Review of “Onward”

The world used to be filled with magic and magical creatures, like unicorns, faeries, sprites, dragons and more. Learning magic was difficult, so technology like electric lights, telephones and appliances began to replace spells. Now the world looks very much like our own, but there’s still magic if you know where to look. Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and his older brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) are elves living with their mother Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) live in a comfortable house in the community of New Mushroomton. Ian and Barley’s father Wilden (voiced by Kyle Bornheimer) got sick and died while Laurel was expecting Ian, so he never met him. Having just turned 16, Ian is smart but shy. He’s scared of many things including learning to drive and talking to other students at his high school. Laurel brings a wrapped package down from the attic and presents it to both Ian and Barley, saying it’s a gift from their dad. Opening it, the boys find a wizard’s staff, magical phoenix gem and a letter from Wilden. The letter contains a spell that will allow Wilden to be brought back to life for one day. Barley tries dozens of times to cast the spell, but nothing happens. The boys give up, but Ian begins saying the spell out loud and the staff begins to glow. He grabs it and finishes the spell and a beam of energy shoots out from the phoenix gem. Barley walks in to see what the commotion is and finds the staff and stone is rebuilding his father from the shoes up. The exertion of casting the spell is pushing Ian backwards across the room. Barley tries to help and grabs the staff, but the gem explodes, ending the spell prematurely. The boys discover their father is only half recreated with his body ending at the waist. He can walk around and is able to communicate with taps but cannot talk, see and hear. The boys attach a retractable leash to Wilden to keep him with them. Barley decides they must go on a quest to find another phoenix stone, but they will face challenges, both personal and magical, that tests their relationship.

“Onward” is a very typical Disney/Pixar animated film. Perhaps too typical. While there are the usual beautiful visuals and relatable humor, “Onward” isn’t anything special. It’s well done and has great voice work but offers no surprises. It is in no way bad, but it isn’t great as we expect from the geniuses at Pixar. It’s fine.

Watching “Onward” I kept waiting for “The Moment.” It’s the scene, the character, the joke that would put the film over the top. To put the movie on the level of “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles,” and “Inside Out.” That scene doesn’t exist. “Onward” does beat on your tear ducts with overt sentimentality, squeezing out drops with scenes of emotional discovery and pure manipulation. I’m not saying those tears aren’t earned, but they feel cheap this time.

“Onward” is playing it safe. I would guess there’s a book in their headquarters that sets forth how a Pixar movie’s story is to be designed. There must be a sweet protagonist that doubts themselves at the beginning of the film, a quest or problem that presents itself to challenge the protagonists status quo, a buddy or sidekick that, wanted or not, accompanies the protagonist on this journey into a world that is also outside the hero’s comfort zone, a disagreement between the two that causes the dissolution of or strain on the relationship, an event that brings to two back together, leading to the eventual end of the adventure, either successful or unsuccessful, that causes the protagonist to realize he was looking for resolution in the wrong place and learning a valuable lesson about life. Almost every Pixar movie follows a story structure similar to this. There are of course variations to this formula and those variations are what makes Pixar movies much better than most other kid’s films. However, “Onward” follows this design so closely, it never transcends its genre. It hits all the expected beats with the precision of an atomic clock, but it never tries to syncopate the rhythm and find joy in the unexpected.

“Onward” does something I’m learning to hate in movies: Bringing a dead parent back to life. This emotional trick is usually done via dream sequences, visitation while a character is suffering a medical crisis, or other unlikely way for a grown child to visit a deceased mom or dad. As I get older, I find this to be a cheap and manipulative storytelling device. I lost my dad in 2000 and my mom less than a year later. It was devastating to go from having both parents alive to both gone in less than 11 months. While I have fond memories of my folks, and my siblings and I share happy stories about them during those unfortunately rare times we are all together, I have never had a dream where I felt like I was visiting with them in the flesh. I haven’t bumped my head or had a disease that put me in a coma, and they came to help me realize it wasn’t my time yet. Their ghosts haven’t appeared to me in the middle of the night to warn me about some danger or just to say hi. When their bodies succumbed to the diseases that took their lives, that was it. They were gone and all I had were memories. There is no magic to bring them back, even for just a day. Using this device to tell children a story of learning to find your true self, in my opinion, borders on cruelty.

