IR Film Review: SPIDERMAN – FAR FROM HOME [Sony/Marvel]

The texture of a superhero is the essence of decision making. The interesting progression of “Spiderman: Far From Home” operates in the realm of naivete. Having done interviews for the original Spiderman films from Sam Raimi but never really watching Andrew Garfield’s version, Tom Holland’s approach is one almost of innocent bewilderment which in turn gives him a sense of awe. One of the most affecting moments in an earlier “Avengers” film is when Holland looks at Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark as he is disappearing with a questioning line. But that establishes such a structure that perhaps earlier Spiderman films didn’t have: a connection to others and a larger world. This is likely what will fuel the Black Widow film with Scarlet Johannson since it will bring that essence of story and time to that film. Here the idiom that perpetrated the entire Sam Raimi film is pushed in the background but still rings clear: “with great power comes great responsibility. In trying not to give too much away, Tony Stark, not Iron Man, looms heavily over decisions here…and even perceptions. It is an interesting approach especially when decisions involve “Edith” and aspects of instinct and conscience.

The basic plot without giving too much away is that Peter Parker just wants to be a regular guy and go on a class trip to Europe to tell MJ (played by Zendaya) that he really likes her. While the banter between him and her and, by extension, his best friend and his perspective girlfriend for the trip works in a comic romantic comedy way, the stakes are not that thick, which is alright. The realization is that “Far From Home” nicely plays much lighter than, of course, the “Avengers” films which within their structure have a very dark core while still playing to mainstream structure. Here the threat is paradoxical in a way but one that is unexpected in one way but not in another. During an interview I did with Jake Gyllenhaal for “Stronger” a couple years back, he referenced that he always found it hard to play a superhero (and it seems he had been offered others) that weren’t real per se. That is why the progression here is an interesting exercise (which is all I can say). Any other discussions of heartbreak, destruction, expectation, subversion or transcendence will give away too much but the film does include all of these without becoming too, in a word, tragic. And that is a good thing. Especially when Jon Favreau can bring some fun comic relief without impacting or altering what the story is truly about.

B

By Tim Wassberg

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IR Film Review: DUMBO [Disney]

The texture of “Dumbo” is an unusual one. The original, one of the first films from the animation studio at Disney, was barely a feature and buried in the lingo and perception of the time. Like “Pinnochio”, the perception was not on reality or magical realism but purely an simple surrealist fantasy. There was an edge of darkness for sure but yet the story seemed very intimate. It was not a story told by humans but by the animals themselves. The texture of a mouse and an elephant becoming friends and overcoming obstacles against those who would make them perform. The aspect of the dark world and the unknown coming towards the innocent while blended in the wonder of flight. These thematic bases are textures that were essential in “Pinnochio” and even “Bambi”. Tim Burton creates a mileau to understand “Dumbo” in the modern context (even though the story again takes place in the early 1900s). The story points are sound and the essence of whimsy is inferred in many points. But as a fable despite the ultimate resolution, the essence of risk seems candylike.

Most of the characters are painted in saccarine colors and disposition. In many ways, there is a reflectivity of 1950s nostalgia in many ways. Unlike the previous “Dumbo”, the parallels are in a pair of children who have lost their mother and a father unable to connect after returning from the war. The reconnection of both Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito as a circus ringleader and a big time promoter in their first pairing in a way since “Batman Returns” seems to not have the crackle their scenes so richly deserve. In many ways this may be the way the characters are drawn which come off muted at times and two dimensional but nonetheless the archetypes even seem stilted. Granted this is meant to work in an almost hazy way.

However when push comes to shove at the end, it is the circus folk who help propogate the progression of the third act that really harken back to true Burton when the mechanics of the ideas fuel the intention and, by extension, the eccentricities of the characters. The character that should have the most empathy is Dumbo, and that is the success of the movie since, by taking away the muse in Timothy the mouse, forces the texture even more so. While certain aspects of surrealism from the cartoon couldn’t cross over sensibly in a narrative based production per se, Burton does find a way to include pink elephants (which undeniably would be a good reason to take on the show from the get go) although the matter of approaching them is quite different.

Both Colin Farrell and Eva Green take on thankless roles per se that progress the story but adhere to the essence of Burton. But what Dumbo essentially is is Burton-lite, using his talents for a broader, more subdued audience. There is nothing wrong with this at all…it tends to make most of the film though very passive…effectively done…but in many way inert both characterwise and in a way creatively. There is the essential world building that Burton is known for but even the Danny Elfman score has lightness to it. Again, no problems but nothing that lifts the heart undeniably.

There is a glimmer in Dumbo’s eyes as he watches the pink elephants but that is fleeting. But there is also nothing quite like the moment in the animated film where Dumbo’s mother cradles her young baby in her arms from her jail and swings him back and forth. “Dumbo” makes its story in the modern era through an essence of nostalgia and human fraility but in doing so loses a little bit of the magic of being separate. There is a mythic structure in the final shots that bears ode to “The Lion King” in an ironic way. Also, listen to the final notes of the closing credits where that aspect of the original lingers…just a tiny bit.

