Dora and The Lost Movie Badly Told

SHORT TAKE:

Disjointed mess of a movie based upon a cartoon with no real effort to make a live action worthwhile. Choppily written and poorly acted, what is not cliché looks like a weekend effort to produce an advertisement for the Dora the Explorer cartoon series.

WHO SHOULD GO:

There’s nothing inappropriate for children but nothing of merit to keep their attention either.

LONG TAKE:

In the movie Daddy Day Care, while meeting one of their newest six-year old charges, they discover the kid can speak Klingon. Steve Zahn’s character, Marvin, who plays the resident geek of everything television, translates then asks, shocked, “How much television does this kid WATCH?!” I wondered the same thing about the filmmakers of Dora. It felt written by someone whose childhood was spent absorbing WAAAAAY too many television visual and sound bites OR who had zero confidence in their audiences’ ability to maintain any attention span whatsoever. That, with the rushed weekend-shoot quality, bad acting from even the likes of Michael Pena and Eugenio Derbez, and the TV movie unrealism of wearing clean white pants after 2 days sleeping rough, made it impossible to relate to this movie.

The structure, such as it was, never settled down. I had whiplash 20 minutes in as Dora kept changing the direction of the story.

This movie is all over the place. Dora can’t decide if it wants to be The Lego Movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a kid version of Indiana Jones, a live action cartoon, or a spoof of her origin animation.

It opens as though you’re watching an episode of a live action Dora The Explorer, with a six year old Dora dancing and skipping in pristine clothes through a jungle full of arguably dangerous animals, like a poisonous frog. Then we cut to discover it was all in her imagination as she sits in a plywood race car with her cousin, Diego. Then during dinner she repeatedly looks off in the distance to empty air asking “Can YOU say _________” filling the blank in with a previous spoken word or scientific reference. Even her Dad thinks this is weird and her mom assures him she will outgrow it.

Diego leaves with his parents to America and we cut 10 years later to Dora, now played by Isabela Moner, (wonderful in Instant Family), whose talents are excruciatingly wasted in this movie, singing her way through the jungle with a talking monkey – which turns out NOT to be part of her imagination, even though the rendering of the chimp is decidedly unrealistic.

And then, despite everything else being more or less based on real life, there is the walking, talking fox with a thief mask who interacts with humans as though he wandered in from a sequel to the awful Incredible Mr. Fox. Even the chimp is not openly this anthropomorphized, except in one sequence alone with Dora, which COULD have been a moment of Dora’s overactive imagination. So the presence of Swiper among the troop of entirely human bad guys is just — odd — as though SOMEone had inhaled a bit too much of the hallucinogenic pollen which makes all the characters – for about 5 minutes of the movie – think they ARE cartoons.

For a while I kept expecting this to all be a continued figment of her imagination, ala Lego Movie. But it was just weird bad writing.

Dora is portrayed as an aggressively cheerful Pollyanna who seems oblivious to most social customs, all attributed to the fact she was homeschooled by her professor parents as they explored the jungle.

Then we switch to a “fish out of water” story as Dora is sent to live with her aunt, uncle and now grown and civilization-acclimated cousin, Diego (Jeff Walhberg) so her clueless parents (the usually scene stealing Michael Pena – adorable in Antman and heartbreaking in Collateral Beauty) and Eva Longoria can go look for the City of Gold. Pena tries over hard to quirk up the movie but an interminable minute of his beat box “Rave” music imitation is more painful than amusing.

Walhberg, nephew of Mark Walhberg, spends most of the movie looking embarrassed. It was hard to tell whether his pained expression came from his character’s embarrassment over his awkward cousin’s behavior, or the actor’s own personal humiliation for signing on to this poor outing. Dora is sent to a traditional institutional school where, despite her obvious education and intelligence she can not grasp the art of “fitting in”.

THEN, cobbling together an excuse for a Jumanji-style misfit group – the jealous class pet, Sammy (Madeleine Madden), the geeky infatuated boy, Randy (Nicholas Coombe), Dora’s cousin, Diego, and Dora – are all kidnapped and brought to the jungle as hostages to convince Dora’s parents to help the bad guy treasure hunter, ala Indiana Jones, find a lost city of gold. Dora’s parents are purist explorers who would never seek to prosper from their educational finds, yet never explain how they can afford to spend all their time in comparative luxury out in the wilds.

On top of everything else Dora sings her way through different moments – not like a musical but with the kind of singsong childish skipping pieces one might hear in a —- 10 minute cartoon.  She even makes up a “poo song” for a city friend who must abide by a call of nature outside for the first time in her life. 90 minutes of this had me rooting for the bad guys.

The last scene indulges in a Disneyfied-Bollywood dance sequence. The energetic choreography in Indian-sourced movies are usually my favorite parts. The dances in the true Bollywoods are meant to enhance the demonstration of emotional bonding which has progressed throughout the movie. In Dora, it’s more like sending disappointed kids off from a poorly planned and rained out celebration with soggy party bags, it just doesn’t help make anyone feel better about the event.

And it’s a shame because such a good movie could have been made out of the idea of a rugged homeschooled kid providing guidance literally and socially to a bunch of institutionalized kids to help them think outside of the box and become better people. Sadly, this is NOT that movie.

I suppose it could have been worse given the lead writers were Cliff Gifford who, as creator of the Dora cartoon,  has, previously, not really written for people and Matthew Robinson whose major screen credits up to now have involved movies titled Sex Surrogates and Jerked.

In short, don’t waste your time on this nearly two hours of drivel.

THE MOST RECENT FAST AND FURIOUS – MORE LIKE FARCICAL AND INFURIATING

SHORT TAKE:

Waste of time – see the Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw trailer #2 (linked here and at end of post) for all the best bits.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults only for language and extreme (though really cartoonish) levels of carnage. Not a lot of blood but you wouldn’t want the kids to try these stunts at home.

LONG TAKE:

I have nothing against brainless entertainment and I try to judge a movie only within the genre for which it was intended. So when you go see one of the Fast and Furious franchise films (try to say THAT three times quickly) you don’t expect much beyond good old escapist fun. I even applauded Fate of the Furious in a previous post as a welcome entry.

I love buddy movies and have extolled all kinds from The Great Escape to The Hitman’s Bodyguard. And I have no problem with franchises doing semi-parodies of themselves. I am on record many times for complaining that a movie takes itself TOO seriously. And I think the break from tradition Thor: Ragnarok, for example, is one of the best Avenger movies.