There is no fault to be found in the voice work of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer or the rest of the voice cast. They clearly understand the passion and emotion they need to convey as they tell this story. There are some moments when you’ll wish these performances were in a better Pixar movie. I’d love to see Octavia Spencer’s Corey get her own spinoff film about the life of the Manticore before civilization tamed the wild beast. Perhaps the pixies that forgot how to fly and formed a biker gang could get a short. There’s plenty of material in “Onward” that could be built upon for other projects.

“Onward” is rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements. There are various chases, encounters with dangerous beasts and physical challenges throughout the film. There is also the concept of the loss of a parent. There is no foul language.

Despite my reservations about “Onward,” I liked the movie. It moves quickly, doesn’t waste much time setting up the situation, watching the bottom-half-dad walking around with a stuffed top half creates some laughs, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt give great vocal performances and there are some truly beautiful visuals throughout the film. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Pixar’s consistent excellence, but I expected more from this film. It follows a well-worn formula but doesn’t add anything to the mix. It’s a very good film, but not when compared to Pixar’s other efforts. It’s fine but I wanted it to be more.

“Onward” gets four stars out of five.

Three new films open this week. I’ll see and review at lease one of the following:

Bloodshot—

The Hunt—

I Still Believe—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Dolittle”

Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), the doctor that talks to animals, has exiled himself in his compound since the death of his wife Lily (Kasia Smutniak). He’s still surrounded by the animals he rescued with Lily, including a cowardly gorilla named Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek), a constantly cold polar bear named Yoshi (voiced by John Cena), a duck with an artificial leg named Dab-Dab (voiced by Octavia Spencer), a glasses-wearing dog named Jip (voiced by Tom Holland) and leading them all is a headstrong macaw named Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson). Dolittle’s isolation is broken when a teenager named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) shows up with an injured squirrel. The squirrel was accidently shot when Tommy was out hunting with his uncle and cousin. Tommy bundles up the squirrel and Poly guides him to Dolittle’s. Dolittle performs surgery on the squirrel, named Kevin (voiced by Craig Robinson), and he survives but swears revenge on Tommy. Also arriving at the mansion is Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), Queen Victoria’s niece. She tells Dolittle the Queen is ill and needs his attention immediately. Reluctant, Dolittle initially refuses to leave the compound, but the animal’s rebel and force him to go. When Dolittle arrives, he sees an old friend from medical school, Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen) is treating the Queen. Mudfly is dubious of Dolittle’s methods and animals and is jealous of his talents. Also on hand is Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent), representing Parliament. Using Jip’s sensitive nose, Dolittle figures out the Queen has been poisoned by drinking tea laced with the poisonous plant Deadly Nightshade. The only cure is a rare fruit that grows on only one tree, located on an island that doesn’t appear on any map. If the cure isn’t administered soon, the Queen with die, so Dolittle, several of his animal friends and Tommy, who has appointed himself Dolittle’s apprentice, set off on a dangerous journey across treacherous seas, looking for an island that may not exist and encounter animal friends and human foes from his past.

Watching “Dolittle,” I kept waiting for the moment the film completely falls apart. With mostly negative reviews and a Rotten Tomatoes score in the teens, I assumed the movie would begin showing us characters late in the third act we hadn’t seen before or would start espousing Nazi propaganda. None of that happened. Sure, its muddled, messy and has the pacing of a child fed only sugar and crack, but “Dolittle” is an enjoyable catastrophe.

