Lunar Cycle [July 2017 & August 2017]

This section of the blog is due to me being lazy, I mean swamped with watching so many films that I want to discuss on this blog. But I don't really have the time, so I decided to quickly [well as much as I can really] to review films I don't really want to focus too much time on. You'll be seeing these more often than not. Time for the reviews!

Directed By: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, CJ Jones

Genre: Action, Crime, Music

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Plot From IMDB: After being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), a young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Review: Edgar Wright continues his hot streak of crafting entertaining and well-made movies with BABY DRIVER. A dream project for Wright since the mid-90s, Wright has managed to merge a crime-thriller with the element of music to create fleshed out characters, exhilarating car chase scenes, and a cute love story that will likely become a cult classic for years to come.

Wright, who also wrote the screenplay, uses real songs to create character depth. This is especially true with the lead character Baby - a young man who suffers from tinnitus due to a car accident from when he was a child. Constantly listening to multiple iPods that have songs that reflect his mood, his actions, or how he feels about the world around him, it gives Baby a ton of personality without the use of dialogue [which Baby doesn’t really have much of in the film]. It also builds upon the action sequences, as Baby is listening to music as he drives or gets away, as if he can’t live without a soundtrack motivating him. The visuals of these action scenes of car chases and shoot outs are already kinetic and thrilling. But the music adds another layer, as if you’re watching a Grand Theft Auto game come to life. The best part is that, unlike the FAST AND FURIOUS series [which you know I love], the action is all practical with no real special effects in sight. It’s easy to follow and sort of seem like a throwback to films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION. There’s nothing over-the-top about the soundtrack, or the direction of the action, which I greatly appreciated.

Speaking of the soundtrack, tracks by Queen, T. Rex, and The Commodores just highlight how magical classic music was before it became a soulless brand and product. Watching Baby dancing around to music that reflect his mood, or watching him walk away dejectedly to a ballad is so simple, yet expresses so much about his character and how he sees the world around him. The soundtrack, in a lot of ways, is the most important character of BABY DRIVER.

The actors are just fantastic. Ansel Elgort has been impressing for a few years now, but BABY DRIVER is his crowning achievement so far. Without saying a whole lot throughout the film, he comes across as an actor who would have been a huge star during the 50s era of Hollywood. Elgort has a ton of charisma and the camera loves him. He has a wonderful presence on film that proves he’ll be a leading man in no time. The supporting actors are just as great. Some are stronger than others, especially a captivating Kevin Spacey as Baby’s boss. He’s having fun in a role that lets him be a menacing force. Jamie Foxx also shines, as the bad seed of the crew who has to challenge everything with a swagger and sarcasm that has been missing in his recent performances. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez play a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde, portraying a nicer side before proving how dangerous this couple-in-love really is. And as Baby’s love interest, Lily James is cute and sweet as Debora. I wish she had a bit more to do and was fleshed out more beyond being the stock girlfriend, but James and Elgort have a lot of chemistry with each other. You definitely root for the two to make it out of all this happily ever after.

BABY DRIVER is a film I had wanted to see once I watched the first trailer for it, and it exceeded my expectations. It’s a stylish film that has purposeful substance in terms of its presentation and it’s story. It has an energy most modern films which they had - scenes with a purpose, actors who are confident in their roles and in their director, and a director who finally got to make his dream movie and not screwing it up. Not only are you invested in our main character, but you’re drawn into the lives of the characters that surround him. With action and drama that you will remember for a long time, BABY DRIVER is one of 2017’s must see films.

Directed By: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Bokeem Woodbine, Laura Harrier, Logan-Marshall Green, Jennifer Connelly (voice)

Genre: Action, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure, Comic Books

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Plot From IMDB: Peter Parker (Tom Holland), with the help of his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man when a new threat (Michael Keaton) emerges.

Review: I’m not going to lie to you - I wasn’t excited one bit for SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. The second reboot for this film franchise, the idea of it wasn’t thrilling. The trailers didn’t do much for either, making the film look more like an IRON MAN spin-off rather than a new SPIDER-MAN film. I actually loved Tom Holland’s new take on the character in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, but did I really need a new trilogy with a different actor in the role?