But you gotta give the audience SOMETHING of substance. Sadly, in the case of  director David Leitch’s Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, it’s like trying to make an entire meal out of day old cotton candy.

SPOILERS – BUT THE PLOT IS SO THREADBARE IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER

I’m afraid the writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce thought they could punch quality into a movie with just star power. But Spielberg’s 1941 or Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate or Bay’s Pearl Harbor could have warned them otherwise. I understand it is doing well at the box office and good for them. A friend of mine once taught me an expression – No one sets out to make a bad movie. But, unfortunately, despite what the film makers intended, this one is just not very good.

Not that the cast was trying very hard. Johnson and Statham spend most of the movie either posturing like WWW competitors or trading childish barbs with all the finesse of opposing players in a grade school gym locker room. Dwayne Johnson was funnier in Jumanji, Statham more invested in The Expendables, and Vanessa Kirby, a “legit” actress (amazing as Princess Margaret in The Crown and fun as the White Widow in MI: Fallout) is simply wasted. I really liked her Hattie in this, a variation of Atomic Blonde, (also a David Leitch directed movie), but then her scenes had to be spliced back into the fatiguing Hobbs-Shaw bickering man measuring show.

Ryan Reynolds appears in a cameo with dialogue that could have been made of rejected adlibs from Deadpool 2. Helen Mirren walks through her reprised role as Shaw’s mother, Queenie. At one point Queenie assures Shaw that she is happy in prison and could break out any time she wanted – that it was quiet and she could just sit in her room, and spend her time reading – that it was like retirement. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Mirren was talking about Queenie’s stint in the pen or Ms. Mirren’s actual presence on the set of this movie.

Kevin Hart pops up in a couple of random moments as Dinkley, the air marshal, to be used like duct tape on a leaky hose to solve a couple of plot holes. In return, Hart is allowed to ramble  interminably in an improvisational-style soliloquy in lieu of any proper exposition for his character.

Idris Elba as main cybernetically enhanced bad guy Brixton gives it everything he has, carrying the weight of what little gravitas the movie has. By far the most interesting character, it was a sore temptation not to root for him to win.

The premise of the story is that they are trying to prevent Idris Elba’s bad guy, Brixton, from getting ahold of an extinction-level virus for his unseen super villain boss. But it becomes obvious early on this is really just an excuse to create a string of cartoon quality violence fight scenes and car stunts. And while I do not fundamentally MIND that, the film makers have to at least TRY to hide this fact. But like a sloppy magician who yells “Look over there” before every clumsy trick, it just doesn’t work for long.

Instead of providing character and plot earned enthusiasm, the chase scenes strove to outdo all the F&F chases put together and as a result became preposterous. I’m not giving spoilers as the scene where a line of linked trucks are holding down a flying fortress helicopter is in the trailer. The chase scenes from The French Connection, Bullitt, The Great Escape, the beginning of The Rock (“Oh why NOT!”), or even the escape at the start of The Avengers from a collapsing building complex were exciting because the audience was led to believe the characters were potentially in danger.

Well, I can easily imagine Jeremy Scott from Cinema Sins doing a bonus round of “They survived this”. The F&F movies are supposed to take place (more or less) in the real world and the leads, aside from Elba, are not supposed to have unusual supernatural powers – Dwayne Johnson’s mountain-sized physique notwithstanding. But the repeated walk aways from cataclysmic-sized vehicle crashes, which would have killed Bugs Bunny, stretched and eventually broke the suspension bridge of disbelief out from under the viewers. (And, I’m sorry, but it was tough for even my loyal Marvel-fan heart to believe that Cap could hold back the small helicopter Bucky flew duringCaptain America: Civil War. Johnson is just NOT holding down a military grade bird.) It did not take long for there to be zero investment in the outcome of the rides, knowing the main characters would likely to come out the right end of a freight train to the face.

Then there is the storyline.

We’re talking Adam West’s Batman level of contrivances and clunky dialogue, where guest stars appear out of nowhere and backstories are pulled from whole cloth to justify prior franchise installment plot holes.

For example, the fact that Hattie, Shaw’s spy sister, never came up in conversation is explained away by him having been framed for treason in the master plan of a heretofore unknown and currently still unseen megalomaniac bad guy. Hobbs’ extensive Samoan family was previously non-existent because he had alienated everyone by turning in his crime lord father to the authorities.

Hobbs’ brother Jonah (Cliff Curtis), who lives on a remote island in Samoa, with only the technology of a classy chop shop at his disposal, is decided to be the ONLY person and place in the world they can go to fix cutting edge virus extracting bio equipment……? Huh? So I guess I can ask my car mechanic to do some gene splicing on the side. Easy peasy.

I did like the “importance of family” theme, which is one of the more endearing F&F tropes, including Shaw’s mom and sibling and Hobbs’ daughter, mother and brothers into the mix. And it was nice they found a way to include Johnson’s actual Samoan heritage into the story. But it was shoe-horned in, superficial and paint by numbers – Hobbs doesn’t want to go home, brother punches him on sight, mom intimidates all the big boys into cooperating. Shaw’s mother, Queenie, fondly recounts, in flash back, how the previously unknown and unseen sister and Shaw concocted scams and committed felonies as children. What a mom.

I guess it’s cute that they shoot parallel scenarios of these two men who can’t seem to stand each other doing pretty much the same things at the same time with their own styles. It might have even been funny had the repertoire between them sounded better than first day of shooting improvisation, created by two uninspired high school freshmen.

Supporting characters are dispatched or ignored with little fan fare. Professor Andreiko (Eddie Marsan from better movies like The World’s End, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2) is a heroic scientist who save our intrepid heroes, but then gets left behind without a thought, killed by Brixton with no consideration for how useful he might be in the future, with no attempt by the heroes to save him, and not so much as a “I wonder what happened to that little guy who saved our butts?” This callousness does nothing to shore up the already, by this time, flaccid investment the audience has in these characters.

While there’s no overt sex, the language is unnecessarily crude and contains a good deal of profanity and blasphemy.

If you REALLY think you want to see this latest and weakest F&F you can – LITERALLY – see a Reader’s Digest version of the ENTIRE movie via abridged cuts of all the best scenes in the official Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw trailer #2. It’s free, short and eliminates all the bad language.

