SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence, some Language and brief Suggestive Comments

Directed by: Jon Watts

Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers

(based on the SPIDER-MAN comics by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier & Tony Revolori

After years of battling for the rights and fans craving Spider-Man’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony and Marvel finally teamed up to deliver (at least) two SPIDER-MAN movies set within the MCU. The web-slinging superhero’s introduction was a highlight in last year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and I was hoping that Marvel might deliver a (second) SPIDER-MAN reboot that could actually work. While SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is a fun, light-hearted piece of superhero fluff and wisely doesn’t retread origin material that’s been done twice over, this sixteenth movie in the MCU isn’t quite up to the level of its competition.

After aiding Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in fighting Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is anxiously awaiting his next official mission with the Avengers. However, school comes first and Parker finds himself dealing with the angst that plagues most teenagers. Eager to prove himself to Iron Man, Spider-Man jumps at the chance to take down new high-tech supervillain Vulture. Things get complicated though as this adolescent Avenger seems to be out of his league against Vulture and is running on thin ice with Tony Stark…and there’s also the upcoming Homecoming dance. What’s a teenage superhero to do?

In its second phase and during its third phase, Marvel Studios seems more willing to take risks and mix different genres with the typical superhero formula. For example, WINTER SOLDIER was a fantastic conspiracy thriller with a superhero, both GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films were space operas with superheroes, DOCTOR STRANGE was a mind-bending fantasy with a superhero, and ANT-MAN was a heist-comedy with a superhero. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is very much a coming-of-age tale…with a superhero. Sometimes, this works, but other times it feels overly familiar and doesn’t nearly seem as exciting or fun as it should be.

This might be fatigue from seeing two other incarnations of SPIDER-MAN within the span of 10 years, but I blame most of this film’s problems on overused tropes (from both the superhero and coming-of-age genres). None of the fault falls on the shoulders of Tom Holland, who’s playing the youngest version of Peter Parker that we’ve seen yet and convincingly brings the ambitious do-gooder, smart-ass side of Spidey to the screen. Though I still hold a soft spot in my heart for Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and I thought that Andrew Garfield drastically improved his performance in his second outing as the crime-fighting wall-crawler, Holland just might give Maguire a run for his money in future films (as the character grows up and the stories evolve).

On the supporting side of things, Jacob Batalon earns a lot of laughs as Peter’s geeky best friend Ned. Zendaya is half-heartedly thrown aside as Peter’s bland love interest. Even worse than the unbelievably forced romantic angle is Tony Revolori being miscast as Flash. Instead of a jock bully who wants to beat Peter’s brains in, Flash has been made over into a pompous, rich kid, “king of the nerds” type of tormentor and it simply doesn’t work. Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr make appearances as Peter’s naïve teachers, while Marisa Tomei is fun as Aunt May. Also, it’s impossible not to enjoy watching Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, even though he only gets about fifteen minutes of screen time.

HOMECOMING’s best quality comes in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Instead of being your typical supervillain, Vulture’s motivation is sympathetic and his progression of evil has a moral compass. These character traits make Keaton’s baddie into one of the most interesting Marvel villains we’ve received thus far, even if his first action scene with Spider-Man is ruined by incoherent quick editing and shaky cam. The rest of the encounters are fun to watch, especially a conversation between the two of them in a car. Also, a mid-credits scene reveals yet another moment that make Keaton’s Vulture into a more complex villain…who deserved more than this by-the-numbers script. The same can be said of Shocker (played by Logan Marshall-Green and Bokeem Woodbine) who mostly stands around and only gets one solid fight scene that’s over far too quickly.

Every major problem with SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING comes from predictable writing and overused clichés. Coming-of-age stories have been done to death nearly as much as superhero movies, so combining those two genres doesn’t exactly give the filmmaker or (six!) writers a lot of originality to work with. This feels like a safe made-by-committee superhero movie, which could have been the direct result of Sony and Marvel working together. Still, there’s enough entertainment, good acting, and laughs to make SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING worth a tepid recommendation. HOMECOMING is your average fun superhero movie and your average fun teenage coming-of-age tale…and it’s the fourth best SPIDER-MAN film thus far (behind SPIDER-MAN 2, SPIDER-MAN, and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2).

