‘Homecoming’ King

New Spider-Man returns Marvel’s web star to his high school roots

Photographer select; Tom HollandSpider-Man: Homecoming
Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marissa Tomei & Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by Jon Watts

Of all the comic-book superheroes, Spider-Man was always the one that always connected most directly to me as a kid.

Mainly because he was a kid, too—unlike Superman, Batman, Daredevil, Thor, the Hulk and just about everyone else. They were all bona fide adults with day jobs, or at least grown-up lives and responsibilities.

Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker, was an insecure, misunderstood high school student, a teenager who juggled classes, crime-fighting and mad crushes on Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy.

I could dig that.

More than 50 years after his first appearance in a Marvel Comic, and now after three big-screen movies starring Tobey McGuire and two with Andrew Garfield, Spider-Man: Homecoming returns the character to the hormones and high-school hallways of his roots.

And it marks the full-blown debut of a new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, and he crushes it. The young British actor, 21, has appeared in several other films, including In The Heart of the Sea and The Lost City of Z, and he was one of the kids swept away by the tsunami with Naomi Watts in The Impossible. But he rocks Spider-Man as if this was the role he’s been waiting in the wings to play all along.

Tom HollandHe gave a teaser cameo appearance as Spidey in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, and the movie creatively begins with Peter’s “home video” leading up to his experience in that film’s “clash of the Avengers” tarmac scene.

Do we need yet another Spider-Man movie? Heck yeah—if it’s this one, a rollicking, soaring glide of a ride that puts a bright new, fun, feisty, re-energized spin on pop culture’s top web star.

Although it’s officially a franchise reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming dispenses (thankfully) with much of the backstory—how Peter Parker became an orphan, how he became Spider-Man—and gets right down to business. In the opening scene, we meet the character who’ll become Spidey’s next nemesis: Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), the owner of a New York salvage company who exacts revenge on the circumstances—and bureaucrats—that screwed him out a big job, spurring him to a life of crime as the Vulture.

Using a high-tech winged harness that allows him to fly, Toomes uses giz-mology stolen from superhero smack-down sites to create guns that can obliterate people and buildings. That’s bad news for just about everyone, except bad guys who’ll pay him big bucks for the black-market bang.

There are several delightful surprises, and one huge one, so the less said about certain things, the better.

Jon Favreau;Robert Downey Jr;Tom Holland

Robert Downey Jr. & Tom Holland

Yes, Stan Lee makes a cameo. Robert Downey Jr. pops in and out as Tony Stark, who provides Peter Parker with his righteously upgraded Spidey suit. The scene in which Peter discovers, and activates, the suit’s Siri-like personal-assistant is simply terrific.

Marissa Tomei returns as Peter’s Aunt May, and there’s Jon Favreau as Stark’s right-hand man, Happy Hogan. Donald Glover (from TV’s Atlanta) has a couple of scenes as a chill, not-so-good guy. Laura Harrier (who played Liz on the soap One Life to Live) plays the gorgeous senior for whom young Peter pines. Singer-actress Zendaya (from the Disney TV series K.C. Undercover) provides some coy comic relief as quirky Michelle, another student, a budding artist who might—or might not—be drawn to Peter.

Newcomer Jacob Batalon is introduced as Peter’s super-nerdy best friend, Ned, who’s thrilled when he accidentally discovers Peter’s secret identity and is allowed to become his Spidey confidant.

Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton

And Keaton… Well, his menacing, metallic Vulture is like Birdman by way of Boeing, and he brings a pathos and dimensionality to his villainy that makes his character more than the typical comic-book baddie. Based on the end-credits scene tag, it’s good to know he might be back for more in the next Spidey installment, coming in 2018.

Director Jon Watts, whose Cop Car (2015) with Kevin Bacon was an underappreciated gem, brings a fresh, fly perspective to everything, from Peter’s anxious relationships to the movie’s big action scenes. And unlike his predecessors, this Spider-Man, still a greenhorn to what he can do, keeps “close to the ground,” not high in the Big Apple sky. A major chase sequence takes place in a suburban neighborhood, across grassy lawns, over low-slung rooftops and through leafy backyards—not between the concrete canyons of Manhattan skyscrapers.

When Spider-Man hesitates at the top of a the Washington Monument, during a boffo rescue scene a bit later, the personal assistant in his suit asks him why he’s pausing, some 550 feet off the plaza below.