But – if you want to see a GOOD car chase, adventure, buddy movie, try out one of the other better ones I’ve mentioned in this post or even go see one of the previous Fast and Furious installments. Sadly, this contender didn’t make it to the finish line.

 

STEEL MAGNOLIAS BLOOM AT ACTS THEATRE

SHORT TAKE:

Lovely production of Steel Magnolias running at ACTS Theatre in Lake Charles, LA from August 2, 2019 through August 11, 2019.

WHO SHOULD GO:

With parental discernment – probably mid-teens and up. A slight bit of language and serious topics, but mostly because the nature of the format – six ladies talking in a single stationary set – while engrossing to the more mature audience members  would bore the little ones.

LONG TAKE:

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the dress rehearsal of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias at ACTS Theatre. This comedy-drama is set in a 1980’s Louisiana beauty parlor and performed with great affection for the Southern women about whom this play revolves. The six ladies in the cast nailed it. Their timing, their energy, and their easy camaraderie the night before opening felt as though they already had several weeks of performances under their belts and were only tweaking for the weekend run.

The blocking was artfully choreographed, allowing easy access to all the characters, always a concern with an ensemble cast.

The stage for Truvy’s Beauty Parlor was terrific in all its brightly lit, lightly cluttered and detailed natural realism. For anyone who has ever spent time in a beauty parlor, you could almost smell the familiar hair care products and feel the warm breath of the hair dryers ubiquitous to ladies’ salons.

The director of this all female cast, Zach Hammons, is male. He, with his terrific back stage crew,  did a tremendous job with the style and technique of an experienced director. Veteran of the stage as an actor for many years and winner of performing awards, he is fairly new to the role of director.

I found his masculine behind-the-scenes influence a great advantage to this show, helping subtly inform the extensive, but never seen, male supporting players, whose actions are talked about, affect and are occasionally heard by the females on stage: Shelby’s Dad and M’Lynn’s husband, Drum, Tommy and Jonathan, Shelby’s brothers, Truvy’s husband, Spud, Ouiser’s boyfriend, Owen, and Annelle’s husband, Sammy. These men are all actively present in their women’s lives but are never present on stage. Zac confided to me that where most plays have two months to prepare, because of the exigencies of scheduling, they only had one month, but you would never know it to see the show. It’s tight and well timed, brisk in tempo, maintaining its intensity in both comedic and tragic moments from opening line to closing curtain call.

Ashley Dickerson plays Shelby, the optimist who does not let anything get her down and is the center of the play. Ms. Dickerson has performed both at ACTS and Lake Charles Little Theatre on many occasions.

Kathy Heath plays Shelby’s mom in a very challenging role of varied, and occasionally intense, often subtly repressed, emotional turmoil. Ms. Heath has lent her experience to both ACTS and McNeese Theatre, the latter from which she graduated with both a BA in theatre as well as a BS in Mass Com.

Joy Pace literally bursts onto the stage as Ouiser, the curmudgeonly neighbor to M’Lynn’s family. Fiercely loyal and sometimes merely fierce, her bark is always worse than her bite as she frequently steals scenes while providing comic relief. Ms. Pace has extensive experience as director for ACTS, and Artistic and Executive Director for the Itinerant Theatre, with a BA in Speech, and an MFA in directing, but this is her performing debut with ACTS Theatre.

Veronica Williams is Truvy, the energetic Eveready Bunny and the owner of the  shop in which all the action takes place. This is only Ms. Williams’ second stage outing, her first as Rosie in Mama Mia! garnering her an ACTA for Best Supporting Actress.

Taylor Novak-Tyler is Clairee, the sweet and lovable widowed dowager who provides advice and acts as a mediator and peacemaker to the sometimes tense female interactions. Ms. Novak-Tyler is another generous contributor to the stages both at ACTS and Lake Charles Little Theatre.

Shelby Castile plays Annelle who starts as the gentle and shyly fragile newbie to town who has the greatest character arc in the show. No newbie to ACTS Theatre though, she has been on stage here many times before.

So head on out to ACTS Theatre to see this terrific rendition of these very familiar women who are, indeed, Steel Magnolias – but, similar to the juxtaposition of opposites in the very title of the play – be prepared to both laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – DEAD RINGER FOR THE REAL THING

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

A classically Tarentino revisionist history of a terrible event during the 1960’s seen through the prism of a fading TV star and his stunt double in an intricately detailed and brain shockingly familiar re-creation of the 1960’s.

WHO SHOULD GO:

ADULTS! ONLY ADULTS! And only adults who have fairly strong constitutions. While there really are no sex scenes, the language is frequently raw and occasionally vulgar topics are discussed in crude ways, but there are a few fight scenes and one long scene of extremely gory and prolonged violence.

LONG TAKE:

Allow me to begin this review by quoting GK Chesterton:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Reviewing this movie puts me in an awkward position for a number of reasons. For one, it is a typically Tarentino violent and sexually charged film but one I thought extremely well done and worth viewing. For another I don’t want to unduly spoil anything in the movie but need to set the stage for one of the most vile moments in American history without either scaring off prospective appropriate film goers or giving away too much.

So keeping all this in mind:

SPOILERS FOR OUATIH AS WELL AS IRON MAN, WONDER WOMAN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, AND X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

There’s a YouTube show called How it Should Have Ended, a PG if not G-rated comedy, which points out inconsistencies, crosses universe franchise storylines, and evaluates any plot flaws in movies which rely on nonsensical stupidity to set up the premise or move the story along. They animate scenes and do very credible voice impersonations showing, for better or worse, what is likely to have really happened had common sense prevailed in a given situation.

For examples, they: point out how a man as smart as Doctor Strange would not have texted on a winding road, going super fast, in the dark, but would have hung up the phone and planned to call later; demonstrate how Iron Man’s quicker, lighter and faster suit, along with his flying experience would have easily defeated Obadiah Stane at the end of Iron Man; introduced Wolverine to assist  Wonder Woman; clearly showed in a spoof of the theme song from Beauty and the Beast that Belle was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome; and exhibit how Mr. Incredible probably would have loved Syndrome’s childhood inventions instead of shunning him with far more positive results.