Grade: B-

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexuality

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Directed by: John Madden

Written by: Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard

Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton & Tom Wilkinson

I’ll address the elephant in the room first. A lot of people feel that SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE stole the 1998’s Academy Award for Best Picture away from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, thus some backlash has generated against this film (similar to backlash that’s generated against TITANIC and FORREST GUMP). While I definitely don’t think that everyone will enjoy SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, I will say that it enraptured me from the first frame and was a hugely entertaining experience as a whole. I imagine that the film will work a similar spell upon fans of Shakespeare’s work and 16th century period dramas. The film is a romantic comedy that succeeds in being more than just a stereotypical chick flick (though it does contain a few well-worn clichés), but rather a beautiful love story featuring one of history’s most famous influential writers.

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The year is 1593 and William Shakespeare is a struggling playwright trying to make his way in London. Though he has a way with words, Shakespeare is encountering a particularly nasty bit of writer’s block as he tries to construct a new comedy (titled ROMEO AND ETHEL, THE PIRATE’S DAUGHTER). Through a few passing circumstances, Romeo finds a muse in the lovely Viola de Lesseps, a royal woman with a penchant for plays. In a forbidden friendship and secret romance, Shakespeare constructs his most famous play. We see how inspiration, tragedy, and timeless love hits William as his relationship with Viola evolves.

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SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE was shot on a budget of 25 million and that seems nearly impossible given the film’s sheer beauty, attention to detail, and elaborate costumes on display. The Elizabethan setting comes to colorful and dank life (depending on the scene) as every piece of jewelry and grimy smudge of dirt shines on the camera. Not once, does it ever appear that this film was shot on a sound stage. Instead, it makes me question as to whether director John Madden used a time machine to shoot this film in 16th century London. It looks that friggin’ good. The spectacle alone is worth watching, but that’s far from the most enjoyable aspect of this film.

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The cast includes many big names (some of whom weren’t nearly as famous as they are today). Joseph Fiennes is perfectly cast as William Shakespeare and exudes the kind of eccentricity that one would assume the brilliant playwright had on a daily basis. Gwyneth Paltrow is great as Viola. Though the character was invented purely for the purposes of this film, I couldn’t help but see her as one of those rare nobles with a deep appreciation for the theatre. Colin Firth is fantastic as a pompous jerk with his eye on Viola. Though he’s in a small role, Ben Affleck is enjoyable as an actor who takes his craft very seriously. Imelda Staunton and Geoffrey Rush serve as two very different types of over-the-top characters. While Rush is a grimy theatre owner, Staunton serves as Viola’s kindly nurse. Tom Wilkinson has an enjoyable part as a thuggish brute who slowly develops an appreciation for theatre over the course of the film. Finally, Judi Dench is phenomenal as Queen Elizabeth and seems born to play the role.

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The screenplay isn’t immune from common tropes that show up in every romantic comedy. These mainly include problems that stand in the way of Shakespeare and Viola’s true feelings for each other as well as an ending that probably got more than a few people to cry in the theater. I also didn’t buy one of the sillier sequences that really stretched plausibility midway through. However, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE feels very much like one of Shakespeare’s comedies that happens to star the playwright and other historical figures. In that sense, it’s truly a brilliant film. I especially enjoyed the use of Christopher Marlowe (another acclaimed playwright who lived during the Elizabethan era). The plot itself weaves elements of both ROMEO & JULIET (obviously) and TWELFTH NIGHT into a love story that feels familiar, but beautiful and touching all the same.

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SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE is a cinematic treat for those who adore the bard’s work or enjoy romantic comedies in general. This is definitely not your average “chick flick,” though it has some familiar clichés. Instead, the film is a very clever, well-crafted love story about a real-life writer who penned clever, well-crafted love stories among other brilliant plays. The performances are outstanding from everyone involved. The period details are fantastic. The movie has impeccable comedic timing and a genuine heart behind all of the emotions on display. This might be an obvious way of stating it, but SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE is a creation worth loving.