“Catastrophe” is too strong a word, but there are things about the film that don’t make a great deal of sense. For instance, there are phrases said by the animals that didn’t exist at the time, like “Code Red.” Access to an unconscious Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) is far too easy. While the guards act like they are going to try to stop a gorilla, ostrich (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) and polar bear from being near the fallen queen, they don’t fire their guns or draw their swords. It appears anyone in nice clothes and with a friendly face could walk into the palace. I realize these issues, and more are due to the comical and fantasy aspects of the story and must be forgiven to some extent, however what I have a harder time wrapping my head around is Robert Downey Jr.’s accent.

Why did he choose to sound like a male version of Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire? And why was that choice apparently made after principle photography as his voice appears to have been dubbed for the majority of the film? Speaking in low whispers, as if telling a secret to someone that isn’t there, Downey is difficult to understand through the film, and his dialog is frequently repeated or expanded upon by an animal or human costar. It’s one of many odd choices by Downey for a character that’s been portrayed in movies by Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy.

Like his choices in the “Sherlock Holmes” films, Dolittle is a person beset by quirks and twitches. He’s antisocial, preferring to live in a world of his own making. He is a creature of habit that hates to have his routine disrupted. Dolittle is protecting himself from pain caused by people leaving him, so he’s banished people from his life. I suppose that’s okay for someone that is surrounded by a menagerie of friendly animals with whom he can converse, but the animals in “Dolittle” are just furrier versions of people in their behaviors and personalities. Since they depend on the doctor for care and food, these analogs will never leave him and, in my opinion, that’s cheating the only redeeming factor of this Dolittle. He misses his wife with such a deep grief he cannot force himself back into the world. If he had also pushed all the animals away, then I might be a bit more sympathetic to the character, but he has replaced people with talking animals.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the film at all, and yet I did. Once you get used to Dolittle’s quirks and other oddities, you are swept up in the frenetic pacing of the film that hardly allows the audience to absorb one strange event before the next begins. From the introduction of Dolittle and his zoo of a house, to his arrival at the palace and the introduction of the villain, to the start of the voyage, “Dolittle” doesn’t slow down. That’s works in the film’s favor as the audience doesn’t have time to ponder the weird events as they unfold.

The CGI animals are obviously CGI. Sometimes they look more digital than others and the sight lines between the human and animal characters don’t quite line up. Despite this, it never bothered me. Perhaps it was the voice work by a wide and diverse cast that made the second-rate effects more palatable. Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Tom Holland, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer and John Cena all turn in enjoyable performances as a variety of animals. Most of them are far more interesting than any of the humans.

Michael Sheen had to pick splinters out of his teeth with all the scenery he chews as the villain Dr. Mudfly. His evil ark is easy to predict as soon as his character is shown picking leeches out of a jar to apply to Queen Victoria to treat her mysterious illness. He even has a twirlable mustache which, for some reason, he doesn’t twirl. That seems like a missed opportunity for such an obvious bad guy.

Antonio Banderas is perhaps the oddest casting for Rassouli, King of the Pirates. While Banderas, nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in “Pain and Glory,” gives it his all, the role is underwritten and a throw-away character that solves a problem late in the second act. There’s an effort to make Rassouli something bigger by giving he and Dolittle a past connection, but that only serves to make the meaninglessness more obvious. Still, Banderas does his best with a role that probably took only a couple of days to shoot.

“Dolittle” is rated PG for some action, rude humor and brief language. There are a couple of scenes of mild violence including a brief battle with the Queen’s guards, cannon fire that sinks a ship, an explosion in an arms cache, some leaps and falls that might be considered dangerous and a diver nearly lost in the sea. None of it should be stressful to even young children. The rude humor consists of fart jokes. Bad language is mild and widely scattered.