Similarly, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is aptly named, for it is a fairy tale, if you consider, as Joe Harper did in Kenneth Branagh’s A Midwinter’s Tale that “most fairy tales turn out to be nightmares”, which explores the alternate possibilities in life.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the fictitious fading star Rick Dalton, a composite of every little known ’60’s TV show one trick pony and Brad Pitt is his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (based loosely on Burt Reynold’s stunt double Hal Needham). Where Rick is a fragile bag of regrets and insecurities off camera, Rick exudes a tough cowboy presence 24/7.

Likely the best acting job of either DiCaprio or Pitt, and almost the only two people who do not play historically documentable figures, they avoid what easily could have been caricatures to create two very different but vulnerable men who are survivors at their core. Despite the background story, their downwardly spiraling respective careers and the omnipresent spectre of the looming profoundly malevolent event on the horizon, dreadful to anticipate for anyone familiar with this year, these two archetype examples of crank-’em-out TV show stars from the ’60’s manage to be likeable, interesting, relatable, appealing and, like yeast in a barrel of flour, lighten the mood of every scene they are in.

This is a very “META” concept outing – with actors portraying real people who portrayed characters in movies and TV shows similar to the ones being filmed withIN the confines of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Whew.

The acting of the supporting cast, most of whom do play real people, is terrific. Among a large cast: Margot Robbie is the sweet and gentle but vacuous Sharon Tate. Dakota Fanning does a gut clenching quietly evil rendition of Manson follower Squeaky Fromme. And Mike Moh has all the mannerisms down for what can only be described as a Bruce Lee caricature (for which his surviving daughter, Shannon Lee, has taken exception). But one of the most impressive was Damien Lewis’ Steve MacQueen (The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair). With just his voice and gestures he brings this cinema icon back to life for just a few wonderful movie moments.

In addition, there are some wonderful cameos from Al Pacino (1972’s The Godfather), Kurt Russell (from Disney’s 1969’s Computer Wore Tennis Shoes to Snake Plissken in Escape From New York) who has a small part as stunt coordinator Randy and provides some V.O. narration, and Bruce Dern (1972’s eco-warning sci fi Silent Running), actors whose careers were pretty much “born” during this period of time.

And then there are little Easter Eggs that you might miss unless you look closely, like Mama Cass from the Mamas and the Papas who greets Tate at the Playboy Mansion, and someone who can only be Twiggy talking to Steve MacQueen. NOT to mention the resurrection of the old TV show Lancer, including Wayne Maunder (portrayed by Luke Perry) and cigarette commercials which are startlingly accurate dopplegangers to the ones we watched on TV as kids.

The songs are beautifully handpicked for the right moments like bouquets placed around a professionally decorated room featuring the likes of: “Good Thing” from Paul Revere and the Raiders, Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”, and “California Dreamin'” by Jose Feliciano.

And the sets, pacing of interviews, acting styles of the actors as they performed the shows within the movie, costumes, blunt and awkward dialogue all open a portal into a world I have not experienced in more than half a century. It was jarringly realistic. Tarantino even cleverly placed throughout the movie the awkward and jerky edits often experienced in watching a show from my youth, as the more humble equipment just did not produce the smoother transitions we all demand today, subtly evoking that era, as well as reminding us this is all just a fantasy, a wishful thinking creation of a cinematic mind.

If he has done nothing else, Tarantino has done a stunning job of disabusing me of any temptations to nostalgia for the era in his pinpoint accurate recreation of the world in which I grew up – the ’60’s with its emphasis on: the constant generation of cigarette smoke, plastic furniture, ridiculously high miniskirts, obnoxious self-aggrandizing hippies, sparse air conditioning, unchallenged snake oil salesmen, terrible TV shows, black and white monitors with Vietnam in the background, and condescending talking heads masquerading as newscasters (OK we still have those).

Don’t get me wrong. I loved it while I was living it but in the stark light of a Tarantino day – let’s just say that walks down Memory Lane should be taken sparingly.

And then there is the specific history of that particular “moment” in time.

In order to appreciate the pervasive sense of suspense and anxiety that hangs over the entire movie, you have to understand the backdrop in which the story plays out. The movie takes place during the year preceding the slaughter of Sharon Tate, her baby and guests on the night of August 9th 1969. On that terrible night, a cult leader name Charles Manson sent his followers out to kill everyone in the house on Cielo Drive. The people there were not just murdered they were savaged. A pregnant Sharon Tate, two weeks from delivery, was hung up and butchered like cattle. The rest were bludgeoned, shot, and stabbed dozens of times. Anyone old enough or well read enough to be familiar with this event knows it is coming — and protagonist Rick lives next door.

The next day, before their capture, Manson and his hippies did the same to a couple named LaBianca. It is hard to appreciate how this atmosphere of evil informed those days unless you lived through it…or watched this movie.

It was largely thought that the 1960’s “died” that day, (ignoring the fact that, well yes, 4-1/2months later it would be 19–SEVENTY, but I get the drift), replacing the open door “love is in the air” perception of the flower child with the reality that these people engaged in highly dysfunctional and destructive behaviors, who were predominantly a danger to themselves and those around them.

In OUATIH we get the true face of the hippie, free-love, Flower Power movement:  promiscuous, selfish, manipulative, filthy, violent, arrogant, condescending, narcissistic, slothful, parasitic, hypocritical, self-adoring, drug addicted anarchists with a sense of entitlement to other people’s property. The greatest horror to those who stylistically aligned themselves with these pet anti-establishment philosophies (while living otherwise) was that the Manson cult demonstrated to the world merely the logical extrapolation of the hippie mantras which included calling police names and advocating their destruction, extreme hostility to capitalism while living off the work of others,  and engagement in sexual debauchery without accepting consequences.

The aftermath of Woodstock alone demonstrates it takes a lot of someone else’s effort and money for one to appear to be living a life of freedom and independence from the drudgery of actually having to work for a living. (Of course, unfortunately, that is now the Democrat National Party goal – to be living off the hard work of other people, responsibility free – not surprising since many in their leadership fermented out of that intellectual cesspool —— but that’s a post for another day.)

Without any real job they lived, if you can call it that, on the largesse of family,  friends and community, that is when they weren’t begging, prostituting themselves or outright stealing.

As this is a Tarantino film one expects an extreme amount of violence and gore and OUATIH is no exception…..but not the way you might expect, or cringe fearfully. I am delighted to say that, through the magic of Tarantino pixie dust, I was inspired to clap and cheer during the last scenes.