Grade: A-

MORTDECAI (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Language and Sexual Material

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Directed by: David Koepp

Written by: Eric Aronson

(based on the novel DON’T POINT THAT THING AT ME by Kyril Bonfiglioli)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn & Jeff Goldblum

Full disclosure: I didn’t have high hopes for MORTDECAI. Seeing as the backlash against this film is substantial and it has become one of the biggest flops of the year thus far (right behind JUPITER ASCENDING and BLACKHAT), my expectations were set pretty low for MORTDECAI. At the most, I was hoping for a couple of laughs and a guilty pleasure (ala I, FRANKENSTEIN). Even with these tepid feelings going in, MORTDECAI still wound up filling me with hatred against every ounce of this movie. It’s the worst kind of bad film there is: an unfunny comedy.

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Charlie Mortdecai is a moustached art dealer who happens to sell stolen goods and elaborate faux replicas. Though his family was wealthy and he still holds an estate, Charlie is on the edge of bankruptcy and financial ruin. When he’s recruited by an inspector (who happens to be a former friend with a crush on Johanna, Charlie’s wife) to track down a stolen painting that is also being hunted by various groups of dangerous people (Russian thugs, a thief named Emil, and Hong Kong gangsters). This leads to many wild, crazy antics with Mortdecai constantly being thrown into harm’s way with Jock, his man-servant, constantly getting him out of these sticky situations. While Charlie is away, the Inspector is also trying to start an affair with Johanna. If none of those things sound the least bit entertaining, then don’t worry because there’s also a lame subplot about Mortdecai’s newly grown facial hair.

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Director David Koepp has been involved with cool projects in the past, but MORTDECAI definitely is the worst thing he’s ever slapped his name on. To be fair, Koepp didn’t write the screenplay, but it feels like this film is trying desperately to get laughs. It throws everything at the wall and nothing sticks. There are fish-out-of-water situations with Charlie being in Los Angeles, awkward puns, bits of innuendo, and even room for brief puke and fart humor. Every single one of these sight gags, puns and scenarios feels dusty. One character even says the same joke twice in the space of 15 seconds in an attempt to get at the very least a chuckle. While the line is dead on arrival the first time it’s uttered, hearing it repeated a second time really hits home how MORTDECAI is beating the skeletal remains of a dead horse that has long since decomposed. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the R rating is wasted as this felt like a PG-13 flick all the way through. No profane language (save for one instance) or any jokes push the envelope. It’s as tame as can be.

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The film becomes downright unbearable during the final 30 minutes. I was tempted to give up and turn this movie off. That almost never happens when I’m watching a film either. I usually have no urge to do anything else but stick the film out until the end credits begin to roll. The real problem is that MORTDECAI feels like it has an ending and then continues forward for 30 more minutes of horribly unfunny material. It shouldn’t come as a shock that every performer isn’t exactly at the top of their game in this one. Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow seem disinterested in the movie they’re making (I can’t say I blame them). Johnny Depp is cashing in on the typecast cartoon character that he’s recently become known for playing (hopefully BLACK MASS turns that around this September). It’s clear that Depp was trying to channel a Peter Sellers sort of Clouseau character, but even Steve Martin did it better in those mediocre PINK PANTHER reboots. The only one who seems to be having any fun is Paul Bettany as Jock, but he still didn’t get any decent laughs or lines.

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MORTDECAI is awful. It’s beyond awful, this is anti-comedy. This is the sort of film that you could show someone and it could entirely turn them off the concept of laughing ever again. It’s clear that this was nothing more than a quick paycheck for everybody involved and I’m so very glad that it tanked at the box office. MORTDECAI is a depressing, laugh-free waste of time that just might go down as the worst film in Johnny Depp’s career. Yes, I’m also taking TRANSCENDENCE into consideration when I say that.

Grade: F

THE AVENGERS (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 23 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action throughout, and a mild Drug Reference

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Directed by: Joss Whedon

Written by: Joss Whedon

(based on the AVENGERS comics by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany & Powers Boothe

In the history of cinema, there’s never been anything quite like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Through various origin stories and connections, Marvel released a number of films (IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, IRON MAN 2, THOR, and CAPTAIN AMERICA) with the intentions of leading up to a massive epic AVENGERS movie that comic book geeks never thought they would receive in their wildest dreams. While the films leading up this 2012 summer blockbuster ranged in quality, THE AVENGERS fast became a critically acclaimed blockbuster that ranked as one of the biggest money-makers in the history of film. Everybody loved this movie and most still do, but I don’t fawn over it as much as everybody else seems to. THE AVENGERS is hugely entertaining, but far from perfect thanks to three problems.

