Tag Archives: film review

Spiderman: Homecoming

I went to see the new Marvel movie with my sons, who are huge superhero movie fans.  I figured it would be entertaining, and it was, but there were some very good performances in it as well.  I especially liked Michael Keaton’s Vulture, who has this interesting good/bad thing going on.  Tom Holland as young (15 year old) Peter Parker was quite good as well.  I totally believed him as a high school sophomore, though toward the end he looked a little more like the 21-year-old man that he actually is.  The rest of the supporting cast was likable and hit the right notes.  I guess that’s a testament to good direction.

No one is going to claim this is more than escapist entertainment, but it was more fun than I thought it would be.  I wouldn’t necessarily go see it again, but I wouldn’t switch channels if I someday come across it on a television showing.

*****

La La Land commentary

So about two weeks ago we finally saw La La Land — though not at the theater; we watched it in our family room on BluRay.  Bought the CD at the same time.

I really enjoyed the movie.  I enjoy the CD even more.  I’ve been listening to it a lot, even with a free trial of Sirius in the car and a new all-Beatles channel (18 on the Sirius channel guide).  I love the eclectic mix of styles and the emotion that is behind all the pieces.  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling aren’t Broadway-quality vocalists, but they’re both passable (Stone is better than Gosling, I think) and can stay on key.  And they too convey the emotions of their acting performance in their vocal performances.

If you don’t know, the movie is about two young dreamers, an actress (Stone) and a jazz musician (Gosling) chasing those dreams and finding each other, supporting each other, and falling in love.  It was the ending that really made what would have been a good film into a great one, in my opinion.

Don’t read on if you don’t want some things about the movie spoiled for you.

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Okay, that’s enough space.  So, the ending…

As a viewer, you go through the entire film watching the relationship of Emma Stone’s Mia and Ryan Gosling’s Seb (short for Sebastian)build up from their awkward first meetings to their budding romance to, finally, Seb’s missteps (betrayal seems like too strong a word) as they both chase their dreams. They have their inevitable breakup, and then Seb gets a call from a woman looking to audition Mia for a starring role in a big motion picture which will be filmed in Paris.  He has to go find Mia, and convince her to go for it.  She does, and does well, and then the film cuts to five years in the future.

We see Mia basically being the star, going to the coffee shop where she used to work.  From there, she goes home, where waits the baby and her husband.   She looks pretty happy.  She has it all, a family and her dream career.

But the husband isn’t Seb.  It’s someone else!

So she and the husband are going out and leaving the baby with a nanny, and they get off the expressway and end up wandering into a jazz club.

The logo at the door, the name of the club, is SEB’S.  It’s the logo that Mia designed over five years ago.  They enter and find a table to watch the talented combo play some old-school jazz.  After the song concludes, the owner of the club comes on and it’s no surprise that it’s her old love, Seb.  He sees her and they lock eyes right before he sits down at the piano.  And he plays the opening notes of the song that’s run through the entire soundtrack:  Mia and Sebastian’s Theme.  It’s a pretty song, with some intricate piano runs and a haunting melody, and it takes Mia back.

And we see in her mind that she’s back in the club where she first encountered Seb.  She wandered in after an unfulfilling party, and she hears him play this song.  Right after the song finishes, the manager fires Seb for not playing the Christmas music he’s been hired to play.  She goes to compliment him and…

Back then, he rudely bumps into her as he storms past and out of the club.

This time, he passionately embraces her and kisses her, in her dream, and their life together, a life that did not come to pass, plays out in her mind.  They go through their life, hit their milestones, and there are two distinct changes:  One, Seb turns down John Legend’s character for a job in his powerhouse band, and two, Seb is there, front row, at a packed house for Mia’s one woman play that she’s produced and starred in.  (The first time, the house wasn’t packed — there were only a couple of people in it.)

She nails the audition, and the baby is still there, but now Seb is the husband and father, and they’re leaving for a night out, and they end up in the jazz club, but it isn’t “Seb’s” any more.  They’re audience members watching the band.  And then it fades and we’re back to Seb playing the final notes of the theme, and Mia is still sitting next to her husband (played by Tom Everett Scott — hey, she ended up with Skitch, the drummer for the Wonders and an aspiring jazz player in the movie THAT THING YOU DO).