The humor in “Dolittle” is what actually won me. While it is basic prat falls and more than a few fart jokes, it works as a light diversion for a world that’s on fire and tearing itself apart. Could it have been better, much, much better? Yes, it should. Robert Downey Jr.’s first film since his final appearance as Iron Man should have been more polished and, maybe more meaningful. Instead, we get a movie about a guy that talks to animals and goes on adventures, that sounds like male Mrs. Doubtfire and whispers and twitches a great deal. It won’t win any awards, except may a Razzie or two, but it also isn’t the least bit offensive and children may love it, while leaving their parents to wish for something more. And yet, I still liked it.

“Dolittle” gets four stars out of five, and may God have mercy on my soul.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “The Gentlemen” for WIMZ.com.

Also opening this week is “The Turning.”

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to find all the Infinity Stones and put into motion his plan to kill off half the humanoid life in the universe. His plan is to end overpopulation and stretch available resources for the survivors improving the quality of life. His world of Titan suffered from overpopulation and a lack of resources destroying his home. One of the stones, the Tesseract, is in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the ship with the survivors from Asgard. Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tries to stop him but fails and Heimdall (Idris Elba) opens a portal and sends Hulk to Earth where he crashes into the Sanctum Santorum of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who possesses the Time Stone. Dr. Strange opens a portal and gets in touch with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he and Banner tell him about Thanos. Thanos sends his “children” to Earth to find the Stones that are on Earth while he heads to Knowhere to find another of the Stones and destroys the Asgardian ship as he leaves. An unconscious Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. When he regains consciousness he tells them about Thanos and learns Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted child. The Guardians split up in an effort to stop Thanos while Stark, Dr. Strange and Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a.k.a. Spider-Man, hitch a ride on one of Thanos’ henchmen’s ships heading off to Titan.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a massive film running two and a half hours and featuring practically every main character from all 18 preceding movies. It doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary backstory as it expects you to bring some knowledge into the theater with you. This movie should be no one’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You need to have done your homework before you sit down to watch. Some might consider that a weakness but I believe it is a tribute to the fans that have invested their time and money into a franchise that developed a vision over the course of the last decade. This is the prize for their loyalty and it is a very well-crafted prize at that.

There are moments that will take the audience aback in “Avengers: Infinity War.” There are surprising choices that fly in the face of conventional superhero filmmaking, including an ending that can only be considered a downer. Sniffles coming from some members of the audience I saw the film with are also an indication this isn’t your average special effects and spandex endeavor. There are universe-shaking events in the film. While I’m well aware we are getting a second film currently scheduled for release on May 3, 2019 that may completely undo everything that has happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” I don’t believe it will be a complete reset to where we were prior to this film.

There are some real-world practical reasons for this. First, actors are coming to the ends of their contracts. Chris Evans says the next movie will be his last for Marvel. The relentless passage of time means it’s getting harder to get in the kind of shape Chris Hemsworth and several other actors have transformed their bodies into for these movies. There are also the artistic desires of the actors to do something else that doesn’t require them to stand in front of a green screen for months at a time and pretend to fight giant alien monsters.

Then there’s the money. According to the website boxofficemojo.com, including “Avengers: Infinity War’s” opening weekend, the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have a worldwide gross of over $15-billion. Actors may sign early contracts that pay fairly small amounts of money to start but as they sign new deals their paycheck demands get bigger. Walt Disney Studios, which owns Marvel, is willing to pay up to a point but they also know there are actors that would sell their souls to be in a successful franchise film. Eventually the established actors price themselves out of a job and since their characters often have multiple variations (like Captain America having been at least three different people in the comics) it is fairly simple to replace a highly paid actor for someone cheaper. All these reasons are why the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to “Infinity War” will likely look different after the next film.