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Top secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D. is experimenting with the Tesseract (an infinity stone) and find themselves in a bit of trouble. The evil Loki has come to our world with the goals of using the infinity stone for evil and dominating all of mankind. It’s up to special agent Nick Fury to assemble a ragtag group of superheroes to form the Avengers. They might not get along with each other, but this team of heroes is here to save the day. It’s Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye vs. Loki and his army of intergalactic conquerors.

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The biggest pleasure of watching THE AVENGERS is to see this group of Marvel superheroes interact with each other. You get to watch as Iron Man gets into arguments with Captain America and forms a friendship with the Hulk. There’s also Thor being aggressive towards everyone as well as the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team being wary of Bruce Banner to much comic relief. Seeing as these characters have been developed through separate movies (save for Black Widow and Hawkeye), there’s no real need for extra character development. It’s a cast of actors slipping right back into their established roles with ease. Black Widow is a good character on her own, but Hawkeye is underdeveloped (though that’s mainly the result of a plot device in the first 5 minutes).

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The biggest drawback character is Loki as the main villain. He’s already been given his time to shine as the bad guy in THOR, but we’re expected to find him just as interesting in THE AVENGERS (having already seen Thor beat his ass once already). While Tom Hiddleston is funny in the role, he just isn’t that great of a threat for the Avengers. The rest of the baddies are a bunch of faceless aliens that really aren’t given much of a purpose other than to be beaten by the Avengers. For a movie that was set up as an action-packed superhero extravaganza from beginning to end, AVENGERS takes an awful long space of time just focusing on the team members squabbling with each other on their floating S.H.I.E.L.D. base. It’s as if this movie that was clearly setting itself up as a fanboy’s wet dream decided to take a break in order to build supposed tension and that doesn’t really work out in the movie’s favor.

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As far as the spectacle itself is concerned, AVENGERS looks huge and feels epic. The action set pieces are entertaining and it’s a blast to watch this well-known group of mismatched heroes working together in a climax set across the streets of New York. There are plenty of one-liners, fights, and explosions to go around. Everything looks great with one problem and it’s a big one. The Hulk is really cheesy. Mark Ruffalo is quite good in the role of Bruce Banner, but the CGI monster that he turns into looks pretty silly compared to everything else around him. It’s possible that we’ll never see a Hulk who looks perfectly rendered because, well, the Hulk isn’t that great of a hero to begin with. However, even the Hulk from 2008’s INCREDIBLE HULK was a lot better than this green Ruffalo-resembling creature. It doesn’t distract from any of the awesome scenes featuring the other heroes, but he’s pretty dumb looking by himself. That being said, a scene between him and Loki is pure gold.

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Overall, THE AVENGERS is a lot of fun. That being said, it’s far from a perfect movie. Hell, there are even films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that have managed to outdo this one (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY). The running time is bit too long and the design of Hulk looks pretty silly. Also, we’ve seen Loki before and I wish they could have given us a better villain. With all these things in mind, THE AVENGERS is a highly entertaining comic book film that delivers the goods. I do think it’s a bit overrated, but there’s hope that AGE OF ULTRON could manage to one-up this in every possible way.

Grade: B+

AUSTIN POWERS: GOLDMEMBER (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Innuendo, Crude Humor and Language

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Directed by: Jay Roach

Written by: Mike Myers & Michael McCullers

Starring: Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Michael York, Michael Caine, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Verne Troyer, Mindy Sterling & Fred Savage

AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY received lukewarm reception in its theatrical release and became a quick cult hit on home video. A couple of years later, THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME came out to delight many fans of the groovy swinging spy from the 60’s. After the hit of that sequel, it took three years for GOLDMEMBER to come out in the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, this is a lackluster installment to say the least. Jokes that were funny in the first two have gotten stale in this third outing. It almost seems like success got to the heads of Mike Myers, Michael McCullers and Jay Roach. A cameo loaded opening full of Oscar winners and pop stars is a sign that this entry had far more of a budget this time around. That’s apparent in many areas, but more money doesn’t necessarily make for a better movie. A majority of GOLDMEMBER either comes as bland or forced.