Tarantino likes to play with “What if’s”. Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained being his most telling examples. I had actually never seen an entire Tarantino movie before but only clips from the likes of Kill Bill, Hateful Eight and Pulp Fiction. Sudden and ferocious bloodshed tend to jump out like ghouls from a haunted house, but OUAPIH is quite gentle for most of the movie in comparison, as the director manifests more suspense and extreme apprehension than actual violence…until the end.

Also stick around for a funny ending credits scene with a brilliantly on point faux cigarette commercial.

So if you want a head first dive into the deep end of nostalgia, and if you have the stomach for it, this is Tarantino at his best, if for no other reason than his masterful re-invention of a time gone by and for the cathartic satisfaction of seeing justice served in a Tarantino-flavored version of How it Should Have Ended.

God bless and R.I.P. Sharon Tate, baby Paul Polanski,  Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Leno LaBianca, and Rosemary LaBianca.

 

EPIPHANY – WHAT REALLY BUGS ME ABOUT CAPTAIN MARVEL

I finally figured out what bugs me about Captain Marvel. Not the movie, the character. The movie, as I pointed out in my post on Captain Marvel, is flawed but good and not really deserving of most of the negative hype it got. My problem is with the CHARACTER of Captain Marvel as it manifests itself, not just in the origin story, but in other movies as well – like Endgame.

It’s not the alleged anti-male bias in her origin story, which I mostly disabused in my post about Captain Marvel, that bothers me. It’s not Captain Marvel’s snarky attitude – I love  Rocket’s acerbic comments in Guardians of the Galaxy, the sarcasm of Tony Stark, the quips from Nick Fury and even the defensive banter from Marvel’s version of M.J.

It’s not the fact she is a woman in a lead action adventure role – even though her origin movie (while rather fun) is no where near as good as Wonder Woman was or Black Widow’s will be (OK I’m just a teensy bit biased but B.W. is SUCH a great character).

I don’t even mind arrogance if it is earned, as it is with Iron Man or Loki, especially when they occasionally allow themselves to be the butt of humor.

And yes, I DO mind that the character of Captain Marvel HAS no sense of humor. That takes a bit of edge off of every scene she is in. BUT that is NOT what really BUGS ME!

It suddenly occurred to me when lines of dialogue popped into my head from Avengers: Endgame which nailed her entire persona and shone a light on the major flaw with this character, which crops up in everything she does, everything she says and all of the relationships, or lack of them, she has with the other characters in this Marvel Universe. Danvers is talking to the group of grieving super hero survivors, and Rhodey, rightly, asks where she has been all this time (the last 5 years) and she replies: “There are a lot of other planets in the Universe. And unfortunately, they didn’t have you guys.”

OK, I can accept that and she’s right. It’s almost complimentary to the Avengers. But it’s what she DIDN’T say that rankles. Danvers is from Earth. She was born in America and used to be American military. So she understands loyalty. But her comment, or lack of it, reflects a (literal and disturbing) “universitality” to her mindset; a comment that speaks volumes in what is unspoken about where her allegiances lie. Sure, she was brainwashed, but she remembered her best friend Maria and Maria’s little girl, so her memories were and are resurfacing.

What she should have said, and did NOT say was: “I’m sorry. I wish I could have been here helping AT HOME, but you must understand that …..” Along with a grounding of Danvers’ place in the galaxy it would have afforded her a more three-dimensional personality, a vulnerability which every other character displays at one time or another – from Drax to Thor. But not ice queen Captain Marvel and without it she is a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out.

What she does reflect is a distance and sort of condescending entitlement attitude, wherein she will not deign to show up on Earth unless she determines we are worth the effort. There is no attachment, no sense of gratitude to the place of her birth, no expression of affiliation to the rest of her species even.

Instead, Earth to her is not the exceptional place of her birth, nor America the exception country of her upbringing, but just another rock in the cosmos with beings that need her help.

Well thanks loads and we’ll grovel later, but I’m sorry – maybe she should consider that without the nurturing she received on Earth, in America, there would not have BEEN a Carol Danvers. She is, after all, SUPPOSED to be human.

Superman, (D.C. but we’re talking creative writing and what works, not affiliation with a particular franchise), has endured (despite some admitted egregious mistakes) and is easy to like, in part because he has shown tremendous gratitude and affection to the species into which he was adopted. He’s not even FROM here and he protects Earth as owning a special place in his heart.

Dr. Who (again irrelevant to franchise or universe but only to the creation of character) has declared dozens of times that Earth is under his special protection – not just because he finds traits in humans that are noteworthy – our capability for great good, our resilience – but because we sheltered him in a time of need during the third doctor’s series.

In Star Trek (TOS) an empath described humans: “Your will to survive, your love of life, your passion to know … Everything that is truest and best in all species of beings has been revealed to you. Those are the qualities that make a civilization worthy to survive.” Lai the Vian, “The Empath”.

But there was NONE of that respect and affection for the human race reflected anywhere in the Captain Marvel movie or in her character in other movies, as it written by four women – Anna Boden, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve –  and one man – Ryan Fleck. (Reminds me of the aphorism self-describing the flaws in an unchecked raw “democracy”: that it is four wolves and one lamb deciding what to have for dinner. Poor Ryan.)

I have a tough time imagining Marvel throwing herself between danger and a small child – rather she’d weigh the importance of the child against what she perceives as her own value and – well, good bye kid.

Apparently it was far more important to these writers to bow to a politically correct: “I am woman, hear me mewl”, than create a fully compelling story and hero. It is her lack of gratitude, absence of humility and vacuum of appreciation for her home planet that makes Captain Marvel the least of the Marvel heroes (or even anti-heroes) despite her amazing “powers”. As a result I find Groot, a talking tree with a rather limited English vocabulary, far more admirable and far more relatable, not to mention lovable, than li’l Miss C. Marvel.

LION KING 2019 TAKES ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE THRONE

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF LION KING 2019 TAKES ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE THRONE

SHORT TAKE:

Put this in the column of WELL done, and astonishingly realistic, live action remakes of a classic Disney animated movie.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone – though, for a kid movie, the subjects of fratricide, murderous hyenas, and fights to the death might (and did in the showing I went to) upset the younger kids. That’s going to have to be a parental call on a kid by kid basis. There were certainly scenes in this one which were even harder to watch than in the animated movie because of the VERY life-like CGI.

LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS BUT ONLY FOR THOSE 3 OR 4 PEOPLE IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM OVER 10 WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THE ORIGINAL ANIMATED VERSION

Chalk another one up for The Mouse. Before I launch into my review, I’ll say it right now, the CGI IS ASTONISHING. It’s actually just a teensy bit frightening how authentically film makers can now manufacture real life. The animals seem very very life-like.

Aside from allowing the animals to speak, the director, Jon Favreau has had the animators keep the facial and body movement as close as possible to the authentic musculature of real animals, including, of course, their limitations. Real animals don’t smile. Real animals can’t manipulate things which require an opposable digit — unless they have an opposable digit. Real animals don’t dance or pull hula skirts out of thin air. Favreau’s team respects these natural and inherent limitations, bringing an added reality to the characters which was different from the animated version. Audiences generally allow an extra layer of suspension of disbelief not usually afforded a live action and Favreau’s team obviously kept that in mind – creatively working within those limits, making the almost athletically energetic vocals of the human actors all that more important to achieve. And achieve those goals they do.

Despite the early reviews which did not have a lot of love for the (then) upcoming 2019 Lion King, this one deserved all the (literal) applause it got during the credits. I’ll admit to some trepidation, as while Aladdin was well done, Dumbo was an overblown flop. And as Lion King is one of their most enduring and intelligently created stories, I had some reservations. But from the opening scenes I was enchanted.

The entire original animated story is there, as this live action tracks about 90% of the original animated version scene for scene and image for image, notable from the opening sequence as the animals gather to welcome the newly born Prince Simba. The only notable differences throughout the 2019 version were that some of the quips were missing and some of the more ridiculous slapstick was excised. For example, and in keeping with the aforementioned recognition of the natural limitations of real animals: Zazu was not left under a pile of rhinoceroses as cubs Simba and Nala escape his watchful eye, and Timon did not don a hula skirt as a distraction for the hyenas just before the climactic battle. (Do I know the original well? With 6 kids, I have probably seen this movie over a dozen times, so yes.)

Only one scene, in my analysis, suffered slightly from lack of (if you’ll excuse the pun) impact in a diversion from the original. When Rafiki counsels Simba to return to his pride, in the original animated version Rafiki whacks Simba on the head with his club to make the point that: Yes, some history is painful, but once endured, it is then in the past and must be overcome in order to move forward. I can think of some stupid PC reasons why they did not include this part of Rafiki’s argument, but maybe they had a legit plot consideration. In any event this scene is not used in Rafiki’s counsel to Simba in the 2019 version.

Along with why this scene and some of the more memorable quotes were not included, another thing the film makers do not explain is their casting choices. Of the main cast: James Earl Jones who majestically voiced Mufasa, Matthew Broderick who played Simba, Madge Sinclair who voiced Sarabi, Robert Guillame who charmingly gave life to Rafiki, Jeremy Irons who chillingly voiced Scar, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, who stole every scene they were in as the comic duo of Timon and Pumbaa, Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg who lent their comic talents to the hyenas, and Rowen Atkinson whose brilliant dry wit was conveyed into Zazu, Jones was the only actor asked back.

There was some ink spilled in the media effusing about how Jones links the movie back to the traditional version and I, personally, was delighted to have him revisit the voice of Mufasa. He has all the timbre of the majestic leader plus his age adds a wonderful, almost foreboding to his character. But I could find very little info on why they did not call the entire cast back. Aside from the tragic death of Guillame, taken by cancer in 2017, and Madge Sinclair who passed away from leukemia not long after The Lion King came out, all of the performers are not only still alive but still active and have ongoing projects. And, aside from the child actor voices from whom replacement by JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph is understandable, as they now will obviously sound too old for those roles, when acting the adult characters, the ages are irrelevant since they are all doing vocal performances.

The only info I could get on the casting issue was in an interview with Jeremy Irons. When asked why he did not reprise his role as Scar in the new version all he could say was: They didn’t ask me. He then, graciously and diplomatically went on to praise the choice of Chiwetel Ejiofor .

There is NOTHING wrong with the performances in the movie, and had they been the first ones I heard doing these roles I could have been quite content. BUT having heard Broderick, Atkinson, Irons, etc in their respective roles, it was a constant distraction to actively miss the original cast, especially when Jones’ terrific performance was a continuous reminder that the others were not there.

But don’t let my complaints dissuade you from the movie. Despite the differences, I thought this a very well done version. I am merely expressing an, admitted, bias for the details about the one our kids grew up with. I understand some of the changes omitting the more obvious cartoonish slapstick but while I do not understand some of the other choices, can accept them as not being in this version’s vision.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (2012, Dr. Strange and Children of Men) takes on Scar. Donald Glover (The Martian, Solo and Spider-Man : Homecoming) takes over for Simba. John Oliver voices Zazu. Alfre Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact, Captain America: Civil War) speaks for Sarabi. Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner carry Pumbaa and Timon on their respective vocal backs, for which director Favreau wisely arranged for extended improv sessions, much like what was allowed for Lane and Sabella by directors Rogers Allers, and Rob Minkoff for the original, some of which lines were added to the final script.

The Lion King, is heavily influenced by the story of Hamlet. For those not familiar with that theatrical acme, Hamlet is a young prince who must overcome his own insecurities, immaturity and indecisiveness when faced with the prospect of leading his people, after his uncle secretly kills his father, making it appear to be an accident, and marries his mother. (Plug here: BEST Hamlet ever – and ONLY one, to date filmed in its entirety – best of my knowledge – is Branagh’s which you can buy or rent from Amazon – HERE.)

A couple of decisions brings the newer version closer to the 500 year old play. As an example, the original Lion King defined Uncle Scar as grasping only for the crown. This 2019 interpretation hits a bit closer to the Shakespearean home, referring to a past wherein  Scar fought to take Sarabi as his queen and lost to Mufasa. But, unlike Hamlet’s mother, Sarabi has a bit more sense and turns Scar down. This interaction adds more texture to the plot and depth to the character of Scar.

Jon Favreau takes on the daunting task of bringing to life a new version of a beloved classic. Favreau is a very gifted and talented film maker. Favreau is responsible as a director for Iron Man 1 and 2, Jungle Book live action 1 and (the future) 2, an Orville episode, Cowboys and Aliens, Chef, and Zathura: A Space Adventure. He was producer for, among others, Avengers: Endgame and Infinity War. And his long list of acting credits include: creating the adorable sidekick to Iron Man, Happy Hogan, whose character arc has matured with the Avengers movies, as well as playing the titular character in the movie he both wrote and directed in Chef.