All of that may play a part in the behind-the-scenes drama but all the fans care about is the drama up on the screen and “Avengers: Infinity War” certainly has more than enough to keep them interested. Probably the most interesting character in the film is the Big Bad, Thanos himself. While his methods are clearly evil his motive is in a twisted way noble: He’s trying to improve the quality of life for everyone left alive if his plan is successful. He sees himself as brave for making the hard choice for every intelligent being in the universe. His own world wouldn’t listen when he suggested this plan and it is now a barren and lifeless wasteland. His methodology is to save the world you have to destroy it first. Of course those most affected by his plan, that is the half that will die, have no say in what happens to them. Thanos considers that fair since who lives and dies is decided by random chance. Your wealth and power or lack thereof isn’t a consideration. He sees himself as a universal savior with a mission so important he will not let anyone interfere. It is similar to an episode from the original run of “Star Trek.” The episode is called “The Conscience of the King” and tells the story of a colony facing starvation and the leader killing some of the colonists to save the rest. The main difference is not every world is facing the same problems as Titan and they don’t all need this drastic solution. It’s rare for a superhero movie to bring up such heady ideas and vexing moral dilemmas but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just that.

While all this might sound very dour the script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has lots of lighter moments and jokes peppered through the first half. Everyone from Tony Stark to Dr. Strange to Mantis gets a chance to make the audience laugh. While not as joke-packed as “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” still manages to find some lighter moments until the darker parts of the plot kick in.

And there is darkness in the film over and above Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the intelligent life in the universe. There are cruel choices some characters make that are mind-blowing in their effect. It is once again a wildly unconventional choice for a superhero film and Marvel should be commended for not sticking to the tried and true formula they’ve implemented since 2008’s “Iron Man.”

The main problem with the film is its sheer size. The story jumps from planet to planet and hero to hero very quickly. There are times when you’re not sure where you are in the story and what happened the last time you were with this particular group. There are multiple battles going on simultaneously so all the action tends to become muddled despite the various fights’ different locations. The CGI-heavy battles also make it difficult at times to tell what each character is doing, especially in hand-to-hand combat. A scene set in Scotland at night is particularly muddy. No event in the film really gets a chance to breathe despite its emotional heft or importance. These are minor complaints but they became more noticeable as the film went on.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action throughout, language and some crude references. There are numerous battles on both large and small scales. We see a couple of characters impaled on various spear-type implements. A character is thrown from a cliff. Numerous monster-like creatures are killed in battle in various violent ways. Many of them are shown being cut in half by a protective energy shield. Several characters turn into dust. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Whether you like superhero movies or not you have to be impressed with the technical and logistical achievement of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s Wikipedia page lists approximately 50 actors with roles of various sizes, some of which could be considered walk-ons at best along with thousands of extras. There were filming locations in New York City, Atlanta, the Philippines, Scotland, and England. There were numerous visual effects houses used to bring Thanos, his children and all the other alien creatures to life and produce the environments where all the action takes place. The estimated production costs “Avengers: Infinity War” are estimated to be between $300-million and $400-million, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made. With all these moving parts and the enormous cost it’s a wonder it was released on time or ever got made at all. The fact that the film lives up to its enormous hype and is very entertaining and emotional affecting is nothing short of a miracle.

“Avengers: Infinity War” gets five stars.

While it is likely the Avengers will take the top spot at the box office for at least the next couple of weeks there will be three new movies hoping you are looking for something different this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Samaritan—

Overboard—

Tully—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming entertainment news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has experienced a great deal in his 15 years: He lost his parents and lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him super strength and the ability to climb up walls, and he briefly joined the Avengers at the request of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) during the battle in Berlin. Stark is letting Peter keep the high-tech Spider-Man suit Stark gave him for that battle. Peter wants to be an Avenger but Stark thinks its best if Peter is just your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man and deal with mundane street crime in New York City. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is not your average street criminal. He was once a salvager working to clean up the mess left after the Battle of New York between the Avengers and Chitauri but he was shut down by a government agency taking over the clean-up, ruining him financially. Toomes kept some of the salvaged alien tech and began making very powerful weapons he sells on the black market. Peter, patrolling as Spider-Man, comes across a gang breaking into an ATM using some of Toomes tech and in the fight a corner store across the street from the bank is destroyed. Peter makes it his mission to find out where these weapons are coming from and follows a van containing some of the weapons when he is attacked by a man wearing jet-powered wings and with hydraulic claws on his feet. Toomes has made a flying suit with the alien tech and attacks Peter, nearly killing him. Peter is persistent and tries to capture Toomes and his gang during a weapons deal on the Staten Island Ferry that nearly leads to mass casualties. Stark, angry Peter is taking on missions that are above his experience, takes back the high tech spider suit leaving Peter feeling like a failure and unworthy of being an Avenger.

