)

The scenes with the daughters are sweet and even touching but then the Michael Bay Effect takes over and Hollywood is mostly destroyed, the kids in the audience are treated to the line “pee your pants,” seemingly a requirement of kids’ movies these days or, alternatively, fart jokes, and the sweetness that is possible is ruined, to be ruined again at the end with a stupid turn of events that brings back Bratt. The Minions lose their charm, Lucy is a bit of a harridan at times, and the unicorn moments are lost in the mayhem. A major disappointment.

The House (R) **

Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell have skills—comic skills—but they are totally wasted, in more ways than one, in this hapless attempt at domestic humor. The plot has promise: Suburbanites Scott and Kate Johansen learn they don’t have enough money to send their daughter, Alex (Ryan Simpkins), to Bucknell. Desperate to fulfill their promise to their daughter, they hook up with loser Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) in a scheme to save his failing marriage and fund Alex’s college. They’ll open a casino in Frank’s house because, after losing big in Vegas, Frank says, “What if WE were the house?” Clever idea, filled with endless possibilities for humor.
Alas, none of them are fulfilled as the script gets lost in obscenities, poop and pee jokes, violence, stupidity and cupidity and the whole mess collapses in a series of events that ends with a house burning down.

The Johansens are portrayed as innocents—he has trouble with basic math—“It makes him nervous,” Kate explains, and he is not very good with an axe, either, leading to some unfortunate (for the audience) amputations that are so gross they lose their possible humor. The Johansens turn to the dark side, drinking, doping, cheating and lying to their daughter, and it all becomes most unfortunate as, one by one, the light touches possible in the scenario are blown away in the storm of obscenity and flat physical bits.

A lot of the script was clearly ad-libbed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t edited better and they left a lot of very unfunny stuff stay in. This house is best avoided and left off your Halloween list.

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