Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Review

Spider-Man_Homecoming_posterScore: 4/5

The superhero element of a – forgive me – “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” was always present in both the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb franchises but as soon as Spider-Man returned to being just Peter Parker, something was missing.

Then there’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and finally there was a film with both Spider-Man and Peter Parker.

Sometime after the events in “Captain America: Civil War” Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is back at school. Unlike other iterations of the Spider-Man saga, “Homecoming” does not waste time retelling the origin story. Director Jon Watts knows that the audience will be smarter, which leaves room for a more robust story.

The gap left by the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben is simply implied and not explained by the presence of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). Stark knows that Peter has the potential to be a great superhero but is unsure whether he has the maturity. Peter’s need to impress Stark is driven by his lack of a father figure. Note that Stark’s total screen time is in the ballpark of 10-15 minutes, and in that time Watts was able to demonstrate this complicated relationship between the two.

In addition to the petty street criminals, there’s also Adrian Toomes (aka Vulture) who is played by the always delightful Michael Keaton. After the Battle of New York in “The Avengers,” Toomes’ company was hired by the city to do the cleanup. However an Avengers associated government agency takes over, creating deep resentment against both institutions. As a result, he becomes an illegal arms dealer for the city’s criminals.

It’s hard to pinpoint which of the screenplay’s six scribes is the master and commander, and clearly there is a story to be told from that credit. But whatever happened, it resulted in an awesome mishmash of classic Marvel and nostalgic ‘80s films the likes of which haven’t been seen since John Hughes put five teenagers in a library or Ferris took a day off. The addition of Toomes also adds a “Goonies” dynamic to the story. Instead of being an actual threat, Spider-Man is just a meddling kid who’s gotten way too deep into Toomes’ diabolical plan.

Holland does an incredible job of balancing both Spider-Man and Peter Parker in “Homecoming.” He’s equal parts undercover badass and awkward kid from 3rd period Physics. Yes he can beat up bad guys, but he isn’t able to intimidate them.

But kudos is due for the cast of Peter’s social circle. Jacob Batalon is Peter’s best friend Ned. He’s the epitome of the geeky Patton Oswalt-esque nerd of the 21st century, yet he’s totally loyal and totally cool. The mysterious semi-friend Michelle is played by Zendaya who has incredible comedic timing. Tony Revolori of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” fame is Flash Thompson. Choosing to make him a smug rich kid who pops his collar makes him worse than if here just a stereotypical jock – there’s no doubt in my mind that “Flash” is a nickname he insists upon.

At its core “Homecoming” is a teen comedy. Everything else is just razzle dazzle. Peter Parker is just an ordinary 15-year-old from Queens who happens to be Spider-Man. Just because he can scale walls doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the teenage mindset that everything is the most important thing ever in the world. In addition to saving the world one distressed old lady at a time, he has commitments to Academic Decathlon to fulfill, the pressure of doing well on exams and quizzes to get into a good college, and he doesn’t know how to ask Liz Allen (Laura Harrier) to the school dance without looking like a doofus.

Audiences don’t flock to Spider-Man movies to see Spider-Man – though that does help. They go because Peter Parker represents that embarrassing part of adolescence that everyone fears and loathes. “Homecoming” will mean more to those kids who are uncool because Peter Parker is uncool and as Cameron Crowe once wrote, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else, when you’re uncool.”

Spotlight (2015) Review

Originally posted on saccityexpress.com on Dec. 6, 2015

Note: This review  won 3rd place for a Critical Review at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges (JACC) 2016 State Convention with the title “‘Spotlight’ reveals the truth of child abuse in the church.”

Spotlight_(film)_posterScore: 5/5

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them. These words refer to Boston, a city where, according the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of the population considers themselves Catholic.

“Spotlight” follows The Boston Globe’s investigative unit and its efforts to expose multiple cases of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.

When the movie begins, allegations of child abuse have been buried by top church and city officials. For decades. It isn’t until Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber), an outsider and non-Catholic, takes over as editor for The Globe that the paper decides to dedicate its investigative team, named Spotlight, to the story.

Leading the Spotlight team is Robby Robinson, played by Michael Keaton, a good ol’ boy who was born and raised among Boston’s Catholic elite. His reporters include Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), a lapsed Catholic who still holds on to the prospect that he will one day go back to church. These two are the workhorses of the Spotlight team. Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy) team as reporters in the field.

Director Thomas McCarthy truly captures the spirit of Boston, as well as the powerful Catholic church. In scenes when major plot points and information are revealed, McCarthy uses iconography to convey the message. Even in the office of Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery), a photo of St. Peter’s Basilica is visible when the team learns that 6 percent of priests will most likely act out sexually. The numbers prove to be much higher.

“Spotlight” also shows how little is needed to cover up the abuse. All it takes is a simple call from the cardinal to the D.A. for cases to be buried deeply enough to never be seen again. Survivors are discouraged from suing by church lawyers, claiming their settlements will not cover legal fees. Most members of the community can’t overcome the disgrace they feel in going against the church. As said before, it takes a village to abuse a child.

In the film as in real-life journalism, there are long stretches of time in the newsroom when the reporters wait quietly for returned phone calls and emails. These periods create a strong camaraderie among the reporters and editors. The pace in “Spotlight” is incredibly accurate about day-to-day journalism, as well as the mannerisms of reporters.

The victims of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy call themselves survivors because other abuse victims like them have committed suicide. “Spotlight” does not make heroes of the reporters at The Globe, yet it does show how they opened the door for survivors to come out of the dark and tell their stories.