His response: “I’ve never been this high before.”

Spider-Man: Homecoming have leave giddy Spidey fans feeling the same way.

In theaters July 7, 2017


Triple-Down Theory

Despicable Me 3 offers more of successful family-fun formula

Film Title: Despicable Me 3Despicable Me 3
Starring the voices of Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig & Trey Parker
Directed by Eric Guillon, Kyle Galda and Pierre Coffin
In theaters June 30, 2017

The Despicable Me franchise, launched in 2010, became a massive, worldwide smash with nearly a billion-dollar box-office tally for two movies and its 2015 Minions spinoff.

Small wonder that the third spy-shenanigans flick triples down with more of everything that worked the first two times. There’s more cartoonish tomfoolery, more Minions and more snappy, rockin’ soundtrack tunes (seven of them!) by Pharrell, who wrote the Oscar-nominated “Happy” for Despicable Me 2. And there’s more Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell), the formerly despicable villain who’s now a villain-fighting family man.

Film Title: Despicable Me 3

Steve Carrell provides the voices of both Gru (left) and his long-lost twin, Dru.

In fact, there are two Grus, sort of. In DM3, Gru discovers he has a long-lost twin brother, Dru, who’s lives in the vaguely Slavic nation of Freedonia, which is overrun with pigs. Dru is more charming than Gru, more successful than Gru, and has much, much more hair than Gru.

Dru tempts Gru by drawing him back into his flamboyant criminal past.

Oh, gno!

There’s some business about a big, colorful diamond that everyone wants to get their hands on, for different reasons.

Carell also takes on the voice of Dru, and seems to be having a terrific time in his new dual roles.

Film Title: Despicable Me 3Kristin Wiig returns to her DM2 role as Lucy, Gru’s feisty secret-agent wife. Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Nev Scharrel provide the voices of Gru and Lucy’s three young adopted daughters, whose heartwarming subplot becomes a warm center to all the movie’s madcap swirl of sight gags.

Be listening for Julie Andrews in her one scene as Gru and Dru’s mom, and Jenny Slate as the new head of the Anti-Villain League.

Film Title: Despicable Me 3

Balthazar Bratt

The movie’s main new addition is a character called Balthazar Bratt, voiced by Trey Parker, the co-creator of TV’s South Park and the writer/director of Broadway’s Book of Mormon. Bratt, a star of an ’80s TV show about an abhorrent kid who was always getting into trouble, didn’t adjust to puberty very well and turned to villainy as an adult. Still stuck in the era of his childhood fame, he sports a ridiculous mullet (with a bald spot) and a jumpsuit with oversized shoulder pads, strutting around with a Walkman as he shoots wads of pink bubblegum to immobilize his opponents, toting a key-tar that stuns to the opening power chords of Van Halen’s “Jump” and Dire Strait’s “Money For Nothing,” and hiding his weaponry in a Rubik’s Cube.

“I’ve been a baaaaad boy!” Bratt used to say on his show. He never grew out of his catchphrase—he just grew into it.

And then there’s the Minions, those little jibbering, jabbering, quasi-lingual thingies that look like oversized yellow Jujubes with bad hair transplants, goggles and tiny coveralls. They giggle, sing and make lots of rude noises. Before the title of the movie even appears, they release two honks from their “fart blaster,” which does exactly what it sounds like it would do.

Film Title: Despicable Me 3In this movie, the Minions crash an America’s Got Talent-style TV competition, get sent to prison and escape by making an elaborate flying machine—out of stitched-together prison uniforms, toilets and other jailhouse odds and ends.

The three directors juggle all the jokery with craft, cleverness and a finger on the pulse of spry spy satire, lightly spoofing James Bond, Pink Panther movies, Mission Impossible flicks, Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy strip and other familiar tropes. The movie even spoofs itself: Watch closely and you’ll see a billboard for a movie called Onions, which looks a lot like Minions.

As he plots his comeuppance on the Hollywood that shunned him with an attack by a gigantic robot, Balthazar Bratt watches a Betamax tape of one of his old shows. “Does no one value true art anymore?” he laments. It’s a meta joke, a swipe at a crappy TV series within a joke about a former star who doesn’t know it’s all over—wrapped in an irony about the short shelf life of pop culture and the fleeting nature of fame.