They get up to leave, and there’s a sadness about it, but then she looks back and her eyes meet with Seb’s eyes, and they smile, a knowing smile, and it’s over.

So what happened?

I read some comments that suggested that in Mia’s daydream, Seb was the one who made all the sacrifices.  He doesn’t join up with the powerhouse band that has a big hit and is doing huge venues and pays well.  He doesn’t end up with his jazz club.  He just follows Mia on her career path.

I read another comment that suggested that during the movie, Mia was always the one supporting Seb.  She watched him perform multiple times during the film, and he never saw her, even at the play that he missed because of a photo session for the band.

But why is Seb in this band that clearly isn’t the kind of music that he loves?  There was a phone call early in the movie where Mia is talking to her mother about Seb and describing his job prospects, and Seb hears it and I think he gets the idea that Mia wants him to do something like this band, to be very successful.

It seems they’re both doing stuff for the other one.  Miscommunication?  Maybe.  But throughout the movie, they’re both chasing dreams.  Seb’s dream of owning his own jazz club where he does things his way seems to be a longshot without the band that he’s part of.  Mia’s acting career seems to be a longshot if she doesn’t do her dream project of the play.  It’s Seb’s one “selfish” act of not attending the play because of a photo shoot that he’s forced into that pushes them apart, and maybe makes them realize just how important their own dreams are to themselves.

In the end, the smile says that they recognize what they’ve done for each other…helped each other to achieve their dreams, but at the expense of the dream of having each other.  And maybe they could have had each other also, but that would have come at the expense of either Seb’s or Mia’s dream.

Are they happy with this?  I think the smile they share at the end shows that they’ve at least accepted it.  In an interview about the ending, Emma Stone said, ““I don’t know that they necessarily couldn’t have ended up together.  I think these two characters help inspire each other’s dreams and the way that that unfolds means that they can’t end up together but that their love isn’t any less important. I was talking to somebody the other night and he said that ‘What I really love about this story is that in the end, even though she’s happily married and has a baby, that this movie celebrates those loves that came before and that they’re just as important as the love you have now.’ It’s about how important each person is in your journey in wherever you’re going.”

So they know that without each other, they would never have achieved their goals, and they’re better for having known each other and having loved each other.

It’s a deep ending that provoked a lot of thought in me.

I’d love to hear comments about the movie in the comments to this post (assuming anyone reads this).

/end spoiler

As I said at the beginning, I really think this was a great film that will stand the test of time and will be enjoyable to watch years down the road…and will probably inspire a few people to follow their own dreams.

*****

WALL-E thoughts and comments from a while back…

I’ve been thinking about dystopian and post-apocalyptic storytelling recently, and it dovetailed with some thoughts about Disney from a while ago.  So I started thinking about the movie WALL-E.  I wrote some stuff to a file a while back, and thought I’d put it up here.

It’s been a while since we saw the Disney/Pixar offering WALL-E.  I recall that when we saw it,  I was expecting to be as charmed by it as I have been by most of the previous Pixar films, including such offerings as CARS, FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY (1 and 2), and RATATOUILLE.

And I think WALL-E was as good as those movies (and maybe better in a lot of ways), but not nearly as charming. I don’t know how to explain it…I think those other stories all take the Disney formula (if you don’t know that formula, no sense in trying to explain it) and used it with their own unique twists. And they’ve worked, so much so that they are really the class of Disney animation currently, and have been for a long time, since the days of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN.

But – WALL-E presents a much more complicated story than any of those. It’s FAR less happy than any of them, far less funny, and more touching in a lot of ways. It’s also more of a dystopian SF adventure than anything I’ve seen previously done by Disney. (I wonder what that will mean to repeat business for this film – while I liked it, I can’t see going back to the theater to see it with the kids like we have done for other Pixar films…)

(THIS SYNOPSIS LIKELY CONTAINS SPOILERS – READ AT YOUR OWN RISK…)

In case you don’t know, Wall-E is a little robot whose name is an acronym (exactly for what, I can’t remember-waste allocation something something – Earth). He’s the last one of his kind to still be operational, to still be functioning in his task to clean up the waste and garbage left on the planet by humans as they’ve abandoned their planet for a life in space. He’s a fairly low-tech looking thing, yet he has intelligence and self-awareness. He is lonely, as you might expect, with only a cockroach as company for who knows how many of the last 700 years. Yet he goes about his tasks diligently, compacting and stacking trash into skyscraper sized piles all around the city.