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Austin Powers has finally apprehended Dr. Evil and tiny clone Mini-Me. However, Austin faces a threat from the past in the form of a 70’s disco-dancing Dutch madman by the name of Goldmember. This lunatic has kidnapped Austin’s neglectful father. It’s up to the shaggadelic spy and a newly found afro-touting sidekick Foxxy Cleopatra to take down Goldmember, save Austin’s dad, and stop another ridiculous plan from Dr. Evil. What happened to Felicity Shagwell of the last film? Did she go back to the past? Was she actually a Fembot? Is it possible that Heather Graham wasn’t contractually obligated to appear briefly in a third film to close off her romance with Mike Myers? All of these could be a possibility, but the real answer is never given to the audience. This is an early plot hole that’s a sign of some seriously lazy writing (even Vanessa got a good send off in SPY WHO SHAGGED ME).

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GOLDMEMBER may be a weak ending to the impromptu AUSTIN POWERS trilogy (did anybody seriously expect this to become a three-film series), but it’s the slickest in cinematography. The make-up on Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, and Goldmember looks good. The film does obviously spoof more 007 flicks (GOLDFINGER for example), but more references to other movies (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in a specific scene) and pop culture (a Britney Spears cameo and rap music video in the middle of a jail scene). These latter bits aren’t very funny and come off as awkward. Also unneeded are flashbacks of young Austin and Dr. Evil. Michael Caine is a welcome addition as Austin’s deadbeat father, but he’s essentially wasted for a majority of the flick. Also Scotty and Mini-Me are given story arcs, but neither are as hilarious as the material in the previous films.

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Mike Myers plays four different characters this time around. Of course, he’s Austin Powers and Dr. Evil. He also returns as Fat Bastard and the newly added Goldmember. Goldmember is also a wasted villain too. This baddie’s over-the-top Dutch accent, penchant for commenting on how tight people are, lack of genitalia, and snacks of pancakes with cigarettes come off as completely lame. None of his jokes are very funny and it’s clear that Mike Myers was going into a bad spot of his comedic abilities (this was only a year before the disastrous CAT IN THE HAT).  Most of the other jokes (including returning bits from the previous entries) are dusty this time around. A more blatant example is the dirty name of a sexy woman. In the first two films it was Ivanna Humpalot or Alotta Fagina. This time around the joke has been regulated to the easy cheap Fook Mi and Fook Yu. It’s insulting how much it appears that everyone phoned it in both acting and writing. One saving grace comes in a solid set of three scenes in Japan that I was laughing hysterically at. If everything had been up to the par of those 15 minutes, than GOLDMEMBER would be a solid conclusion to an entertaining trilogy of spy-comedies. Also, Beyoncé Knowles isn’t much of a love interest. She lacks the charm of both Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham.

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An overly convoluted script is just one of the many things that GOLDMEMBER suffers from. Did we really need an intricate mythology to how Dr. Evil and Austin Powers met? There are a couple of really funny moments (my favorite part being three scenes in a row in Japan), but they are few and far between. Most of the humor is far too forced. The entire film is disappointing and the end result is a purely middle-of-the-road experience.

Grade: C

A PERFECT MURDER (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality and Language

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Directed by: Andrew Davis

Written by: Patrick Smith Kelly

(based on the play DIAL M FOR MURDER by Frederick Knott)

Starring: Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, David Suchet & Sarita Choudhury

Anybody who dares to remake an Alfred Hitchcock film is bound to face scrutiny right out of the gate. I’m sure there are more, but I can only think of four instances of a filmmaker attempting to redo a Hitchcock masterpiece: a made-for-TV version of REAR WINDOW, Gus Van Sant’s useless shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO, Platinum Dunes’s upcoming reboot of THE BIRDS, and this update of DIAL M FOR MURDER. While I still consider DIAL M FOR MURDER to be a flawless classic with one of the most ingeniously simple twist endings of all-time, I would go on a limb saying that A PERFECT MURDER is the way a remake should be done. It never comes close to topping the 1954 original, but the plot has been reworked and reshaped with new construction. The outline is similar, but changes have been made that complicate things and open up new directions for the plot to go.

