Balanced Web-Spinner – Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Following up the successful first collaboration between Columbia/Sony and Marvel (Spider-Man: Homecoming), the cosmic hugeness of Avengers: Endgame  and the culmination of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe always promised to be a tricky task, but returning director Jon Watts and returning scriptwriters Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers have managed a pretty balanced movie that nicely answers all those demands.

Set eight months after half of humanity was restored to existence in Avengers: Endgame (now referred to as The Blip), the film wastes no time showing us some of the ramifications of this but also throws us headlong into a plot which, by necessity, has to stretch out more broadly than Homecoming’s friendly neighbourhood feel.

Terrifying giant creatures, Elementals, have seemingly crossed over into our world from another reality and, while attempting to enjoy a summer class vacation through Europe and engage with a blossoming relationship with MJ, Peter Parker is pulled into battling these monsters by a heroic newcomer, soon named Mysterio.

With Tony Stark no longer around, Mysterio becomes a mentor figure to Peter, but all is not quite as it first appears and events soon spiral out of our young hero’s control – both in and out of his webby mask.

Jake Gyllenhall’s Quentin Beck (a.k.a. Mysterio) works well against Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, in an arc which nicely defines Peter coming to terms with loss, while underlining his constant struggles with responsibility from a fresh angle. And while the resolution of this arc might be one of the film’s weaker moments, there is still a great deal to savour.

In terms of character development, the high-point of the film is undoubtedly Peter and MJ’s romance. Zendaya’s MJ is a real treat; snarky, goofy and vulnerable, and I could happily watch an entire movie of her and Holland just playing off against each other.

Holland is, it almost goes without saying, a pretty much perfect Peter Parker, beautifully playing the push and pull the character feels between his heroic responsibilities and his teenage life, continuing to make him highly relatable.

The actions sequences are excellent, the climax in the centre of London is one of the best Spider-man set pieces since Spider-Man 2’s train battle ( I saw the film in 3D, which really enhanced this sequence), and the film balances action, drama and (a great deal of) humour deftly, giving it a distinct feel while still integrating it firmly into the MCU.

It’s a superb summer movie, and a lot of fun (often mischievously so), even if a certain amount of Homecoming’s down to earth charm has been sacrificed.

Do make sure you stay through the end credits, as one of the two stings brings not only a wonderful cameo (particularly for long-time Spider-Man movie fans) but a pretty seismic cliffhanger for Spider-Man’s status quo.

The best thing about the film is that it makes you want to spend more time caught up in Spider-Man’s web and in the company of these characters, so bring on Spider-Man: Home From Home, Home Run, Home Sweet Home, or even Don’t Try This At Home

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Marvel Phase 4 – Black Widow Begins Filming In Norway (English Language Exclusive)

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Blue Bayou – the shooting title adopted by Marvel for the production of the first movie in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow, has begun filming here in Norway.

The unit production base has established itself in the small village of Sæbø, in Sunnmøre on the western coast of Norway. The Sagafjord Hotel was overrun with a fleet of trucks as rumours first exploded locally that this was filming for the latest James Bond film (which is actually also shooting here, not too far away on The Atlantic Road and in Rauma, slightly further north in the region).

Per Henry Borch, line producer for Truenorth, the production and service company, confirmed to NRK that the film wasn’t Bond 25 in an effort to stop interested fans swarming to the site, obviously not considering that there might also be plenty of Johansson or Marvel fans ready to make the trip.

But your roving reporter can confirm that trucks, equipment and local signs are festooned with the legend Blue Bayou, revealed back in February as the shooting title for Scarlett Johansson’s first solo outing as Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow.

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Local newspapers are suggesting that Sæbø and nearby Bondalen (oh, the irony) are standing in for Romanoff’s childhood home in Russia.

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Shooting titles are often used to deter curious onlookers for location shooting and Marvel Studios productions have recently used covers including Mary Lou (Avengers: Infinity War/Avengers: Endgame), Open World (Captain Marvel), and Bosco (Spider-Man: Far From Home).

Crewmembers at the base remained tight-lipped and impervious to my requests for the movie’s entire plot-line, but filming will continue throughout the week. Production of the film is based at Pinewood Studios in the UK (as seen in the exclusive photos here), while the film is being directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Jac Schaeffer (Captain Marvel, the forthcoming Vision & Scarlet Witch TV series).