Surprisingly, HOMECOMING ended up being a lot more fun and Spider-centric than I was expecting. With no origin story this time around [thank God], the screenplay was allowed to get straight into the action and the characters after-the-fact. In fact, I enjoyed the John Hughes take on the mythos, bringing Peter Parker back to a teenager who struggles with balancing between his love for being Spider-Man and his frustration for having to be a normal teenager. I got a kick of watching the events of CIVIL WAR through his eyes, as he gives funny commentary about stealing Captain America’s shield or taking down Ant-Man. I also embraced Spider-Man actually enjoying being a superhero, especially at a time where superheroes have become serious and sort of gritty and bleak at times. Counter this with Peter acting like a total dork in front of his classmates, especially Liz - the girl he’s into romantically. He also struggles keeping secrets from his worried Aunt May, while doing everything in his power to impress Tony Stark by trying to take down the bad guys on his own. HOMECOMING was written by six people believe it or not, yet it still clicks for the most part, flowing pretty seamlessly from beginning to end and getting me excited for the next installments.

I think the best part of HOMECOMING for me is how they treated the Vulture. I’m not going to lie - the Vulture is probably a C-level Spider-Man villain at best, even though he is one of the character’s earliest foes. But unlike a majority of the villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Vulture is treated as an actual character with genuine motivations that you can relate to on many levels. In fact, he’s probably the best villain in the MCU since Loki in my opinion. Instead of an old man battling cancer while trying to regain some sort of fountain of youth, Adrian Toomes is a city worker who’s feeling slighted by the city he works for after years of doing their dirty work to clean it up. He’s anti-establishment and anti-corporate, stealing alien technology to run his own lucrative business within the black market. He’s also Spider-Man’s true first test as the Vulture, whom the film gives a grittier and more updated look that is more than flattering on the big screen. He never overshadows the film as many other villains do, only popping up when necessary to move the film along. But the character has a bigger presence than I had expected. He’s probably the best big screen Spider-Man villain since Doctor Octopus in SPIDER-MAN 2.

If I do have issues, it’s with the love story between Peter and Liz. While it’s cute at times, I never felt genuine chemistry between Tom Holland and Laura Harrier at all in the film. I guess you can’t do steamier stuff with high-schoolers like you could with the original Peter/MJ dynamic, or the even more interesting Peter/Gwen coupling. But it felt a bit too Degrassi High/Afterschool Special vibe for me. Plus, the actors didn’t really share enough scenes for me to really care about this subplot. The only purpose of this angle was to lead into a twist that I surprisingly didn’t see coming. But other than that, I didn’t really care too much for it.

Speaking of twists, one of the final reveals in the film for a certain classic Spider-Man character left me a bit confused. I won’t spoil it, but I raised an eyebrow on it because the reveal seemed so different from what has been established in comics and in other films prior to HOMECOMING. I have no issue with the people involved in this reveal, as it’s definitely intriguing. I just didn’t buy it as a narrative piece, as it felt as something to shock fans rather than to confirm our suspicions. It just felt odd.

The direction by Jon Watts is fine. The use of a great soundtrack, plus vibrant colors and energetic transitions, created a nice visual presentation to reboot the franchise. It looked cute and felt younger than the previous films, which is the entire point of HOMECOMING. The special effects looked great for the most part and the action scenes are well done. 

The acting is probably HOMECOMING’s greatest strength. Tom Holland, without a doubt, is the best Peter Parker and Spider-Man out of all the actors who have portrayed the character. He gets all of Peter’s quirks and nuances down to a tee, quipping cool one-liners with the best of them while still balancing how dorky Peter really is. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both very good as Spider-Man, but Holland seems to understand the character and nails it to perfection. Even better is Michael Keaton as The Vulture. Not being able to escape playing characters with wings, Keaton manages to be both menacing and sympathetic as a man who wants to do right for himself and his family by doing bad things to get ahead. His chemistry with Holland is great and it was great to watch him in a superhero movie again after all these years. And I was extremely happy to see that Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t a huge presence in this film, as the trailers led us to believe. He’s probably in the film for 15 minutes at most, only appearing when it’s important and to mentor Peter. That’s all you needed it to advance Spider-Man’s Avengers storyline leading into INFINITY WAR. You never feel overwhelmed by Downey or Jon Favreau [as Happy Hogan] in HOMECOMING. It obviously belongs to Holland, and lets other supporting actors such as Marisa Tomei and Jacob Batalon [as Peter’s comic relief best friend Ned] shine along with him. 