As a short digression, and in a lovely taste of poetic symmetry, Favreau, as Happy Hogan, plays his own kind of Rafiki to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Far From Home, counseling the young “Prince” to assume the mantle left for him by his de facto father, Stark, just the way Rafiki counsels Simba in Lion King.

Hans Zimmer returns to refresh the soundtrack he composed for the original Lion King. There are also a couple of additional songs, one of which is performed by Beyonce (who voices Nala) called “Spirit”. While the Shakesperean influence in Lion King, as I have already explained,  is obvious, this 2019 versions also draws from the Biblical story of Moses, who went into exile, crossing the desert to spend years away, only to be called back to bring his people out of bondage. Similarly, Simba crosses the desert that separates his kingdom from the idyllic forest into which he is adopted, until, like Moses, upon his coming to maturity, is called to overcome his own fears and doubts and return – again back across the very Biblically symbolic desert – to free his people from the slavery of Scar and his hyenas. Emphasizing this connection is lyrics from Beyonce’s “Spirit” which includes the line: “So go into that far off land, and be one with the Great I Am, I Am….” The reference to God, the Great I Am, is unmistakably reverent to the Book of Genesis. This was an added depth to the story I hadn’t anticipated but admire about this new version very much.

So go see the new Lion King. But to be fair to this lovely outing, see it with the fresh eyes that Jon Favreau and company have given it.

 

GOING OUT ON A LIMB FOR – A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

OK Here’s a first for me. I’m recommending a movie based solely on a trailer — well OK NOT JUST the trailer but the trailer, the subject matter AND the person in the lead.

Tom Hanks has done some commendable bio pics both historic and fictitious. He:  brought dignity to the titular character in Forrest Gump, helped publicize the innocence of Captain Sullenberger in Sully, showed the heroics in an ordinary man during the Cold War named James B Donovan in Bridge of Spies, and brought to life a warm and human Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, among others.

But now Mr. Hanks is bringing to the screen the story of the Reverend Fred McFeely (honest – it is cited as his real middle name) Rogers. I saw (and wrote a review which you can read here on) the HIGHLY commendable documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor on this wonderful humanitarian and the trailer promises to be a loving reflection of that charming and heartfelt love letter to that American treasure.

And I’ll confess just watching the trailer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood started me involuntarily tearing up. This promises to be a profoundly moving accolade to a genuine hero.

So come next Thanksgiving line up to support, A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood, a movie about a gentle and kind Christ-like ambassador for children. But be sure to bring Kleenex.

JANE BOND? POLITICAL CORRECTNESS RUN AMOK

AUDIO PODCAST FOR “JANE BOND? POLITICAL CORRECTNESS RUN AMOK”

At first I thought it was a joke. But now — if it is, then include me in the list with those who believe “gullible” is not in the dictionary – as having fallen for the prank Hook Line & Sinker.

SPOILERS FOR SOME PAST BOND MOVIES

I thought Judi Dench was the best M the Bond franchise ever had. And I think that a flighty science-enamored character like Elizabeth Henstridge’s Jemma Simmons from Season 1 of Agents of Shield, or Letitita Wright’s hip teen prodigy, Shuri, from Black Panther would be absolutely adorable as a new Q.

But a female James Bond? What are they going to call her? Jamie Bond? Jane Bond? Janet? June? Jill? Jasmine? Jenny? Joan? Jessica? Josephine?

The actress they have in mind, Lashana Lynch, (last seen in Captain Marvel as Danvers’ best friend Maria Rambeau), seems a perfectly good candidate for an action adventure movie, having acquitted herself with satisfaction in the Marvel Universe so far. It would be interesting to see her in an Atomic Blonde-type movie, for example.

BUT!!! When the vast majority of the attraction of the Bond movies, for the vast majority of the demographic audience, is the bevy of beauties who follow, surround, bed and attempt to kill 007, if you have a female Bond, how is that going to work?

If she’s a lesbian, that’s going to attract an entirely different primary demographic than has been following the Bond franchise for 70 years. In short, the Bond franchise would be starting all over from Square One. And given the money invested in this franchise, I don’t know that that’s a risk they’re willing to take. So assuming she is presented as either hetero or asexual, what will be the excuse for all the women who are an integral, if not in some cases, the sole reason some people have for going to see the movie?

I was willing to seriously consider a female Doctor Who (Jodie Whittaker) and I’d hoped for better, though I do not think it has worked out very well.

I am on record as having doubted the viability of a female-superhero-led movie, but was delighted to be wrong when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) came along and have guarded optimism about the idea of a Black Widow  (Scarlett Johansson) origin story. But those two succeeded, and promise to succeed, primarily on the strength of the actresses involved in the respective films. Both female protagonists are/were heroes who happened to be females, not females onto which they shoehorned the mantle of superhero (as they did with Captain Marvel). Neither Wonder Woman nor Black Widow have chips on their shoulder against men and both work with easy camaraderie with their male counterparts, (UNlike Captain Marvel.)

My point being is, that while I have an educated and experienced bias against the viability of females in traditionally male iconic roles, I am delighted when I am wrong and I’m happy to admit it. However, it is frankly inconceivable to me what on Earth they going to do with a female Bond, given almost 70 years of set formula,  (Casino Royale, published in 1953 was the first novel by Ian Fleming and 1962 opened Dr. No, the first Bond film), which would operate strongly against it.

I suppose one possibility is if this young woman was the fruit of one of the previous male 007’s innumerable liaisons.

But even then I think it would be a gimmick that would only be viable for one movie – much like the smart, competent bride of James Bond in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As amazing as the Emma Peel/Diana Rigg’s Tracy was, she would not have fit within the Bond franchise long-term and was an outlying one trick pony. Tracy had to die for the Bond character to live. And I don’t think it was a coincidence that this movie, the outlier, was the one and only Bond with George Lazenby. Bond in love and married was a construct against the tried and true formula which just did not work. Grafting a female child of James Bond would alter the chemistry and shape of the decades-successful pattern into something unrecognizable as a Bond movie.

Another possibility is her partnering with a male Bond or perhaps even a junior male Bond-in-training. But then we’re moving into the equivalent of the Marvel Universe’s Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy territory, wherein they plant their tongue far more obviously and firmly in their cheek than they did with Roger Moore’s unfortunately titled — well let’s say it would be another way to describe an eight-armed cat.