Into this world comes EVE, a sleek “female” robot whose “directive” is classified. Fortunately for Wall-E, she doesn’t vaporize him immediately (I wondered about her defensive responses – was she programmed to find monsters on Earth? Why is she so quick to shoot first at anything that moves?) and after he follows her around for a long time, the pair of robots fall in “love”, or something like love at least.

When Wall-E is showing her his treasures, artifacts from humanity’s past that he’s collected in his day to day toils, he presents her with something different – something he hasn’t come across in a long time. A small living plant. EVE’s response is dramatic. She seizes the small plant, places it inside of her metallic body, and goes into a sort of catatonia. On her body a green leaf flashes over and over. And sure enough, soon the ship that left her comes to collect her, and she is being delivered to wherever she came from originally. And of course, Wall-E can’t let her go like that; he chases her down and ends up going on a trip through outer space to her final destination: the star cruiser Axiom with its cargo of humanity.

And herein lies more dystopian elements. Humanity has changed – low gravity and a life of leisure has turned them into a bunch of lazy blobs who are content to be waited on hand and foot by their robot tenders and don’t even think about life or interaction with each other. Their captain is a pleasant but seemingly not too “bright” blob voiced by John Goodman. (John Ratzenberger makes his usual appearance as a passenger who is forced to interact with others by Wall-E’s intrusion into their daily existence.) The Buy-N-Large Corporation is the benefactor in all of this – the corporation is the entity that built the robots, that sent humans into space to live while Earth is supposedly being cleaned up, and that promoted this lifestyle in the first place – a sort of bad guy who isn’t really even there anymore.

Of course, Wall-E and EVE save the day, getting the plant to the proper place which results in the ship returning to Earth, against heavy resistance from the robots who now seem to embody the Corporation. It’s a touching conclusion at times, watching the humans get back on their feet, literally and figuratively, and relearn the joys of living, as the captain watches Wall-E and EVE dance through the space around the ship, and as the passengers are forced to interact with each other and simply act to save themselves. The captain outwits his robot overseer in the end, and humans return to Earth, which is not really “ready” to receive them but which needs their attention to be reborn. All very optimistic, at the end, and positive.

It’s a cautionary tale, however, warning against a lot of things – not the least of which is excessive consumption, corporate greed and a trend toward indoor (computers, video games, big screen tvs, etc.) entertainment vs outdoor activity. It seems to warn against technological achievement just for the sake of achievement, with no attention to the good or bad results of such achievement. Maybe most of all it warns against the current trend of not looking beyond tomorrow. I think there are some heavy social and political themes buried in the cartoon medium within which director Andrew Stanton and Pixar work best. Probably a lot more of them than I’m getting to here…I think someone could expand on a lot of these things and dig far deeper into this story than I’ve done.

And that, by itself, was very unusual for a Disney or a Pixar type story. So, while WALL-E was not nearly as charming or uplifting as other Disney fare, it was certainly deeper and more socially aware than almost anything they had done in this medium to that point in time.

We never did see it again in the theater, but we did buy it on DVD, and we’ve enjoyed it more than once on our own home screen.   I’ve grown even fonder of the film as time has passed.

Maybe it’s time to watch it again…

******

TOMORROWLAND (the movie) and inspiration…

Having read quite a bit about Walt Disney, I may be seeing this recent Disney film with tinted glasses.  I remember being inspired by the stories that Disney put on film and on TV in a myriad of ways back in the 1960’s, when I was inspired by the stories and the music to write my own stories and to learn to play the songs.  I didn’t take my inspiration for my love of science from Disney (directly); it was the space program that grabbed me and made me want to learn.  Yeah, I was one of those kids who wanted to be an astronaut.  I dreamed about traveling to the Moon or to Mars, or to even more distant places.  My interest was fed by writers like Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke (the so-called Big Three) and by Charlton Heston movies like THE OMEGA MAN and PLANET OF THE APES.