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING really impressed me. I went in with low expectations, not caring much about another reboot. But it ended up being a fun time with good laughs, great performances, and cool action. Even if one of the final twists left me a bit irked, I’m still looking forward to seeing where they go next with the franchise once INFINITY WAR is over.

Directed By: Seth Gordon

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Genre: Action, Comedy

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Plot From IMDB: Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) butts heads with a brash new recruit (Zac Efron), as they uncover a criminal plot that threatens the future of the bay.

Review: For those who really know me, I’m a huge Baywatch fan. Yeah, it’s stupid. The acting is questionable. The slow motion scenes are exploitative. But I watched every episode of the main series, Baywatch Nights, and Baywatch Hawaii [as well as those TV movies] without any shame. I loved the dumb thing, even if it tried to destroy my brain cells while doing funny things to my groin area. So when a film adaptation was announced with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that would be similar to the style of 21 JUMP STREET, I was all for it. Too bad what I got was a film not even worth wasting CPR on.

I’m not going to make this review longer than it needs to be. All you need to know is that BAYWATCH is an awful television show adapted to film, but it’s just an awful film period. It’s amazing how SIX screenwriters managed to mess up an easy premise that could have worked if they understood what kind of film they were trying to make. Was it supposed to be a homage to Baywatch? Was it meant to be serious? Was this supposed to be a 21 JUMP STREET type comedy that turned a dramatic television show into a film comedy? In all cases, they failed big time.

The reason why 21 JUMP STREET worked is because the writers understood how to handle a tonal transition that actually paid homage to its source material, while keeping it within the same universe as the television show. The jokes were funny. The cast were game. The cameos made sense. Everything clicked.

BAYWATCH struggles with this. The writers have no clue how to make the jokes work. There’s a running gag on how the lifeguards take matters in their own hands, doing the work that the police should be doing. It’s a good joke because that’s exactly what the television was about most of the time, never really explaining why lifeguards had so much authority outside of their jurisdiction. I wish the gag was funnier in the film, but I appreciate that the writers were aware of this plot. And I enjoy the banter between Mitch and Brody, as both are Alpha males trying to one-up the other. But the actual jokes themselves fall flat and I barely laughed at any of this. Most of the time, BAYWATCH tries to hard making us laugh. It doesn’t help when it also wants to be a serious action film, clashing with the comedic tone in my opinion. I wish it were one or the other in this case.

The only reason BAYWATCH doesn’t totally fail is the acting. The screenwriters and director Seth Gordon [who may have dealt with studio interference in terms of his vision] aren’t 100 percent committed to the tone of the film. But Dwayne Johnson does the best with the material he’s given, making the most out of playing Mitch. He plays it mostly straight, which works because he doesn’t seem in on the joke. I wish the film was more comedic, because Johnson’s serious performance would have stood out more. Zac Efron is also pretty damn good as Brody, Mitch’s more comedic rival. He has great chemistry with Johnson and seems to be having fun. I hope they co-star in another film that knows how to use their talent. The other actors play their parts well, especially Jon Bass as Ronnie - the overweight lifeguard that gets embarrassed in almost every scene. But it works because Bass is game for anything and has scenes that actually made me chuckle. Plus, it was nice to see David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson in cameos.

But other than that, BAYWATCH disappointed the hell out of me. I was expecting more since I enjoy the television show on a superficial level. But the film fell flat for me. Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, and other others tried their best with this sub-par material, but they couldn’t save it all the way through. I’m sure it made enough money for a sequel, so hopefully the next one will actually balance the action and the humor better. 

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