With farting Minions, herds of pigs and dance-fights to throwback ’80s tunes, it’s not exactly high art. But as part of a soon-to-be billion-dollar family-fun franchise, hey, DM3 is hardly despicable.

What a Ride

Hop In, Hang On & Rock Out With ‘Baby Driver’

Ansel ElgortBaby Driver
Starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx & Eiza Gonzalez
Directed by Edgar Wright

If you need a ride, get an Uber, use Lyft or hail a taxi. But if you really want to get there in a jif, book Baby.

Baby (Ansel Elgort from The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent film series) is the best in the biz, especially if the business is robbery. Nobody drives a getaway car like him. In the movie’s stupefying opening sequence, after his trio of heist passengers (Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Bernthal) knock over a bank, Baby cuts, drifts, skids and slides in a souped-up red Subaru through the streets of downtown Atlanta, always just ahead of a column of pursuing cops.

Ansel Elgort;Jon Hamm;Eiza Gonzalez;Jamie Foxx

Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm

Unflappably cool behind his shades, Baby is the quiet type—extremely quiet. He rarely speaks, and he’s always got his earbuds in, listening to music on one of his several iPods. “You know why they call him Baby?” says Hamm’s character, Buddy. “They’re still waiting for his first words.” Baby drives for Doc (Kevin Spacey), the icy kingpin of a motley, murderer’s row crew of thieves.

We learn Baby’s backstory, about the childhood tragedy that left him with tinnitus—the “hum in the drum”—that he tries to constantly drown out with his tunes, and about the incident that left him so deeply in debt to Doc that he’s still digging out with his servitude.

Baby is the driver in Baby Driver, but it’s music—a bountiful, supercharged spectrum of R&B, classic rock, nu-metal, funk and soul—that drives the movie. And we hear everything just as Baby does; his personal playlist is the soundtrack. And in a twist on how music is typically used, the scenes in Baby Driver were structured, filmed and “choreographed” to the music, not vice versa, where music is added to a scene after it’s shot and edited.

Kevin Spacey;Ansel Elgort

Kevin Spacey

Music pervades the film. A shot of a spinning washing machine fades into a spinning record on a turntable. Baby pauses after hot-wiring a stolen getaway car on a freeway ramp to find just the right jam on the vehicle’s radio. When he’s not behind the wheel, he makes his own homemade beats from snippets of conversation he captures on a portable recorder.

Baby Driver is almost like a radical movie musical, as if La La Land collided with Mad Max by way of Quentin Tarantino. When Baby walks to get coffee, everything he does and encounters—car horns, sirens, street musicians, door openings—punctuates the song he’s hearing, “Harlem Shuffle.” Later, the explosive blasts of a shootout match the tune in Baby’s ears, “Tequila.” Car chases become grand theft rock ’n’ roll operas, all done without special effects or CGI, just plain, old-fashioned, fantastically planned-out, high-octane stunt driving, scored to Queen, The Damned, Young MC and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

The movie has many, many more songs, from Martha and the Vandellas, Sam and Dave, Barry White and The Commodores, to Focus, T. Rex, Golden Earring and a cascade of more arcane acts. And there’s the 1969 Simon & Garfunkel track from which the movie takes its title.

A heartbreaking backstory explains how Baby got to be such an obsessive music lover.

Not everyone understands his need for tuneage, especially when driving a speeding car during a dangerous job with mega-money on the line. “You don’t need a score for a score,” says Bats (Jamie Foxx), Doc’s thuggish go-to for high-stakes holdups, gesturing to his own head. “I got enough demons right here, playing all the time.”

Ansel Elgort;Lily JamesBaby meets a beautiful waitress, Debora (Lily James, from Downton Abbey and Disney’s Cinderella), who has a dream of wanting “to head west…in a car I can’t afford with a plan I don’t have.” Debora tells Baby she has an older sister, Mary, who got all the good songs, like “Proud Mary,” “Hello Mary Lou” and The Monkees’ “Mary, Mary.” She tells Baby, admiringly, that “Every song is about you.”

When Doc and his plans come between Baby and Debra, and Bats and Buddy start stomping on Baby’s tender heartstrings, watch out.

British writer-director Edgar Wright, best known for his cheeky, comedic-parody trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, has made an absolute knockout popcorn flick, destined to become a cult classic. It’s a wildly inventive, sleek, stylish mashup of car chases, pedal-to-the-medal action, dreamy young love, obsessive passions, rockin’ tunes, street-level action and bang-bang, shoot-’em-up thrills that makes The Fast and The Furious franchise look fat, bloated and blown-out by comparison. And it’s clever and funny; some confusion about disguises—Mike Myers from Austin Powers or Michael Myers from Halloween?—is hilarious.