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No official release date has been given for Black Widow, but you can be sure you’ll be updated on these pages.

Stop Everything! It’s The Brilliant New Trailer For Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

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First of all, stop what you’re doing and watch this wonderful new trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s new movie (debuting ahead of its premiere at Cannes)…

Regular followers of this site will already know I’m full-blown down for anything that comes from the mind of Tarantino, and that I’m super vibed for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (as we’ve been following its production here from those initial casting announcements).

And this features one heckuva cast, including  Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Luke Perry, Margaret Qualley, Bruce Dern, Emile Hirsch, Lena Dunham, Damian Lewis and Al Pacino (HOO-HAH!). I mean, come on…! Who doesn’t want to watch, well… anything… that stars this bunch!?

The teaser trailer was great, but this first full trailer, in all its Neil Diamond-glory, literally makes me want to wish away the days until July 26th (but that would mean missing Godzilla: King of the Monsters, so I’ll have to curb my enthusiasm).

Featuring the first proper reveal of Charles Manson (as played by Damon Herriman) and his family on the Spahn Ranch, and the first sense of how this story might play out, it certainly seems that this will be as thrilling (and probably divisive) a ride as we might expect from one of my favourite cinematic provocateurs!

Let’s not even get started on the flame-grilled Nazis…

Pennywise Is Back – Here’s Your Super Creepy Trailer for It: Chapter Two

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First of all, let’s get your goosebumps raised with this…

Well, if that doesn’t get you excited for Andy Muschietti’s It: Chapter Two then it’s possible you’re as dead as the old lady in that super-creepy sequence at the beginning of the trailer.

It: Chapter One took pretty much everyone by surprise when it became a box-office smash in 2017, and now the same director is back with a fabulous cast of all-grown-up Derry Losers Club kids including Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader. Along with the return of Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Clown, of course.

It is a particular favourite book of many Stephen King fans (including me) so we can only hope Muschietti does the same good work on this second chapter. The trailer certainly bodes well, as that sequence between grown-up Beverly and the not-what-she-seems Mrs Kersh got my skin all kinds of crawling.

Let’s get ready to float down here again when It: Chapter Two opens on September 6.

Avengers: Endgame Makes ALL The Money With A $1.2 Billion Weekend

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As predicted here on Out Of Dave’s Head (though I’ll grant you I didn’t really need a crystal ball), Avengers: Endgame has blasted off with a record-breaking $1.2 billion opening weekend take at the worldwide box office.

Marvel’s astonishing experiment in long-form storytelling has smashed the year-old Avengers: Infinity War records by nearly $100 million in the U.S. and a jaw-dropping $560 million worldwide.

The 22nd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which launched in 2008 with Iron Man, has seen the linked multi-franchises bring home more than $19 billion in worldwide box office to date, and with a whole slate of films lined up for the forthcoming Phase 4, that figure seems likely to grow.

The much-discussed “superhero fatigue” that critics love to load onto these films seems to be pretty non-existent when it comes to Marvel movies, possibly because their release plans are carefully thought out and almost certainly because the films are far from the cookie-cutter exercises those same, lazy critics write them off as.

Long-form cinematic storytelling is certainly nothing new, of course, having been around since at least 1912, with Edison’s What Happened to Mary, before finding huge popularity in the 1930s and 1940s with the likes of Flash Gordon, Spy Smasher and The Adventures of Captain Marvel (or Shazam! as he’s now known). 

And movie sequels have been around forever, but were generally regarded as poor relations to the source material and usually awarded declining budgets and box office receipts (the original Planet of the Apes films, for example).

Star Wars and its subsequent offerings have done much to pave the way for this latest iteration, with the linked trilogies of the Skywalker saga we’ve had since 1977. But Marvel have taken this to a truly intriguing new level, launching a number of different franchises which link to form one longer narrative. Story strands, character arcs and thematic resolutions occur in Avengers: Endgame which have carried through from that first Iron Man movie in 2008. Carrying these elements across a franchise is one thing, but to test audiences with knowledge needed across multiple franchises really is quite brave for a studio, and something Marvel should be lauded for.