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Steven and Emily Taylor are a wealthy couple living in an extravagant lifestyle in New York. Appearances can be deceiving as Steven is losing money hand over fist and Emily is having an affair behind his back with David Shaw, a starving artist. Faster than you can say murderous motivation, Steven has figured out who David is and hires him to kill Emily, thus solving his financial problems and the burden of an unfaithful wife. He’s killing two birds with one stone, but the killing here is to be taken literally. Unfortunately for Steven, the plot doesn’t go the way he thought it would and a whole new can of worms is opened with double-crossing, incriminating evidence, and a few dead bodies.

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The biggest positive I can give A PERFECT MURDER is how creative the reworking of this well-known plot went. Frederick Knott’s play is still performed to this day and gives the illusion that everything is extremely complicated, but is actually quite diabolically simple. A PERFECT MURDER adds a handful of new directions to the story that I didn’t expect and I was actually wondering where things were headed for a good portion of the film. It wasn’t because the screenplay was brilliant (the writer only moved on to pen DON’T SAY A WORD and that was the conclusion of his career in movies), but I did appreciate that my attention was kept on the screen if only for curiosity of how things would eventually close. Turns out that the climax is ham-fisted and clichéd. The alternate ending is actually a more satisfying wrap-up though it didn’t necessarily end on a brilliant note either.

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On the other side of the coin, the characters are very bland and the cast members don’t necessarily inject charisma or emotions needed to make watching these people enjoyable. I didn’t have any strong feelings for Michael Douglas to possibly get away with murder or Gwyneth Paltrow to do some investigating into the incident. They have no chemistry together, which might have been the point, but there characters weren’t given any real screen time to develop in a convincing manner. Viggo Mortensen as David, a character with skeletons in his own closet, is just as wooden as Douglas and Paltrow. An additional character of a detective serves as merely means to an end, popping up in a total of four scenes that collectively fill under 10 minutes of screen time. It really seemed as if none of the actors or actresses were trying at all.

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Nobody really cared to make this a solid update of a suspenseful classic with the exception of a screenwriter who botches it in the end and a director who does give a bit of atmosphere. There was an appropriately dark tone to the whole film that suited the content of the story. It almost seemed like the visual scheme of David Fincher’s SE7EN was employed for this fairly standard thriller. I did appreciate grim humor in the dialogue exchanges between Douglas and Mortensen. The plot changes made expand the story of play from a mere apartment setting to around the city. The R rating allows for some F-bombs, brief moments of bloody violence (one scene is gruesomely cool with a cooking utensil turned unconventional weapon), and a sex scene or two. I appreciated that the updated plot kept me on my toes, but didn’t care about the characters or the disappointing final moments.

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A PERFECT MURDER is far better than a certain other Hitchcock remake (which starred a woefully miscast Vince Vaughn as the iconic Norman Bates). I appreciated that the director tried to make this a glossy, well-crafted film and that the screenwriter reworked many of the twists for a remake that would surprise those familiar with the source material. Pitch-black humor and a good atmosphere also keep this from being a bad flick, but the wooden acting of a cast consisting of performers who don’t appear to give a single shit about the movie they’re making bring this film down a lot. The ending is cheesy beyond belief and almost feels like they gave up on a creative climax. The movie just sort of shrugs and cuts to credits. In the end, plans were set in motion for a good thriller and upended by certain factors that no one took into consideration…kind of like how Michael Douglas’s murder plot falls apart in this film.

Grade: C

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence throughout, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau & Ben Kingsley

IRON MAN 3 is the first major release from Marvel since THE AVENGERS reigned in May 2012. It also marks a few daring moves for the studio that seemed content to play it safe with their superheroes in the past. It’s Marvel’s darkest movie and consequently the best IRON MAN film yet! This almost doesn’t feel like a superhero film and I mean that in the best possible way. IRON MAN 3 feels like a James Bond film crossed paths with a Marvel production and this is the result.