The cynical among us would look at “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as a blatant cash grab in the third version in 15 years of the character on the big screen. The hopeful among us would look at it, as the title suggests, as a homecoming of sorts for the character as Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) was directly involved in the creation of the story and allowed Tony Stark/Iron Man and Captain America to be used in this film made by Sony/Columbia Pictures. Everyone that enjoys superhero films was just hoping it would at least be an improvement over the Andrew Garfield version of the web-slinging teenager or the third Sam Raimi film. I am happy to report all is looking good in the Spider-verse.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” feels like a more hopeful and positive version of Spider-Man. Perhaps not completely rebooting the character back to the death of Uncle Ben (again) allows this version of Peter Parker to be more positive and less mired in the guilt of that character’s death. That’s not to say Peter doesn’t take the role of being a superhero seriously: If anything he takes it too seriously and devotes all his free time to waiting for a call from Stark to go on another Avengers adventure. This Peter Parker is shown living a dual existence between being a high school student with the responsibilities that entails and being a superhero looking for trouble in his neighborhood. Several times he decides he has to don his suit and face the dangers of his job while letting down his friends and classmates. He leaves a party, leaves an academic decathlon and leaves his date at the homecoming dance and most of the time despite the sacrifice of his personal life; he fails at being a hero. Even when he loses his Stark-tech-enhanced suit, he still feels the obligation to wear his amateurish homemade version and fight the bad guys. It’s his willingness to fail and not give up that makes this Spider-Man especially appealing.

Tom Holland makes a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is obviously enthusiastic about the part, being quoted in interviews saying he’d like to be the web-slinger for the next 30 years. While that’s unlikely he is contracted for a total of six films and it should be fun seeing Holland and the character grow up over time as long as the scripts and stories are good.

Michael Keaton plays perhaps the best villain in any Marvel movie. Adrian Toomes is a menacing figure with a hair-trigger temper but Keaton has the talent and intelligence to play him with a quiet menace and makes his volatility that much more frightening. A scene late in the film could be used as a convincing argument for a best supporting actor Oscar for Keaton. There’s a chance we’ll see him again in future Spider-Man films and I fear Peter Parker is in for a rough time should the Vulture be freed to fly again.

The rest of the cast is strong and provides terrific supporting performances for the leads. Zendaya is especially good as Michelle, a bookish, oddly turned classmate of Peter’s. She is always close by to provide an ego deflating comment or dose of reality for Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Marisa Tomei’s version of Aunt May is the most modern and certainly the youngest in the character’s movie history. This Aunt May is a force to be reckoned with for Peter as she isn’t easily put off or deceived. It’s also a source of humor as more than Tony Stark is shown flirting with her or expressing interest in her. There is a great deal of potential in this version of Peter’s guardian including future scenes where she is able to extract herself from trouble without the assistance of her super powered nephew.

While the film is a good mix of humor, character development and action, there are times when the action looks muddy. The CGI battles frequently occur at night, making the fast movements nearly impossible to see. While the special effects are very good during the daylight scenes the nighttime set pieces tend to get lost in the darkness.