And while Spider-Man: Far From Home, released in July, sees Marvel’s Phase 3 come to a conclusion, the as-yet unannounced slate of Phase 4 films is likely to include Black Panther 2, Doctor Strange 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (happily with James Gunn reinstated), the long-promised Black Widow movie, a likely return for Captain Marvel and debuts for Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu (directed by Destin Daniel Cretton) and The Eternals (helmed by The Rider‘s Chloe Zhao, and rumoured to be starring Angelina Jolie). And those are just the productions we know of, Marvel are sure to have some surprises up their sleeves.

So as Marvel sit back and prepare to work their accountants hard in the coming weeks, rest assured that we’ll likely be giving our hard-earned money to the company for some time to come.

And personally, if they continue to make films as engaging, enjoyable and emotional as these have been, I’ll be very happy to do so.

This Is The End! Avengers: Endgame* *spoiler-free review

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This is, without a doubt, the hardest review I’ve ever had to write, because in order to keep it spoiler-free, there’s really very little I can tell you.

Certainly, in terms of specifics I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing, because the film will work even more effectively if you go in cold. Suffice to say if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you know nothing, Jon Snow!

So, let’s keep this general: directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, left the universe in a much-reduced place this time last year – cosmic villain Thanos (father of Gamora and Nebula, from the Guardians of the Galaxy films) achieved his aim to place the Infinity Stones in his gauntlet, snapped his fingers and wiped out half the population of the universe in an instant. The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, lost.

Avengers: Endgame picks up some twenty-plus days later, the remaining heroes split asunder in different corners of the galaxy, in bad places both geographically and emotionally.

What happens next is, quite simply, astonishing. The structure of the (three hour long and not a dull moment) film is continually surprising: the first thirty incredibly intense minutes arguably take the story where you might have expected the entire film to go, and then you’re left with two and a half hours of some of the most bravura narrative you’re likely to see in a franchise movie for a long time.

That the film acts as a total summation of Marvel Studios’ bold and innovative, ten year, interconnected, multi-franchise, long form storytelling is perhaps no surprise: this is where we, and the characters, have been heading all along. But the sheer level of smarts on display is something to be admired.

Because the story is concluded so satisfyingly should not however, lull you into thinking this is an easy ride. The fact we’ve had so long to become attached to these characters means that Marvel pull out all the stops to put the audience through an emotional wringer: I can honestly say I lost count of the amount of times I cried, but I can tell you there were tears of both sadness and joy.

I sat with a goofy grin on my face, with tears of pure happiness streaming down my face, at the audaciousness of the penultimate forty-five minutes. And in the last fifteen minutes the real tears began. To be clear, the film left me a total wreck.

This unrestrained emotional response is a testimony to the genuine skill not only of the storytellers, but also of the actors. I’m sure it would be so very easy to coast through roles like these, but there isn’t a single moment where the cast aren’t completely in the moment.

There is a strand, an emotional arc involving Thor, where the balance between comedy and pathos strains to tip too far in one direction, but Chris Hemsworth manages to keep things just in check.

There might also be an argument to be made that some of the solutions (and yes, I’ll avoid details) lead to a little head-scratching which will no doubt fuel fan arguments for months to come.

It’s also fair to say that while all previous Marvel films have strived to pay-off for both casual viewers and fans, Avengers: Endgame, rightly, is full-on about resolution, and therefore will probably leave newbies wondering what the heck is going on. But after ten years, that’s perfectly right and fair. And earned.

But these are very minor negative points in what can only really be considered as Marvel’s crowning achievement.

Avengers: Endgame not only gives you everything you could possibly have wanted from this finale, but also gives you so much more in terms of narrative twists and turns, satisfying emotional arcs, thematic pay-offs for threads linking almost every single Marvel film and genuine surprises, particularly for those of us who’ve been along for the ride for the past decade.

And while there are plenty of seeds for the next Phases of Marvel movies (interestingly, Phase 3 officially ends with Spider-Man: Far From Home, in July), you’d better believe this is the end, beautiful friend.

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Films: 2018 Edition

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Okay, because many folks have asked… here are my favourite nine films from 2018.

Notice I said favourite and not best. I was recently interviewed for a newspaper piece where the reporter asked my favourite three movies. This felt like a refreshing change as I didn’t feel a need to spend time over-intellectualising my responses as I might have done if she’d asked what I thought were the best three films ever.