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Following fresh off the events of THE AVENGERS, Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD. After al, he did witness other worlds, demigods and aliens (let alone fought against them with other superheroes to save the world). In order to cope with these new revelations, Stark has taken to long sleepless periods (up to three full days worth of time) creating new Iron Man suits and inventions. This puts extra stress on Pepper, his significant other, who was already putting up with his erratic narcissistic lifestyle. A new foe emerges in the Mandarin, a formidable terrorist issuing random attacks in different parts of the USA and Pakistan. After one of his friends in injured in an attack, Tony Stark finds himself being targeted by the Mandarin and it appears that there is far more at work than what appears at first.

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IRON MAN was a good origin story for this superhero. IRON MAN 2 was an okay sequel, but seemed like too much set up for THE AVENGERS and not enough Iron Man. However, IRON MAN 3 delivers the sequel that the second installment should have been. There are references to what happened in New York in THE AVENGERS, but this movie seemed almost like a self-contained story that focused on the battle between Iron Man and a cunning villain. The plot is smart and has a few twists, but also knows when and where to place the action scenes and humor. There are a good amount of laughs to be had in parts of IRON MAN 3 and the fight scenes are just plain cool.

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Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are back in the roles they played so well before. Rebecca Hall (THE PRESTIGE, DORIAN GRAY) shows up as one of Stark’s former lovers and Guy Pearce plays a rival scientist who may be hiding more than a few skeletons in his closet very well. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley shows up as the Mandarin. If there’s any performance to be ridiculed in this film, it belongs to Ben Kingsley. You’ll know why when you see it, but it’s not bad per se, just wasn’t what I was expecting at all from the character.

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IRON MAN 3 takes some unexpected turns along the way (one of which is clearly owed to BATMAN BEGINS). This is the most obvious twist of the bunch too and the film spent a little too much time spelling out (in case some of the audience members didn’t get it from the first two times it’s shown). Some of the logic used in this world seems a bit silly when one tries to analyze it, but the viewer should also consider that we are watching a story in a world filled with frozen patriots, demigods, and aliens. So you kind of have to erase a bit of logic from your mind when entering this film.

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With these criticisms in mind, the film is still a “superhero vs. villain” story and it marks the first time Iron Man has faced off alone against someone with actual powers. The movie never loses its speed and even though it’s the longest running IRON MAN film thus far (a bit over two hours), it felt like it went by at a perfect pace. It seems that since Marvel has gotten all of the origin stories over with for each of its main heroes, they are now willing to shake things up in their universe and take some risks. This benefits both the film and the cast greatly. The ending of IRON MAN 3 makes some bold moves and I can’t wait to see where the character of Tony Stark goes from here on. Color me officially excited for the upcoming THOR sequel, CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel and the second AVENGERS movie. It’s looking to be a brave new direction of Marvel Studios and I like what I’m seeing a lot.

Grade: B+

IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence, and Some Language

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Directed by: John Favreau

Written by: Justin Theroux

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke & Samuel L. Jackson

The first IRON MAN was a competent and enjoyable superhero origin story, even though it fell into some pitfalls of the superhero film. It set up the characters well and got a ton of development out of the way. Of course, since it banked and it was the first in a series of films that set up THE AVENGERS, it was certain that we had not seen the last of Tony Stark or his special suit. Of course, a sequel was in production to further along the blueprint for The Avengers Initiative and this one would be more packed to the gills with action, right? You’d actually be wrong on that second guess. IRON MAN 2, though far from terrible, is just an okay sequel to a good predecessor.

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Since Tony Stark announced that he was Iron Man to the world, he’s become even more of a celebrity figure. The US military wants him to turn over the Iron Man suit to the government because they see it as a possible weapon (both against them and one they could utilize against others). Tony Stark flat-out refuses and incurs the anger of a fellow weapons designer, Justin Hammer. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone, the dangerous Ivan Vanko is plotting a calculated revenge against Stark. Tony Stark’s problems don’t end there though, because the very device that is keeping him alive is also killing him with a toxic presence in his body. Can Tony Stark save himself and the day? Will Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko succeed in their separate plots to humiliate/kill Iron Man? Will plenty of set up be thrown in for THE AVENGERS? Seeing as this is a superhero movie, you should know the answers to all of the above.