CJ Jones, who really is deaf, plays Baby’s deaf father figure, Joe. Diminutive actor-songwriter Paul Williams shows up briefly, as does Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.

So hop in, hang on and rock out—and let Baby to the driving!

In theaters June 28, 2017

Girls Behaving Badly

ScarJo’s Bachelorette Party Goes South in ‘Rough Night’

Rough Night

Rough Night
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Krazitz, Jillian Bell & Kate McKinnon
Directed by Lucia Aniello

Yes, we know women can be as funny—and just as raunchy—as men.

Rough Night is very funny, very raunchy and very dark, a brazen comedy about what happens when a getaway bachelorette party weekend takes a very, very bad turn.

The bachelorettes get together a decade after their rambunctious college days to fete Jess (Scarlett Johansson), now a buttoned-down candidate for state senator. Meeting up in Miami for the wild weekend are lesbian activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer from Comedy Central’s Broad City) and her one-time crush, real-estate mogul Blair (Zoë Krazitz); unbridled schoolteacher Alice (Jillian Bell); and Pippa (SNL’s Kate McKinnon), Jess’s wild-child Aussie chum from her year of studying Down Under.

It’s a dynamite cast, and the jokes fly fast and furious as the women reunite to recapture some of their college good times—and help the uptight Jess loosen up just a bit. “It would mean so much to me if you would do just a little bit of cocaine,” Alice implores her.


Kravitz, Bell, Johansson, Glazer and McKinnon get the party started.

Cocaine is done, indeed. Booze flows. And then someone decides they need to call a stripper.

That’s when things go south—and the movie takes a screeching, abrupt turn. Suddenly, it’s not so funny.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know it isn’t a spoiler to reveal the guy doing the striptease dies. He’s killed, actually, in an accident caused by the “overenthusiasm” of one of the women. The rest of the movie involves what happens as Jess and her friends scramble to cover up the act, hide or dispose of the corpse and deal with the ripples created by what they’ve done.

In her movie debut, director Lucia Aniello, who honed her craft on Broad City, shows she definitely knows how to make a long-form comedy ensemble click. There’s a lot to admire about Rough Night, especially in the way its strong cast interacts, riffs and rolls with each other in the course of a story that isn’t exactly smooth sailing.

But the movie patches together things that feel too familiar from other films—the pre-nup antics of Bridesmaids, prop-up-the-dead-body jokes of Weekend at Bernies, the bachelor party mishap in Very Bad Things, when a prostitute dies and Jon Favreau and Christian Slater try to cover it up. The lack of originality smothers its sparks of spontaneity and its sense of bold, brave excursion into places where humor begins to get a bit uncomfortable. And the gags, which started off sharp, feisty and freaky, start to feel slapdash, crude, frantic and cobbled together.

And at the root of the “humor,” the heart of the comedy, in Rough Night is the fact that a person dies, in a particularly messy, undignified manner. Sure, death is part of the spectrum of the human comedy of life—but just how funny you’ll find it when you see a pool of dark red blood expanding behind this guy’s head, spilling out onto a pristine white floor, under these circumstances, will depend on your particular comedy settings.

After Ghost in the Shell and Captain America: Civil War, it’s great to see Johansson in a role that lets her show her comedy chops. Jillian Bell, a terrific supporting player in Fist Fight, Office Christmas Party, 22 Jump Street and The Night Before, and a featured player on TV’s Workaholics, Supermansion and Idiotsitter, is a spewing geyser of off-color brilliance.

Ty Burrell;Demi Moore

Demi Moore & Ty Burrell

And McKinnon, the live-wire breakout star of Saturday Night Live, galvanizes the camera with wide-eyed, comedic virtuosity. Stay for the credits to hear her character’s hilarious ode that puts a crazy, improbably pretty musical bow on the wild events of the movie.

Ty Burrell from TV’s Modern Family and Demi Moore ham it up as a couple of horny neighbors, and Paul W. Downs, one of the screenwriters—who also appeared on Broad City—adds some additional comedic spice as Jess’s concerned fiancé.