There’s also another little thing that bothered me about “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Peter’s friend Ned discovers his secret identity (not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer) but then he can’t stop talking to Peter about it in school, constantly asking him questions even when they are surrounded by other students. If I had a secret of that size I certainly wouldn’t want my friend chatting about it out loud around other people. There are numerous situations where Ned is asking question but he isn’t being subtle and there are always people standing or sitting nearby. It is a recipe for having your secret spread all over school in no time and inevitably discovered by the super villains you fight. That really stuck out to me.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief suggestive comments and some language. There are numerous fights but no gore. One person is turned into a pile of ash by an alien weapon. Spider-Man is shown being dragged behind a van and thrown into trash cans and mailboxes. There is a plane crash and other mayhem caused by the weapons. I do not remember anything that could be considered suggestive other than some very mild comments about Aunt May. Foul language is mild and scattered.

At the end of the film we are promised Spider-Man will return. We know he’s in “Avengers: Infinity War” as well as its sequel and two more scheduled solo movies. That, along with his appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” would total Tom Holland’s six contracted films as the web slinger. While it is difficult for any series of films to maintain the quality of the original, Marvel seems to be more successful at it than most. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have this Spider-Man for a while and not need to reboot the franchise for quite some time. As long as the future films are as good as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” I’m perfectly happy with that.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” gets five stars.

Three new movies open in wide release this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Big Sick—

War for the Planet of the Apes—

Wish Upon—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “In the Heart of the Sea”

Author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) has travelled to visit former seaman Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) to interview him about the last voyage of the whaling ship Essex. Nickerson is reluctant at first but is convinced by Mrs. Nickerson (Michelle Fairley) to talk to the writer. Nickerson recalls setting sail as a greenhorn (played as a teen by Tom Holland) on his maiden voyage with first-time captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Chase should have been captain but the company that owned the ship was run by Pollard’s father. Pollard and Owen didn’t get along but worked together as best they could to fill their hold with whale oil and return to port as quickly as possible. A scarcity of whales drives the men and ship into the middle of the Pacific where they encounter a massive white sperm whale. In protecting its herd the whale attacks the Essex, damaging her beyond repair and forcing the men to abandon ship. Setting off in small whaling boats the crew soon faces starvation and must do the unthinkable to survive.

“In the Heart of the Sea” is epic film making. It takes a fantastic tale of survival against all odds and narrows its focus down to a few common men. Despite the presence of Thor and Spider-Man, there are no great heroes that save the day. These are merely men doing what had to be done to get home. It’s the kind of movie that features incredible visuals and small emotional moments in equal measure. It also has a strong environmental message that becomes a bit overbearing at times. It is far from perfect but it still manages to be effective in producing an emotional response.

While the trailer for “In the Heart of the Sea” sells the story as more of a monster movie with a man fighting against an unnaturally intelligent and aggressive whale, the beast plays a fairly minor role. It is the struggle between the survivors and the elements that makes up the biggest part of the story. There is also a secondary story of clashing egos as Captain Pollard and First Mate Owen Chase clash in an effort to establish who is in charge. Pollard has little experience and is the captain only because his father is a powerful businessman within the whaling industry. Chase is told by his bosses to make sure the crew respects Pollard but Chase quickly sees his new captain is in over his head. How can he make the crew respect Pollard if he doesn’t? It is a conflict that roughly mirrors the struggle the crew has to survive after the attack of the whale: The arrogance of Man believing he is ordained by God to control and use all the beasts of the sea is quickly and violently shown for what it is when a single whale destroys their boat and leaves them to die in the middle of the ocean.

The struggle for survival occupies about half of the film’s two hour running time and it gets bleak. Star Chris Hemsworth, best known of the physique he shows as Thor in the Marvel superhero movies, and the rest of the cast of survivors lost huge amounts of weight living on 500 to 600 calories a day. The gaunt faces, made even more so by makeup highlighting their cheekbones, are haunting. At one point, those left alive appear to barely have the energy to breathe. Director Ron Howard chooses to focus on the faces of those left alive, making it impossible not to feel a little guilty for sipping on the giant over-priced drink from the concessions stand while looking at the cracked lips, sun-bleached hair and burnt skin.

Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland are outstanding in their roles. Hemsworth plays the hardened whaler Chase with a tinge of playfulness that comes out around the greenhorn deckhand Nickerson played by Tom Holland. Chase acts as something of a father figure for Nickerson who is an orphan. Walker’s Captain Pollard is a man of privilege who knows he’s only captain because of his father. Seeing Chase scramble up the rigging to fix a problem, knowing he would be incapable to doing the same thing, makes Pollard embarrassed and jealous of his first officer. We see Pollard grow to respect and even like Chase as they struggle to survive. Cillian Murphy plays Second Mate Matthew Joy, a long-time friend of Chase. He seems to be playing both sides of the fence in his relationship to the two men, acting as a kind of peacekeeper and moderating influence on both. Tom Holland’s wide eyed wonder at seeing whales for the first time and then being introduced to the interior of one that’s been killed and in the process of being butchered gives him and the audience the introduction to both the beauty and the savagery of his job. Brendan Gleeson plays Tom Nickerson as an adult and gives a moving performance as a man being forced to remember all he had to do to survive over three months lost at sea. The pain and anguish play out over Gleeson’s face in a way that makes you worry for the sanity of the character.

Visually, “In the Heart of the Sea” is stunning. The TV commercials don’t do what the special effects team has accomplished justice. The scenes of whale hunting and when the sperm whale attacks the small whaling boats and the Essex are spectacular. We see the attempt at survival of a harpooned whale from the beast’s perspective, diving down deep in an effort to escape what is attacking it. We witness playful dolphins and huge whales gliding effortlessly through the water. We also see what happens when a whale is killed then brought alongside the ship to be butchered and its oil harvested. The beauty and savagery of nature and whaling are put on full display and in vivid detail.

The movie makes a point of stressing how wrong whaling is and that tends to bring the film to nearly a dead stop. At the time in the early 1800’s, whale oil was the best fuel to light lanterns and streetlamps. It made many people rich in the buying and selling of whale oil. With the discovery of petroleum products and the introduction of vegetable oils, the use of whale oil declined and was eventually outlawed by environmental laws. Despite all this history, the film makes a big deal about how wrong it was to hunt whales. The character of Pollard, who is usually shown on the wrong side of things, points out how God gave man dominion over the animals including the beasts in the sea and it is our duty to exert our control over them. Chase questions whether that’s the right thing to do. This happens, in one form or another, a couple of times in the film. While I agree we don’t need to hunt whales any more, it seems like a waste of time to include these scenes in the movie. We could have been shown Chase’s wife waiting and longing for her husband or the leaders of the whaling company lamenting the apparent loss of their ship and money. It feels like the time could have been better spent on the surrounding drama of their situation.

“In the Heart of the Sea” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril, intense sequences of action, brief startling violence and thematic material. The attack of the whale on the smaller boats and the Essex leads to the death of some crewmen and the injury of others. There is a scene where one crewman is trying to escape the ship as it is sinking and on fire. One character is shown shooting himself in the head. What is done to survive at sea, while not shown, is discussed and described. Foul language is scattered.

“In the Heart of the Sea” tells a bleak and depressing story that doesn’t get much happier by the time the end credits roll. It shows men pushed to their limits and forced beyond them by nature and their circumstances. It wants to teach the viewer a lesson about how Man is a minor player on the stage of life and the elements don’t care if you live or die. The movie does a pretty good job pounding that into the consciousness of the audience but it continues that message to the point of assault. We get it: Whaling is unnecessary in the modern age. Perhaps those living in the most extreme polar regions need to harvest a few whales a year to survive but the rest of the world needs to leave these intelligent and majestic creatures alone. The aggressive environmental evangelizing degrades what is otherwise an impressive bit of film making. Despite the less than subtle preaching, “In the Heart of the Sea” is worth the time to watch.

“In the Heart of the Sea” gets four guitars out of five.

Animated animals, dissimilar siblings and a galaxy far, far away are on screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one (can you guess which one?).

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip—

Sisters—

Star Wars: The Force Awakens—

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