Friday, July 7, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Beguiled

While many critics and outlets constantly insist that audiences are starving for the Spider-Man film that they deserve, it feels too much like revisionist history. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man starring Tobey McGuire in 2002 (89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 73 Meta-Critic score) and Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield in 2012 (72%, 66) both opened to strong critical approval. Yet, this rapid return to the Peter Parker character is a whole new ballgame with a completely different feel and trajectory. Marvel's Cinematic Universe (MCU) enters the heart of its third "Phase" with a mountain of steam, but can Spider-Man: Homecoming deliver?

Set a few months after the events of Captain America:Civil War, a 15 year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is operating under the watchful eye of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his loyal assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). But as Peter tries harder and harder to impress Stark with his superhero alter ego Spider-Man, he uncovers an underground arms creator and dealer (Michael Keaton) whose powerful weaponry bridges alien technology with human machinery. Instructed by Stark to stop his pursuit of the arms dealer, Peter disobeys the orders and finds himself face to face with a nefarious foe.

Homecoming fits seamlessly into the MCU with a familiar foundation of humor and action. Built on the shoulders of an ingratiating and clumsy teenage geek, played wonderfully by rising star Tom Holland, Marvel's latest release places the universe's macro storyline back on course. Insane visual effects form a web-like cohesion with witty one-line zingers to help keep the action-train churning. These over-extended sequences occur frequently and dwindle in effectiveness with each recurring appearance in the film, yet they're easily overshadowed by some clever maneuvering with the screenplay and Tom Holland's alluring performance. And as I usually criticize the MCU for its lack of attention to its film's central villains, Michael Keaton's Vulture is birthed from a truly intriguing concept. Although Homecoming fails to adequately venture down that creative path, instead delving too deep into Peter's buffoonish teenage quandaries, there's enough meat on the bones to entertain in exactly the way a summer blockbuster should.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Having grown up under the tutelage of her father and directing great, Francis Ford Coppola, it's no surprise that filmmaking and storytelling stream through the bloodlines of Sophia Coppola. Her natural talents earned Sophia capture an Oscar nomination for Directing before her 33rd birthday with the widely-adored Best Picture nominee, Lost in Translation. But since then, Coppola has struggled to return to the same heights she once scaled early in her career. And not much changes with Coppola's new dark and Southern Gothic tale, The Beguiled.

During the Civil War in Virginia, a few remaining women at an All-Girl's school shelter and care for a severely injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) they find just off their property. And as he slowly progresses in health, sexual tensions begin to overtake the house and lead to a competition for his affection. Yet, all of this attention from the woman turns out to be a curse in the making.

As expected Sophia Coppola continues to shine as a filmmaker, flashing riveting camera work and spectacular vision. She has an attraction to period pieces, where she brings together spectacular set design and exquisite costume design to create a genuine mood to the feature. But despite this strong foundation that supports The Beguiled. the slow-burning drama's somber story fails to deliver a bold-enough conclusion. Coppola's latest is an adapted work, which means this disappointment can't rest squarely on her shoulders. However, a compelling and well-acted build-up, courtesy of noteworthy turns from Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, ends up squandered by a timid finale that doesn't do any justice to The Beguiled.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

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