Raw, proudly raunchy and often riotously funny, Rough Night isn’t for everyone. But if you like your fem-centric humor with a dark, decadent twist, well, this bachelorette party’s a summer sizzler to die for.

In theaters June 16, 2017

Summer Means Sharks

‘This Is Us’ star Mandy Moore goes deep in underwater thriller

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47 Meters Down
Starring Mandy Moore, Claire Holt & Matthew Modine
Directed by Johannes Roberts

Ever since Jaws in 1975, it hasn’t really felt like summer without sharks.

That landmark movie officially introduced the ocean’s alpha predator to pop culture, and the shark has remained an entertainment staple ever since.

So come on in the water!

The Discovery Channel launched its hugely popular block of Shark Week programming in the 1980s. Since 2013, there have been five Sharknado movies, schlocky horror-comedy disaster TV flicks about tornados filled with sharks. Last summer, Blake Lively played a surfer menaced by a great white in The Shallows.

47MD_MASTER_HD_23.976FPS_FHA_PRORES4444_REC709_20.12.16.mov.01_19_09_03.Still016_HiRes(1) (72)_rgb

Kate (Claire Holt) and Lisa (Mandy Moore) prepare to take the plunge.

Now, in 47 Meters Down, two sisters on a vacation getaway in Mexico find themselves trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean, running out of oxygen in their scuba tanks, cut off from communication with the excursion boat above them—and yes, surrounded by sharks.

How did they get there? Well, the spunky younger sister, Kate (Claire Holt, who played Rebekah Mikaelson on The Vampire Diaries and now on its spinoff, The Originals) convinced Lisa (Mandy Moore, from TV’s This Is Us) to do something brash and daring to help shake off the funk of a recent breakup with her boyfriend.

Watching sharks is perfectly safe, some locals tell them. “Like you go to the zoo, except you’re in the cage,” one says.

“Think of the photos!” says Kate excitedly, envisioning some awesome underwater Instagram and Snapchat posts.

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Taylor (Matthew Modine) prepares his customers for their dive in the shark cage.

So Kate and Lisa agree to hop aboard a rust bucket of a boat, the Sea Esta, for a shark excursion. Their captain and guide, Taylor (Matthew Modine), takes his vessel far out into open water, gives the sisters a crash course in their gear and assures them everything will be fine. Taylor’s assistant chums the water with a bucket of fish heads and blood. “Here fishy, fishy…” he calls out.

In just a moment, a 20-foot-long great white breaks the surface.

Taylor tells Kate and Lisa he’ll lower them in the cage to about five meters, or about 16 feet, below the surface, and they’ll be in constant radio contact through their scuba masks.

Almost as soon as Kate and Lisa go underwater in the tank, they drop their waterproof camera. It falls through the rusty metal bars of the cage and floats into the murky water below—where it’s immediately swallowed into the massive maw of a huge shark, who sweeps out of nowhere and comes so close that the girls can almost touch it.

Then the unthinkable happens. The wench unspooling the cable to the cage breaks loose from the boat, sending the whole setup plunging down, down, down to the bottom—47 meters down, more than 150 feet.

47MD_Still021_rgb (72)British director Johannes Roberts knows how to startle, spook and surprise. Even if you didn’t see any of his previous flicks, the titles alone—The Other Side of the Door, Forest of the Damned, Hellbreeder—should give you a pretty good indication that he loves poking around dark corners, keeping audiences guessing, and cranking up the suspense.

The underwater sequences were filmed in a tank and the sharks are computer-generated, but Kate and Lisa’s situation feels “real” enough that audiences will get several good, genuine jolts as their circumstances go from very bad to even worse and their resourcefulness—and desperate survival instincts—come into play.

Moore and Holt do commendable jobs, sealed up inside scuba suits, delivering their lines via radio transmitters in their masks and performing most of the movie submerged. Director Roberts and his two aqua-actors spin a tight, concise little water web of peril, tension and excitement—and build to something you totally won’t see coming, unless someone spoils it for you, at the end.

“The shark almost got me!” an alarmed Kate says at one point.

Ok, it’s not Shakespeare, but hey, it is summer—so come on in the water!

In theaters June 16, 2017

Mummy Nation

The Mummy Breathes New Life Into Ancient Tale

Film Title: The MummyThe Mummy
Starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe & Annabelle Wallis
Directed by Alex Kurtzman

She’s dark, sexy, mysterious and dangerous—and 5,000 years old.