C

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: SANTA BARBARA INTL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 [Santa Barbara, California] – Part I

International structure in terms of dramatic tension and the sense of the sublime and the supernatural was an inherent theme in many of the films of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this year.

Maracaibo The texture of lives lost through arrogance or perhaps even lack of compassion or foresight in this Argentinean drama. Here a doctor is unable to process the death of his son but the personality trait that divided them. His life becomes undone because the notion of masculinity and understanding has changed in modern society yet old school values or perceptions especially in old world countries remain. While inherently melodramatic, the eventual resolution shows that there was no divide per se just misunderstanding. The role of the mother/wife definitely takes on an inherent device since her desires versus her idea of how her husband can and should react take on particular resonance in one kitchen scenes. An inherent psychological portrait without too many reveals or revelations yet serviceable.

Scary Mother This film out of Georgia in the Russian arena is an interesting perception of societal norms and intents against a seemingly Cold War backdrop even though it is modern time. A mother is in some circles an underground sensation with her obscene but profound writing. But her process by which to intercede her life and then makes it a build of darkness for her creativity is an interesting one. She is willing ti sacrifice her family to find that balance. Her use of her relationship with her father in terms of both his expectation and dominance is interesting since he almost paints the portrait of why the writing speaks to inherent ego, especially when he believes it is a man writing the prose. Her family provides an interesting funnel of maturity especially the daughter who looks at life in a tecture more practical than her mother while the reflexity of smart phones and how apps can make you look older seems to shun the mother almost as if she were reflecting as Medusa to her reflection. She speaks of mythological creatures and her writing space is bathed in red suggesting an almost purgatory. There are some interesting ideas in this tome, many of which don’t come to fruition while others linger with the audience.

Grand Cur The essence of Burgundy, where a close friend still owns a old house in the middle of town, is steeped in old world traditions. This documentary follows a man of wine who came over from Montreal and because one of the most renown winemakers in the region. The documentary observes the politics that intercede but alsoexplores the climate problems in a very matter of fact way that shows how unseen hail and a freeze on the vineyards completely can change the perspective of what the land can produce. The science, again in an unassuming way, is explored to show why that land creates such wine but also how any change of it can cause problems because the land value is so high, even compared to California. Ultimately it is a tale of trying to find art purely through the dirt but the details like the fact that this transferred wine maker is not of the country and the essence of the supreme value of the soil and how it has been built or maintained throughout the millennia gives the narrative due resonance.

The Mist & The Maiden This crime thriller from Spain set on the canary islands is part of festival’s crime subsection this year. The way it intersects intellect and lust interplays some of the best constructs in the genre, both Hollywood & otherwise. There is an uncanny beauty to the women and an inherent masculinity to the men so it harks to almost a different time. The very essence of Veronica Echequi as Ruth oozes both sensuality, practicality and ultimately a sense of manipulation, compassion and opportunity. It is her presence that both grounds and elevates the film. The necessity of not explaining everything and indeed laying certain elements of blame on the system works but inherently the essence of greed and human nature plays in. One specific scene on the deck between two investigators laid bare shows a texture of play and strategy that brings to mind the more edgy moments of “Basic Instinct”. No one is spared yet the lesson of consequence looms tragically in the sense of cause and effect or more effectively silence and hiding in plain sight.

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: SANTA BARBARA INTL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 [Santa Barbara, California] – Part II

Continuing on with the films experienced at Santa Barbara International Film Festival, international structure continues with a sense of character’s notion of purpose and the ideal of conscience versus survival of both the psyche and the physical in the modern world.

Holy Camp! The two ends of this sardonic and, at times, farcical musical balances the ideas of a changing world. In a way many musicals don’t it reflects the push and pull of young people in modern society, pretty or not, but especially the pretty ones…that sense of expectation but following other people’s intentions. This is true of all the characters but especially the two young women, troublemakers in their minds and others, as they are stuck at a religious camp over the summer. Now while the construct in flimsy, certain elements plain through. Now God singing Whitney Houston to this young girl who doesn’t understand English is an interesting paradox. Now while some people have certain connections to the songs, one that connects this writer is the song “I Have Nothing” which works here in the context of the story but I (as an extra) saw Whitney lip syncing it on the set of The Bodyguard at the Fountainbleu during an intimate theater scene more than 25 years ago. That day she was having some issues in terms of performing and Kevin Costner (one of the biggest movie stars at that time) talked to some of us and kept the mood up. In movie it is when Whitney is wearing what looks like blue tinsel in her hair. Since her death and obviously the underlying religious tones of some of her songs, it does have resonance. However in terms of this story, interestingly enough it is a nun who is questioning her commitment that connects the idea of God and the young girls through a coupling that bridges the scenes. The final redemption although campy as the title suggested is a hopeful one, albeit one a bit too cheery maybe for American audiences.