Before I launch into my list, it’s worth pointing out I still have some catching up to do, hence no possible entries for films such as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, You Were Never Really Here or Bohemian Rhapsody.

So, with that caveat clear and without further ado, let’s head to my favourite nine (…nine, because, why not!?) films of the past twelve months…

9. Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

I have to admit the M:I films were mostly sort of washing over me, enjoyable in the moment but somewhat unmemorable bar their set-pieces. But then Fallout appeared, not only leaving me with a bill from my local cinema for having left fingernail holes in my seat, but also with a much greater enthusiasm for the previous entries. I’m gearing up for a run-through of the series at home in readiness for a second viewing of Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie’s remarkable piece of breathless skullduggery. Also, finishing off a series with two films featuring Sean Harris is always a bonus.

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8. The Rider.

Yeah, yeah, I know that it premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, but those of us in the real world didn’t see it until its official release in 2018. Hopefully that doesn’t trigger anyone too badly.  Chloé Zhao’s contemporary western drama concerning rodeo riders feels like a top contender for the ‘film more people should see‘ award, 2018. Both painfully intimate and sweepingly widescreen, Zhao paints a portrait of a contained community with universal problems. You can read my full review here.

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7. Eighth Grade.

In many ways this shares some DNA with The Rider, taking me to a world I knew nothing about. This time, the unknown is the life of an adolescent girl in a time of social media, and this smart, sensitive, occasionally excruciating and ultimately uplifting film, from director Bo Burnham, features a hugely engaging central performance by newcomer, Elsie Fisher.

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6. A Quiet Place.

The first of two horror films in a strong year for the genre (see also Apostle, Mandy, Halloween, etc). Unfair on my behalf, but I was absolutely not expecting this from Jim Halpert from The Office. Directed and co-written (along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) by John Krasinski, this post-apocalyptic monster movie hits all the right beats, gradually unveiling a world of silent terror using a personable family, headed up by Krasinski and the always-excellent Emily Blunt. Understated until it doesn’t have to be, this is great, old-school horror that could easily have worked as an old Twilight Zone episode.

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5. Ant-Man & The Wasp.

Tricky one, this. I didn’t want to fill my list with Marvel movies (seeing as we had three releases from them in 2018) and I really struggled between this and Black Panther, but in the end I had (slightly) more fun with Peyton Reed’s delightfully light-touched sequel, especially since I’m the type of Marvel Geek who believes this film will pay off more once we see Avengers: Endgame.

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4. Hereditary.

Ari Aster’s uneven but striking mix of family grief and the supernatural is a divisive film, very much a case of go-with-it-or-don’t. The first three-quarters of the movie is mostly all slow-burn intensity until the final twenty minutes or so go off into full-blown hysteria (which is where many viewers seem to check out). I went with it the whole way on my viewing, but will be curious to see how it holds up next time. Worth pointing out that regardless of any future reaction, I’ll still laud it for probably the most outrageous WTF moment in cinema this year.  Review here.

3. The Meg (just kidding).

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3. The Other Side of the Wind.

Freewheeling and meticulous, Orson Welles’ lost masterpiece (never a more fitting appellation) first started production in 1970 and was only completed after Welles’ death by a team headed up by Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall. Released onto Netflix at the end of the year, Welles’ mesmerising film is both a celebration and a satire of Classic Hollywood and avant-garde filmmaking. Review here.

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2. Roma.

The only disappointing thing about multihyphenate Alfonso Cuarón’s almost tone poem telling of a tumultuous period in the life of his childhood home-help is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see it on a cinema screen, seeing as it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve laid my eyes on in a long time (to avoid a lynching by my significant other, I mean cinematically, of course). Review here.

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1. Avengers: Infinity War.

Marvel Geek nirvana. The Russo brothers and co. pulled off a remarkable, if overpacked, feat in bringing to a head ten years of films across multiple franchises while still managing to create a cultural zeitgeist moment with a single finger click. Of course, we know most of the galaxy’s missing half will be restored (…don’t we!?), but the joy, as with many comic books of the source material, is in seeing how our heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And now we don’t have much longer to wait. Review here.

Dishonourable mention: Suspiria (don’t @ me).

See you all in 2019. Feel free to leave me your favourites from 2018 in the comments below.