She’s the freshly resurrected cadaver, the mummy, in Universal Studio’s big-budget, big-star reboot of one its classic horror franchise flicks.

Algerian actress Sofia Boutella (from Kingsmen: Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond) steps into the spotlight as Ahmanet, the former Egyptian princess awakened from her crypt with a serious chip on her mummified shoulder.

Film Title: The Mummy

Tom Cruise

Superstar Tom Cruise gets most of the movie’s screen time, however, as Nick Morton, a U.S. Army specialist on duty in Iraq whose sideline of treasure hunting leads to the discovery of Ahmanet’s tomb and the release of her malevolent powers.

Annabelle Wallis (from TV’s Peaky Blinders and the movies Annabelle and King Arthur) has a major costarring role as archeologist Jenny Halsey, who cautions Nick that he’s stumbled across “antiquity’s darkest secret.” Russell (Gladiator) Crowe has a hammy ball as London’s Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll), constantly trying to rein in his explosively nasty id, Mr. Hyde.

Film Title: The Mummy

Russell Crowe

Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance, who played attorney Johnnie Cochran on TV’s American Crime Story, appears briefly as Nick’s no-nonsense superior, a U.S. Army colonel.

The Mummy puts a new, energetic, action-packed spin on the age-old saga as Nick and Jenny spend most of the film fleeing from—or fighting with—Ahamanet and her resurrected mummy minions. (Think Mission: Impossible—Mummy Nation.) Nick soon figures out he’s been cursed, “chosen” by the princess to become her immortal partner. But he’s not at all interested, especially as it involves some unpleasant business with a big curved dagger and letting his human body become the vessel for the Egyptian god of death.

Following typical modern-blockbuster ratios and proportions, quips, comedic zingers and romantic conflict balance out the scares.

Alex Kurtzman, a former producer and writer whose only previous directorial feature was the 2012 Disney/Dreamworks comedy-drama People Like Us, steps up impressively into the big leagues. Boutella’s slinky, slithering mummy, wrapped in tattered strips of gauzy linen, her skin covered with tattoos of Egyptian hieroglyphs, is a bewitching villainess of terrifying, exotic beauty. But beware her kiss—it’ll literally suck the life right out of you.

Film Title: The MummyThere’s a spectacular escape from a military transport plane in a death-spiral nosedive, a sandstorm that sweeps through downtown London, and attacks by swarms of spiders and rats that will give almost anyone giddy goosebumps. An underwater chase by a horde of swimming mummies shows just how far everything has come from the lumbering, shuffling brutes in their earliest Hollywood incarnations at the dawn of the 1900s.

Speaking of which, hasn’t anyone in this movie ever seen a mummy movie before? Don’t they realize you can’t raid a creepy Egyptian tomb without likely running afoul of something awful? Why doesn’t anyone ever say, “Wow! It’s just like in the movies!”?

The mummy is one of our most enduring pop-cultural artifacts, featured on the big screen in more than 30 different titles for over a century, since the days of silent films. Horror fans hold Boris Karloff in high esteem for starring in the classic version in 1932, a year after he played “the monster” in Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Christopher Lee and dozens of other lesser actors have gone under wraps for the role. Though they weren’t mummies, Brendon Frasier and Rachel Weisz starred in a 1999 remake and its 2001 sequel.

Film Title: The MummyBut this Mummy is the biggest blowout yet, a $125 million spectacle of marquee stars, eye-popping special effects and flashy setup for Universal’s Dark Universe, a franchise-wide relaunch of its movie-monster properties of yore, including The Invisible Man, Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.

As Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll says, “Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters.”

Indeed—and as The Mummy ends, it’s obvious something bigger is just beginning to get unwrapped.

In theaters June 9, 2017

Too Many Barnacles

Fifth Pirates flick is waterlogged, overstuffed & a-swirl with bustle and swill

nullPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Starring Johnny Deep, Javiar Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario & Geoffrey Rush
Directed by Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

“A pirate’s life,” muses captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), covered in mud, soaked in rum and being led away by British soldiers in the fifth movie sprung from Walt Disney’s theme park ride of the same name.

In Pirates 5, let’s just call it, Sparrow is searching for the Trident of Poseidon, a legendary staff said to hold “all the power of the sea.” Of course, it don’t come easy. A nasty new villain, Salazar (Javier Bardem), has risen from his watery tomb in the Devil’s Triangle, with a crew of murderous zombie not-so-jolly rogers, looking for the same mythical doodad—and he has a serious bone of revenge to pick with Jack Sparrow.