It wasn’t till I started to study Disney that I realized how interested he was in the space program himself — and in scientific advancement!  He made promotional films for NASA to help generate popular support for the project to put a man on the Moon, and in his parks was this area he called “Tomorrowland.”  Tomorrowland celebrated the future by promoting the achievements of corporations in that direction.  It had exhibits like “The House of Tomorrow” and a futuristic “People Mover” and its retrospective tribute to technology, “Carousel of Progress.”  I didn’t know about these things till relatively recently because I didn’t go to Disney World until 1975, and then as a member of my high school band who was less concerned with appreciating what I was seeing than with the existence of high school girls from other band programs in other parts of the country.

So what’s all that have to do with TOMORROWLAND, the movie?  I believe there is something of Walt Disney’s persona in this film.  And that something is “Optimism.”  Walt Disney was a futurist, according to Ray Bradbury.  A forward-thinking man who had his eyes on solving the problems of the world with technology, through corporations.

The movie isn’t as focused on corporations as agents for positive change, but it has the same optimism about the future that Walt had.  If I understood correctly, the story is that scientists figured out how to access an alternate dimension of reality and then proceeded to create a world where science was king — where just about anything was possible.  (Sort of goes with Walt’s old “If you can dream it, you can do it” mentality.)  In fact, the film starts with a boy inventor traveling to the World’s Fair that Disney used as a testing ground for so many things that found themselves into his parks, including the aforementioned Carousel of Progress and the “it’s a small world” attraction.  (At that fair, for the Illinois exhibit, Walt and company built an audio-animatronic Lincoln that people reported rose and stepped into the audience, shaking people’s hands – of course it did no such thing but, well, that’s how imagination works I guess.)  He makes his way to Tomorrowland with the help of a pretty young girl and a pin that she gives him.  Cut to the future – our future – where our space program is being dismantled and where pessimism reigns.  What’s the best an intelligent young man or woman can hope for in this world?  It certainly isn’t the Moon, or Mars.

In the film’s case, the intelligent young person is a high school girl who becomes intrigued by a pin she finds among her belongings after she is released from jail — she was arrested for sabotaging the machines that are destroying the launch platforms at Cape Canaveral.  The pin shows her a shining land of science and technology that is beyond her wildest dreams, and she must find it.

The straightforward adventure story that follows is competently written and it plays out in an entertaining manner.  But it was the concept behind that adventure — the idea that you can make a difference, that your brain is more powerful than anything else, and that amazing things can be accomplished if our best and brightest put their minds to it — that intrigued me.

And it wasn’t just me.  My kids were intrigued by the ideas, by the inspiration that they were able to take from the story.  I have smart kids, and we’ve always talked about accomplishing big things through intellect (not in those words, obviously), and they saw in this film something more than an unrealistic adventure story.  It’s the same sort of feeling we have when we leave EPCOT or Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom.  There’s an enthusiasm after those visits, a feeling that anything IS possible, in fact.

I found a review on a sometimes-Disney site called FutureProbe and I’m going to just quote the end of it:

The lesson our characters should have learned is that Tomorrowland isn’t a place you escape to, it’s something you make wherever you happen to be. The movie shouldn’t have ended with a bunch of robot children setting out to bring people to Tomorrowland, but with them setting out to bring Tomorrowland to the people.

I agree with the sentiment, but I think it’s being nit-picky about the final message. So what if the robots are setting out to bring the best and brightest to Tomorrowland instead of rejoining the real world? In a sense, they are metaphorically doing exactly that – inspiring the young people to create the future instead of accepting it and “gaming the system” for their own benefit. Maybe “Tomorrowland” is MIT or Harvard or University of Illinois for some particular teenager, and maybe it’s going to work for an environmentally aware company. Maybe it’s just getting the best out of yourself instead of coasting.

In any case, I found a lot to like about this movie.  I’m not going to argue that it’s the greatest piece of filmmaking ever, but it’s more than an entertaining story, or at least it can be.

*****