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Robert Downey Jr. hops back into the role of Tony Stark, which fits him like a glove. Gwyneth Paltrow is likable enough, reprising her role as Stark’s significant other. Don Cheadle has come in to play James Rhodes, a role that belonged to Terrence Howard in the previous film, and is fantastic as somewhat of a sidekick to Stark’s superego. Mickey Rourke is great as the insane creepy Russian Ivan Vanko. Sam Rockwell, as good an actor as he is, doesn’t really come off as the intimidating type and I never really saw him as anything other than a whiny loser. This may have been exactly what they were aiming for in his character, but there was potential in this role that never seemed to be fully realized.

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The production values are spectacular, as they should be when one considers the massive budget this film had. I personally enjoyed many of the little nods thrown in that reference THE AVENGERS film and there are winks for fans of the Marvel universe (a Captain America shield here and a Thor hammer there). Samuel L. Jackson goes from brief cameo to full-on supporting character as Nick Fury. These nudges and winks for the fans are fun enough. However, it seems like there’s far too much exposition here and not enough action.

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The story begins with promise and a showdown between Stark and Ivan at a Grand Prix is appropriately exciting. The final 40 minutes are also a rollicking good time. However, it’s the middle section that drags. The final showdown between Tony and Ivan also feels a bit like a boss fight in a video game and ends far too quickly. This should have been the most intense and riveting sequence in the entire film, but it resolves itself in a bit of an anti-climactic way.

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IRON MAN 2 is a fun time. It winds up being on the lower end of the Marvel cinematic universe so far. The predecessor is far better and so is the crossover film between all of the heroes, but this winds up being just an okay sequel to a superior origin story.

Grade: B-

IRON MAN (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Jon Favreau

Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges & Gwyneth Paltrow

IRON MAN was the second turning point in modern superhero cinema (the first was Chistopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman). IRON MAN came to show that the Marvel Universe had entered the world of The Avengers. I can’t recall another time in movie history that a series of somewhat unrelated films were formed to lead up to one mega-blockbuster. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this was a good start for the series of superhero films that included many remarkable individuals and spanned across two different worlds. Taken on its own, the first IRON MAN entry is a pretty good flick.

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Tony Stark is a billionaire genius who makes his fortune off selling weapons. During a trip to Afghanistan, Tony is abducted by a group of terrorists demanding that he duplicate a weapon of mass destruction for them. What Stark actually works on is an armor-clad suit complete with attached weapons. After an explosive escape, Tony comes back home to rethink his personal responsibility in peddling tools of war. This leads to the dismay of his stock holders and faithful partner, Obadiah Stane. Using his ingenuity, Tony Stark becomes Iron Man!

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First of all, Robert Downey Jr. owns his role as Tony Stark. He makes it so it’s pretty much impossible to imagine anybody else in the role, though there might be an eventual reboot coming in a few decades. This is the kind of character that it’s difficult to separate the actor from. Robert Downey Jr. just knocks it out of the park here and winds up being the most charismatic superhero to grace the genre. Although Downey Jr. is amazing, it seems that nearly everyone else here is used as means to an end. Jeff Bridges is tragically underused. Terrence Howard is the only other one with anything resembling a real personality. Finally, Gwyneth Paltrow feels forced as the love-interest.

Jeff Bridges in "Iron Man"

Despite what Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy might have you believe, most superhero movies wind up being about the spectacle and IRON MAN nails this down perfectly! The special effects still hold five years later as stellar. The action scenes, though not as frequent as one might expect, are adrenaline-pumping too. It also makes the film even more entertaining to spot all the references to the (at-the-time upcoming) AVENGERS movie. I chuckled more than once at seeing something that would make a big comeback later on in the Marvel universe.

Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man"

The main problem that IRON MAN suffers from is a script that totally feels like a bit of a been-there, done-that origin story. We pretty much know how things will play out from the get-go. There is also a half-assed twist that can be guessed about 30 minutes into the film. However, even with a barely serviceable script, IRON MAN manages to stand tall as a very fun, entertaining and downright cool superhero film. It’s not fine art and there are certainly better movies in the Marvel cannon, but IRON MAN is still a solid superhero story! If you haven’t seen it yet (I can’t imagine why you haven’t), then give it a look!

Grade: B

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