And Jack’s old nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), also gets drawn into the fray.


Kaya Scodelario & Brenton Thwaites

Two other new characters provide the movie’s fresh faces—and its spark of romance. Spunky, handsome Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, who played Prince Phillip in the movie Maleficent) is on a lifelong quest to find Sparrow, the renowned captain who alone holds the key to breaking a curse that binds his father, William (Orlando Bloom), to Davy Jones’ sunken Flying Dutchman. And Carina (Kaya Scodelario from the Maze Runner franchise) is a fetching young astronomer whose love of the stars causes her to constantly be mistaken for a sorceress.

There are a lot of moving parts in Pirates 5: a lot of characters, a lot of elaborate effects, a lot of things meant to razzle and dazzle. The movie is part of a huge franchise, one that’s made nearly $1.3 billion since 2003.

Now, after sailing around for nearly 15 years, it feels like something that’s taken on too much water, too many passengers, too many back stories and too many barnacles. A new pair of directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, bring a few new ideas to some of the swashbuckling spectacle and the slapstick—like Jack and Carina’s escape from their botched execution, a bank robbery that involves stealing an entire building, and a getaway from the ocean floor up a massive chain of a ship’s anchor.

But the whole enterprise feels overstuffed and waterlogged, all a-swirl with bustle, swill and bilge, despite its attempts at “deeper” messages about treasures of the non-material kind and navigating by maps don’t exist on paper. It probably reaches its lowest, most ludicrous point when Sparrow, Henry and Carina escape a group of ghost sharks. The phantom fish crunch their row boat, nip at them and leap (in slow motion) overhead before Capt. Jack hooks one to speed-tow his little vessel ashore.

I kept imagining how much better the scene would have been with music from Gilligan’s Island.


Javier Bardem

As the maniacal undead Salazar, Bardem channels the bad-guy charisma that made his character of the psychopathic killer Anton Chagurh in No Country For Old Men so bone-chillingly memorable. He’s a wheezing, ghostly white wraith, dripping blood and literally falling apart in flecks of deep-sea, computer-generated ghoul dreck. And he’s the best-looking pirate in his motley, monstrous crew.

You’ll find out in Pirates 5 how and why a young Jack (a very strange looking, slenderized, un-accessorized, computer-enhanced Johnny Depp) and Salazar got off to such a bad start, how the lives of other central characters overlap and intersect, which British rock legend makes a cameo (hint: It’s not one of the Rolling Stones), and which of the franchise’s original stars pop back in for the finale.

“What be our headin’, cap’n?” crewman Gibbs (Kevin McNally, from TV’s Designated Survivor) asks Sparrow as they set sail in the movie’s final scene. “We shall follow the stars!” replies Jack.

Methinks it’s finally time the stars led Jack and his “pirate’s life” into port for good.

In theaters May 26, 2017

Rock-in’ The Beach

Movie spinoff of TV show is bawdy, brawny, spicy, sexy fun! 

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach & Jon Bass
Directed by Seth Gordon

The first day of summer is still officially a few weeks away, but why wait? Let’s get the party started with some fun, sun, sand, surf, a little bit of action, a load of laughs and some totally rockin’ beach bods!

In Baywatch, devoted lifeguard Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) leads an elite team in protecting his stretch of California beach, especially when he gets a whiff of something unusually fishy—a drug-smuggling operation that threatens the future of the bay.

Johnson, the former pro wrestler known as The Rock, has become one of Hollywood’s most versatile stars, a mountainous Atlas of an actor who can glide effortlessly between bawdy comedy and explosive action, often in the same scene. In the opener, he dives dramatically off a rocky shoreline into choppy waters to save an unconscious, downed parasailer—then emerges, beaming with a billion-dollar smile as dolphins dance in the background and the movie’s title appears on the horizon.

Mitch then jogs along the beachfront, basking in the glow of his many fans—people he’s rescued, people who know people he’s rescued, people making sand sculptures of the sea god Poseidon with Mitch’s face.


