Film Review: Spider-Man (2002)

Also known as: Spider-Man: The Motion Picture (working title)
Release Date: April 30th, 2002 (Philippines premiere)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Randy Savage, Octavia Spencer, Macy Gray, Lucy Lawless, Jim Norton

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben

Spider-Man blew my mind when it came out in 2002, as the vast majority of comic book movies before it were terrible. Also, Marvel didn’t have a good track record up to this point, other than 2000’s X-Men, which was just one movie that seemed to have taken a step in the right direction.

Sam Raimi made magic, however, and seeing this for the first time in a very long time, I’ve got to say that the magic is still there. Frankly, I loved this movie in 2002 and I love it now in 2020.

Side note: how the hell is this 18 years-old already?

From top to bottom, this is a solid picture. Sure, I have some issues with the creative direction but it achieved what it set out to do, which was to tell a great origin story, close to the source material, and to entertain and give fans something spectacular.

On top of that, it’s well acted, everyone plays their parts well and even if Tobey Maguire wasn’t 100 percent perfect as Spider-Man or Peter Parker, it’s hard not to love him and become invested in his journey. I’m from the camp that really liked Tobey Maguire and I still think he’s the best live-action Spider-Man, overall.

I also thought that Willem Dafoe was genius casting as Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin. While I’m not a fan of the Goblin’s suit in the movie, as a character, his was pretty close to perfect. It actually kind of sucks that they only really got to use him in one film but the story that emerged from his demise makes up for it, as these movies become just as much about Harry Osborn’s journey, as they are Peter Parker’s.

This is just so well crafted and executed that it set the bar really high for the series. It would actually be eclipsed by the second movie, which I once considered a near masterpiece. We’ll see how I still feel about it in another week or so. Let’s try not to talk about the third film until I review that one. I have a feeling that time did it some favors in spite of its creative misfires.

Anyway, the emotional high points of this movie still hit me right in the feels and regardless of having seen this multiple times, it’s all still very effective. The Uncle Ben stuff really feels like a punch to the gut, even if you know it’s coming and you’ve already experienced it.

Apart from the Goblin costume, my only real gripe about the movie is the overly copper look to it. It’s not terrible but I’m not a fan of everything sort of looking like it was shot at sunset, excluding the night scenes. This just feels really filtered and overly vivid. It’s an obvious creative choice but it’s not one that makes the visual presentation look more like the comics. Well, maybe the comics of the time but it kind of detracts from what could’ve been a more colorful, more cheerful look to the film, more akin to the classic artwork and tone of Steve Ditko.

One thing that really stood out to me quite a bit was Danny Elfman’s score. What happened to movie scores? There really aren’t very many that are that memorable in modern times and this one just really points that out, as it’s dynamic, energetic, fun and I’d say, by this point, iconic. While it’s not on the level of Elfman’s Batman scores, it feels more refined and complex and it doesn’t come off as derivative of his older work, which some of his scores do.

Spider-Man still is one of the best superhero movies ever made. I think it’ll maintain that status forever, as it helped push Marvel properties down the right cinematic path and it exceeded 2000’s X-Men by quite a bit.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Film Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

Release Date: December 10th, 2016 (SVA Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Based on: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge

Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films, 20th Century Fox, 127 Minutes

Review:

“There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself! And I can’t use one of the handy bikes. Picture that, Mr. Harrisson. My uniform, skirt below the knees and my heels. And simple necklace pearls. Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay the colored enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch! So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.” – Katherine Johnson

I was really looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures. It is a film that tells the true story of the black women who were instrumental in helping NASA get John Glen into space and eventually, getting a man on the moon.

It starred a very capable cast, had a director that impressed me with St. Vincent and really looked to be a film that had all the right things going for it. There really could be only one major thing that might disrupt what should have been a solid film. Sadly, it is that one thing that holds this picture back: heavy handedness.

Going into this film, you know it is about black struggle and not just black struggle but the struggle of women in Civil Rights era America. The whole film itself is the point, the premise is the point. However, the film, as is so common with pictures with similar themes as of late, has to remind you at every single turn that these women are persecuted against. I get it. We all get it. But every single time a white person walks into frame doesn’t mean that there needs to be some sort of hostility towards these black women. Not every single white person was an asshole. If they were, the Civil Rights movement couldn’t have happened. Lots of people were more than just tolerant of blacks and it was those people that helped to usher in Civil Rights. I hate to be all soapbox-y but I feel like films that use this tactic, which is all too common, kind of dismiss the fact that there were good people on all sides of the racial spectrum that wanted equality and respect for all people.

Frankly, this film also cheapens the importance of the work that Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did at NASA by harping most specifically on the race issues. Hidden Figures actually takes some narrative liberties and just makes some shit up to enhance its need to focus on the racism in the film.

One example that I’ll give is Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is actually three different people pushed together into one character. He’s the “nice yet still casually racist white person that needs something to open his eyes” archetype that these sort of films all have. I guess Kirsten Dunst is the same thing too. Anyway, Costner’s Harrision is smacked in the face by a truth bomb from a very frustrated Katherine (in a tremendous moment of acting by Taraji P. Henson, mind you) about the racist bullshit at NASA. So Harrision walks down to the Colored Women’s Bathroom and violently knocks down the sign in front of a crowd of whites on one side and blacks on the other. Then he proclaims that there are no more colored toilets and no more white toilets at NASA. It’s a great feel good moment in the film but it never really happened and the whole subplot about Katherine having to run a half mile with mountains of files just to pee a few times a day, isn’t accurate. Segregated bathrooms at NASA were abolished in 1958, this film takes place in 1961.