Honestly, I can view this with a certain objectivity as I have never been able to sit through an entire Bond movie, (or Wagner opera for that matter), without dozing off at least once. Suffice it to say, I’m not a huge Bond fan, though I find them fun to spectate in groups with male relatives and friends who — for one reason or another —seem to enjoy them a lot more than I do.

I wish this young lady all the luck. But I am afraid that in their heightened enthusiasm for political correctness they may have a James BOMB on their hands and have given themselves a License to Fail.

P.S. If they want my vote it would be – hands down – IDRIS ELBA!!!!!!

NEVERLAND – MOVIE MAVIN MAKES A MOVIE

A little over a year ago I created a post alluding to a short I had written for a competition. While the competition fell through a 6 minute video was produced by a truly lovely man named Robert Campbell through his business CCS Video in England. Also volunteering their time and talents were Alice Ryan and Kristian Evans as lead actors and Tony Maas in a supporting role. My dear friend  Stuart White (published author and screenwriter par excellence – see his page on us.imdb.com which has only some of his accomplishments) and his best friend, the incredibly clever and brilliant photographer, Dave Thorpe graciously and generously showed up to lend support and encouragement as my representatives, as the trip to England for this was just not practically possible for me at the time. Also lending their time and talents to see this project to fruition were: aerial cinematographer and production assistant Roger Allen, assistant director and sound engineer James Skinner, production assistant Michael Winborne, composers Dimitrs Keramidakis, and Enrique Cervera, as well as the kind cooperation of City West Homes.

I will be grateful to all of these people – most of whom I will likely never meet – for the rest of my days, for bringing to life the singular vision I had and breathing life into characters which were only ephemeral specters in my head and words on a page, until these wonderful people created this brief moment which I now share.

While it is too large to place on this blog, the site for accessing this film is here: Neverland.

Please send comments and let me know what you think.

Thanks – Home School Mom Movie Mavin

 

 

 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME – A HOME RUN

 

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Terrific newest contribution to the Marvel cinematic Universe, FFH is supposedly the last movie of Phase III which began in 2008 with Ironman. It is also the third of, hopefully, many more Marvel-version Spider-Man movies, its quality credited as much to the perpetually youthful and delightfully appealing Tom Holland version of Peter Parker as it is to the clever writing, great music and amazing special effects.

WHO SHOULD GO:

With some cautions, pretty much anyone. But be advised, while the story is clean and the romances innocently portrayed, there is a bit of language, and the violence, while cartoonish, is often intense and could frighten very young children.

LONG TAKE:

What if super powers and access to billions of dollars of tech were given to a kid – a really great and very intelligent kid who was humble and wanted to do the right thing but still was – a kid. You’d have Spider-Man: Far From Home. Spider-Man: FFH is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve ever seen – coming of age, as in a youth being faced with circumstances that allow or force him to step from the safe confines of childhood out into the deeper, more treacherous waters of adulthood.

Although the movie stands firmly on its own, the more Marvel genre films (including TV’s Agents of Shield) since 2008’s Ironman, with which you are familiar and the more you know about Marvel, the more you will enjoy Spider-Man: FFH.  Visual, verbal and circumstantial homages to that larger universe abound.

SPOILERS FOR FFH AND OTHER MARVEL MOVIES (mostly referential but I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone – so be warned)

Spider-Man: Far From Home burst forth with a crisis for which Nick Fury wishes to recruit Peter Parker.  Now while in our modern culture it may seem unreasonable to ask a 16 year old teenager to step up in the way Fury wishes, keep in mind that there is abundant precedent for this in our own human history. Henry II, father of Richard the Lion Heart was forced, by the untimely death of his father Geoffrey of Anjou, to lead his troops against competitor armies for the possession of England and a big chunk of what we now consider France, when he was only 17. (P.S. Henry won). However, regardless of what the inimitable Mr. Fury demands, Peter doesn’t want anything to interfere with his school European trip and planned courting of the aloof M.J. – not even the potential end of the world.

Along with this humorous and all too human motivation of the main character, which is one of the wings that propels this story, FFH has a smart underlying theme cautioning objectivity to media – a very “meta” concept given the massive green screens used by the film makers in EVERY Marvel movie.

Tom Holland is again, and still, wonderful as the absolute best and perfect Spider-Man – all youthful confident enthusiasm but with an irresistibly humorous boyish naivete.

Zendaya (Greatest Showman) portrays her own unique “Goth” brand M.J. without becoming annoying. The adorable Jake Batalon returns as Peter’s best friend Ned. Jon Favreau reprises his role as Happy Hogan, providing the much needed father figure Peter lost in Endgame. Marisa Tomei is great as Peter’s youthful Aunt May (who says Aunt May has to be old, gray and grandmotherly!!). Jake Gyllenhaal plays Mysterio/Quentin Beck, the unknown factor in the plot. And there are a few cameos I would hate to ruin by divulging here but suffice to say they are well placed and fun.

The movie opens with the bang you would expect from any Marvel movie, touches briefly and with some amusement on the practical effects of the “blip” which “undusted” everyone from the end of Infinity War, then carries the audience on the crest of the story wave through to the end, leaving clever bread crumbs along the way, and beyond to all THREE end credit scenes (guess they were making up from not having a proper end credit Easter Egg after Endgame).

And, again, leave it to Marvel to have the perfect blend of story character arc, humor, and tension all placed against a complex backstory which fits with all the other movies like one of the overlays which made up the secret blueprints Tony cobbled together clandestinely in the cave where he had been held hostage in the first Ironman movie.

The colors are bright and vibrant, as they should be for a movie based on a comic book. The story is clean and wholesome, the romances gentle and age appropriately innocent, but the dialogue does contain a small handful of words you would not want younger children repeating. The violence is cartoonish but can be very intense. However, if they can handle any of the previous Marvel movies released since 2008 they can handle this one.

The music by Michael Giacchino is, at turns, bright and lively, romantic and lyrical, and tense and suspenseful, but always maintaining that Marvel hero-flavor.

Spider-Man: FFH works on multi-levels – as a classically formula-ed Marvel action adventure, as a cautionary talent of believing too quickly what you THINK you see because it is in the media, and as the story of a genuinely good young man on the cusp of becoming an adult who must choose when and how to grow up.

So swing right over at your earliest opportunity to see your friendly neighborhood – Spider-Man: FFH.