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Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

I’m suffering a bit from early-summer superhero fatigue, so I fully acknowledge that my ailment could account for my less than enthusiastic endorsement of Spider-Man: Far From Home. It’s still an endorsement though. Because no matter my personal angst and anguish over the final moments of Avengers: Endgame, this latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe does a solid job picking up the pieces from Endgame and moving the MCU forward. Spider-Man: Far From Home is an entertaining, somewhat bittersweet sequel that wears two hats: it’s a follow-up to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming reboot (with a youthful Tom Holland swinging into the role full-throttle), as well as to Endgame, which must be seen first to fully appreciate and understand what’s going on in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the 23rd film in the MCU. In Far From Home, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man from Queens, Peter Parker, is growing weary of the awesome responsibilities that come with global superhero status and is itching to be just a regular teenager again, at least for the summer. But a school trip abroad doesn’t exactly go as planned, and Peter is called upon to step-up, fill the void left by the Avengers shake-up, and help save his classmates – and the world – from a new, monstrous threat.

Arty Chick’s Best of 2018 list

This was a hard year to choose my favorites. There were great movies in a lot of categories that deserved attention. It was a GREAT year for foreign films and documentaries, as well as some big and small features. I skew to the arty side, so I was not a big fan of most of the blockbusters, but there are a few. Here’s my oh-so-personal, definitely-not-an-Oscar-prediction list.

Review: The Sisters Brothers

It seems the western will never die. The allure of rugged men out there slinging guns and making their fortunes panning for gold was too much for French director Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, The Prophet) to pass up. And he didn’t’ even have to come to the US of A to shoot this his adaptation of Patrick deWitt’s rambling, sometimes funny novel. Who knew Spain and Romania could stand in for the American West? What The Sisters Brothers has going for it mainly is a great cast — Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly and Riz Ahmed — and you’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s enough to make it worth your while.

Review: Stronger

Stronger starts off strong, falters a bit in the middle, and regains its footing towards the end, making for an inconsistent though still compelling drama. The movie tells the true story of 27-year-old Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a regular guy who became a symbol of hope and inspiration following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Bauman was waiting at the finish line in a bid to cheer on – and win back – his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black) when the blast occurred. He lost both legs. Bauman is the guy being helped by a stranger in a cowboy hat in one of the most iconic photos from that day. Boston Strong personified. Stronger isn’t so much about the terrorist bombing or the manhunt that followed (Patriots Day covered that territory). It’s about Bauman’s struggle to recover, physically and emotionally, often in the uncomfortable glare of the public spotlight.

Review: Okja

In his audacious new film, Bong Joon Ho (Mother, Snowpiercer) pits a little Korean girl and her beloved super-pig against a corporate food mogul (Tilda Swinton). Okja is the name of a giant pig hybrid that little Mija (Seo-hyeon Ahn) has brought up for ten years high in the mountains of South Korea. That Okja is a GMO experiment makes no difference to her. He’s just her enormously fun pet. And in the opening scenes of the film, they do have big fun. But when the owner of the pig sends an envoy to give Mija’s grandpa a prize for best pig and decides to take Okja back to the US, Mija isn’t having it. She’s out to save her best friend. It’s wacky and the second half doesn’t entirely work, but at its heart it’s a sweet story of a girl and her super-pig.

Life

Life begins as a space drama reminiscent of The Martian or Gravity and morphs into a horror movie that’s more like Alien. It’s a mash-up that didn’t really work for me, so I left the theater disappointed, grossed out, and less than enthusiastic about the prospect of a sequel. Yes, Life leaves the capsule door open for a Life 2, just in case the sci-fi thriller finds itself an audience. I put Life on par with recent (weak) space fare, including The Space Between Us and Passengers, and a few notches below Arrival, which features a similar alien blob that is more visceral than literal in its threat to humanity. The alien creature that co-stars in Life is a flesh-hungry critter that picks off its cast-mates one by one. So don’t get too invested.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: The Boss; Demolition; Mr. Right

The Boss – Sadly, The Boss kinda sucks. Or, to put it more gently, it’s really weak. The R-rated comedy starts out with huge promise and some very funny moments, but fizzles rather fast. Here’s the gist: Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a very successful but not-so-nice Suze Orman/Martha Stewart hybrid type who gets sent to prison for insider trading. She emerges from prison friendless and broke, but determined to rebrand herself and rebuild. Considering she screwed over a lot of people during her rise to the top, including her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell), Darnell’s road to redemption is sure to be a rocky one. The Boss is no Bridesmaids. The plot is extremely contrived, relying mostly on physical comedy gags to break the monotony. Without a doubt, the character of Michelle Darnell needs to stay relegated to smaller, SNL-style skits. This full-length feature film treatment doesn’t do her, or the audience, any justice. Case dismissed.

Everest

The biggest star of Everest is the mountain itself. So if you plan to see the movie, you’ve got to spring for the IMAX 3D. Bring popcorn – and oxygen! In many ways, the movie is reminiscent of Gravity (which I liked visually, but disliked narratively), only this time, the action takes place on a mountain instead of deep space. It’s an immersive experience that offers a glimpse into what drives certain adventure-seekers to pay big money to forego hot showers, oxygen, and terra firma, in a potentially fatal effort to summit the world’s tallest peak. The movie is based on the true story of one deadly day on the mountain: May 10, 1996. Climbers from two expeditions got caught up in an unexpected, violent snowstorm while making their final ascent toward the summit.

Nightcrawler

Movies like Nightcrawler pose a real challenge for me as a frequent film ‘opinionator’ because I simply didn’t like it nearly as much as I’m supposed to, especially considering my ‘day job’ in broadcast news. I guess I wasn’t in the mood for creepy and disturbing. And that’s exactly what Nightcrawler is – a crime thriller that left me feeling more distressed than entertained. I’m sure that’s what the filmmakers were going for. But who needs to PAY for that?

Yes, the performances are excellent. Jake Gyllenhaal got all gaunt and wild-eyed to play Lou Bloom, a smart but psychotic petty thief who stumbles upon a new career as a nightcrawler in Los Angeles – filming and selling grisly accident and crime scene footage to the highest bidder(s). And Rene Russo is chillingly good as Nina, an ethically-challenged news director determined to do whatever it takes to get her struggling TV station out of the ratings cellar.

Prisoners

This one’s tough. The performances are excellent, but I kind of wanted my two-and-a-half hours back. Prisoners is intense and plodding and psychologically taxing, and every parent’s worst nightmare. Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a desperate father who decides to take matters into his own hands when his young daughter and a neighborhood friend go missing. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the lead detective whose entire life revolves around his job.