The Line [Ciara] Continuing the aspect of the crime sidebar, this entry from Slovakia/Ukraine angles more for the dark than the seductive. The idea of honor and “an eye for an eye” populates this idea of a mid level crime head who wants both the best for his family and maintaining the status quo without selling out in his mind. He runs tobacco over the border in what used to be the Communist Balkan States before the border was open. Everyone is seen as corrupt with various motivations informing their decisions whether it be a daughter getting pregnant with a boy that the father doesn’t approve of or a son being incarcerated for what would be considered a minimal offense. The story has working class “Godfather” underpinings but also with a matriarchal twist. Ultimately the triggered idea has to do more with the balance of loyalty, trust and fair play winning out over backhanded dealings which is ultimately true to life because one cannot maintain an empire unless there is a sense of order behind it in some way shape or form. The lead Adam as played by Tomas Mastalir has the right essence of darkness and compassion that both scars and redeems his leader despite setbacks with either comdemning or condoning his actions.

The White Orchid Having met both writer/director Steve Anderson and actress Olivia Thirlby at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo, Florida when they were about to shoot this gives a better understanding of what an accomplishment this is. Bogart, as an artist, always keyed into these types of noirs and his son Stephen, whose mother was Lauren Bacall, understood this element as well. The movie is made underneath the element of Santana Films (Bogie’s company) along with Anderson. From what I remember, the texture is that it was in the style of Bogie’s films but not necessarily off a previous script. But if it was, the translation and structural set up works well. Thirlby’s transformation in the film is quite riveting but keeps with the old school ideas while understanding the new school liberalism of today’s movies. The film feels like an old film yet still very modern. It is very sexy but also without revealing too much of the characters but just enough. The backdrop of San Luis Obispo is an unusual one but harks to films like “Basic Instinct” but without the necessity of too much gore or nudity. The inherent psyche of Thirlby’s character moves back and forth in rhythm though at times her actual motivations are a bit muddled which is likely a conscious motion of the plot, especially when the reveal begins. The White Orchid remains a mystery while her impact continues. Much like Bogie’s legacy.

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: MAZE RUNNER – THE DEATH CURE [20th Century Fox]

The essence of “The Maze Runner” folds into the idea of isolationism against all odds. What the trilogy and this part in particular points to is that only through sacrifice and loss can the true battles be won. Thomas may be the savior that possibly has the cure but it is those who ultimately push their lives to the breaking point that really shine. Thomas Brodie Sangster brings a soulfulness to Newt that even in dark moments seems to shine through. While melodrama does have possibility here, it is sometimes in lingering too long on a scene instead of simply letting it be. Rosa Salazar, former indie film darling, who takes on the mantle of “Alita: Battle Angel” next summer, plays in the background here but it is her unrequited love and allegiance for Thomas that shines through. Dylan O’Brien, like many Batman types before him, has to keep the plot flowing which is inextrictably linked to Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). While the path to absolution is not an easy one, the inclusion of certain break and run sequences while interesting in terms of action interplay adds little. The opening train rescue though keys in the best of Old Western with the new Fast & Furious mentality. Ultimately an ending for the saga, the epilogue speaks well to the reasoning of the trajectory though ultimately the balance of what it means to escape from The Glade is lost. Thomas is supposedly the Chosen One but is it just by fate or sheer will.

C

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Reviews: FORT LAUDERDALE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL [Fort Lauderdale, Florida]

The aspect of most film festivals is creating different voices but it is also key in showing different perpectives. A short two day jaunt to Fort Lauderdale Festival highlighted this structure with a texture of 3 separate foreign films with definitive points of view.

If & When This Israeli relationship drama offers many mainstream elements but also shows an interesting transition in the idea of modern life in Israel. It almost perceives as more western in its values while still maintaining a sense of Israel identity. The plot is fairly benign but speaks to the psychology at hand. The two leads show an undeniable chemistry with the longing protracted in certain scenes which eventually resolve to an expected ending.

The Bird Was A Bird This Afghan drama is an interesting character drama and perspective of a man trying to make his way in modern Afghanistan. What really jumps about it is the contentment and sense of duty the lead character has to being a good son and possibly a good husband with a girl he is pursuing. But one begets the other. In order to be able to propose marriage, he needs a decent job. He is recruited for a job outside the city, only too late to realize as a teacher at a religious school, it is front for holy warriors and suicide bombers. The psychology is interesting especially showing how the recruiting happens and a sense of dread where lives are boxed in the corner. His push and pull against certain tyranny is understandable and the final resolution is finite despite being applauded does not answer or address the underlying question.

The Young Offenders This Irish comedy with such a heavy accent that is at times hard to catch every quip is an enjoyable romp about two dolts who just want to get by and try to make it big. Like Begbie and Sick Boy in Trainspotting with a bit more innocence and less propensity to violence, their adventure from their spot in Cork to the Western coast of Ireland is like “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” replete with weird characters and just inane gags that while childish tends to create a guttural laugh. Life isn’t this simple but at least with these guys, even though they are slightly out in left field, they enjoy the ride.

By Tim Wassberg