I don’t want to be the asshole that just dwells on this shit but the point is, this had the makings of a beautiful and great film had it stuck to solid truths and focused on these women’s actual contributions and their incredible minds. Yes, that stuff is in this film but it doesn’t seem to be the most important statement. This is a picture trying to make a political and social statement about Civil Rights America and the racial divide that still exists on a level even today but there are already dozens, if not hundreds of films that have been tackling the subject for decades.

Point being, if you are an American, you know all of this. You don’t need it spelled out to you every second like your getting your first history lesson. And if you are a decent person, which I believe most people are, you already reject racism and bigotry against all types of people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or what have you.

The acting in this movie was pretty damn good. Especially from the three female leads but none of them have really disappointed me in anything that they’ve done thus far. I also loved Mahershala Ali in this and he’s becoming one of my favorite actors working today. He’s just got this electric charisma and he’s a stunning looking man with a powerful presence.

It was weird seeing Jim Parsons in this because I have never seen him in anything outside of The Big Bang Theory. I’d like to see him get other work, as his character of Sheldon Cooper is already one of the most iconic characters in television history. While I liked him in this, his NASA engineer character just seemed like an unfunny and bigoted version of Sheldon.

Despite my criticisms, I definitely liked this film more than it may appear. It was well made, well acted and was about science and history. I just wish that it would have been more accurate and focused on telling a story instead of feeling the need to make a statement we’ve all already seen countless times over and are very well aware of.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: For similar themes about the black struggle leading up to and through the Civil Rights era: A Raisin in the SunThe Great DebatersMalcolm X… there are so many.

Film Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

Release Date: August 31st, 2017 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer

Double Dare You Productions, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 123 Minutes

Review:

*Warning: there will be spoilers!

“You may think, “That thing looks human.” Stands on two legs, right? But – we’re created in the Lord’s image. You don’t think that’s what the Lord looks like, do you?” – Strickland

I was fairly excited for The Shape of Water, as it isn’t very often that we get movies with Gillmen or some variant of one. The Creature From the Black Lagoon is one of my favorite movies of all-time, so I have always had a soft spot for aquatic humanoid monsters. Plus, Guillermo del Toro is pretty much the godfather of the modern dark fairy-tale.

It should probably go without saying that this film was a visual delight and that it boasted incredible cinematography and great lighting. All of this was enhanced by the great care and attention to detail in the set design and the overall early 1960s setting. It was like the flip side of a Mad Men world, where instead of light and cheeriness, there is a looming darkness and a cloud of depression over these characters and their world.

This isn’t a straight up reinterpretation of The Creature From the Black Lagoon though. It is actually closer to that film’s sequels, which saw the Gillman in captivity and being experimented on by human scientists. But even then, this is more of a Beauty and the Beast story than anything else. It just so happens that the beast is an aquatic creature from the Amazon and that he is a prisoner of evil men.

Beauty in this case is Sally Hawkins’ Elisa. She is a cleaning lady that works at a big government institution where they are doing experiments on the monster. She has an immediate attraction to the creature, as both are outsiders who have been treated badly by others. You see, Elisa is a mute and she is constantly treated differently because of her handicap.

As the story rolls on, Elisa falls in love with the creature, as he doesn’t see her as someone with a handicap. While the story generally works well it is a bit forced and overly sappy. Del Toro lays it on real thick.

Eventually, Elisa frees the creature from the institution and keeps him at her home where the two do get it on. Maybe I’m old fashioned but the sex element to the story was a bit bizarre and brings up questions of bestiality whether or not the creature is intelligent or not. In the film, this just seemed to be an afterthought because love is the focus. Well, I’ve loved all my dogs over the years but I never fucked them and one of them was intelligent enough to open doors.

The sex with the creature angle would be okay in some twisted grindhouse picture that’s made to shock people but here it happens in a film that carries a message of love and is well made, well produced and will probably be up for a lot of big awards in a few months. And the issue just felt like an afterthought. It’s not just some plot point to accept within the context, it’s a pretty big moral curveball. But I guess most of the other critics are okay with Beauty banging the Beast before he returns to human form. But this film isn’t cheap fantasy erotica… or is it? Is this just Fifty Shades of Beast Cock?

The film also keeps beating its audience with how much these people are outsiders. It doesn’t take much to figure out and it could have been done much more subtlety. I feel like del Toro is falling into the same trap as a lot of contemporary filmmakers, where he feels the need to spell everything out and then keep reinforcing those points throughout the movie.

The film is also two hours but it felt like it was three. The first half moves fairly quickly but once the monster escapes the clutches of the evil humans, everything just drags to a crawl. We get a big showdown in the end but ultimately, the film was pretty predictable. Well, except for the bestiality curveball. Glad I didn’t take my mum or one of my aunts to this. I never would’ve heard the end of it, “Oh, Robbie… the fish man is nice but why would you have sex with him? He’s a fish man!”

I liked this movie from a technical and visual standpoint but I was letdown by the story and its execution. I thought the acting as exceptional but that can’t save a poor script and clunky narrative.

Rating: 7/10