Dwayne Johnson & Zac Efron

Zac Efron plays Mitch’s new partner, Matt Brody, a former hotshot Olympic swimmer who comes aboard with muscles on his muscles—and a bit of a troubled past. Brody has to earn the respect of Mitch and the other lifeguards, Summer (Alexandra Daddario, who played Annabeth in the Percy Jackson movie series), C.J. (former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera from TV’s Billions and Master of None).

Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra (Quantico‘s Alex Parrish) portrays a ravishing real-estate mogul with sinister plans to expand her empire, drawing a city councilman (Oscar Nuñez) and a tech-savvy computer geek (Hannibal Burress) into her dark, dangerous web. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (from the Netflix series The Get Down) is the local police sergeant, constantly butting heads with Mitch.


Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach & Alexandra Daddario

Director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief) concocts some absolutely hilarious setups that take full advantage of the movie’s R rating—like a morgue investigation with an uproariously raunchy riff on Johnson’s well-known, real-life status as a titan of social media; a shower scene involving an a cappella rendition of Katy Perry’s Roar and a discussion of lunch menus; and an unfortunate incident on the beach that starts with a bag of candy and ends with a wooden lounge chair, a circle of smartphones and a painfully lodged body part.


Jon Bass

Everyone gets lots of time to shine, but the movie’s main weapon in its comedy arsenal is Jon Bass, who plays Ronnie, the schlubby, tubby “outsider” chosen to be a lifeguard because of his spirit, spunk and heart. Bass, whose TV and movie roles include playing Del on the Comedy Central series Big Time in Hollywood, FL, definitely knows how to mainline the funny flow, and director Gordon gives him his own comedic subplot, a crush on fellow lifeguard C.J. And just wait until you see Ronnie’s surprising, bust-out moves on the dance floor!

The movie is wryly meta and self-aware of its TV roots. Baywatch was cancelled in 1989 after only one season on NBC, but went on to international fame in a decade of worldwide syndication, a slice of pure, exported American cheese as its characters dealt with problems ranging from beach bums to shark attacks, earthquakes and serial killers.

Late in the movie, a couple of all-stars from the TV show make cameo appearances.

“Why does she always look like she’s running in slo-mo?” Summer asks as the camera lingers (yes, in slow motion) on a jogging C.J. It’s a wink-wink reference to the television show’s frequent leering shots of its swimsuit-clad actresses as they ran on the beach, slowed to such a crawl that it looked like they were moving in molasses.

At one point, the seasoned lifeguards explain to Brody the variety of their work. They don’t just rescue drowning swimmers: They also chase away beach thieves, fend off schools of deadly manta rays, break up rings of offshore diamond smugglers…

“Sounds like a far-fetched TV show!” Brody says.

Hmmm, yes, it does—just one that’s quite bit more bawdy, brawny, spicy, sexy and fun!

In theaters May 25, 2017

Pure Love, Tainted World

YA saga ‘Everything, Everything’ missing a little something-something


Everything, Everything
Starring Amandla Stenberg & Nick Robinson
Directed by Stella Meghie
In theaters May 19, 2017

And you think you’ve led a sheltered life.

Imagine being confined to your home day and night, forbidden to step outside, unable to interact with the world—and absolutely barred from seeing the cute new neighbor who just moved in next door.

No, you haven’t been kidnapped, you’re not under house arrest and you haven’t been permanently grounded. You’re just the lead character in the movie version of author Nicola Yoon’s 2015’s young adult novel Everything, Everything, which takes several time-honored, melodramatic girl-meets-boy themes and gives them a new, hormonal-yearning yank.

As she tells us in the opening scene’s voiceover, young Maddy (Amandla Stenberg, who played Halle Foster on TV’s Mr. Robinson and the little tribute Rue alongside Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games) suffers from a rare autoimmune disease that makes the world a serious threat outside her sealed, sterilized home.

“If I went outside, I would die,” she matter-of-factly narrates. So Maddy, who’s about to turn 18, hasn’t been anywhere, or done anything, since she was a baby. She fantasizes about swimming in the ocean, walking in the grass and breathing fresh air. She reads voraciously, absorbing life through the pages of classic novels like Stuart Little, Flowers For Algernon and The Invisible Man.


Anika Noni Rose

Her mother (Anika Noni Rose, who plays “Jukebox” on TV’s Power and Dr. Eva Fletcher on The Quad) tries to assure her she’s provided all Maddy needs inside their airtight, irradiated, disinfected, high-tech, art-deco mansion in their leafy suburb of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. “You’re not missing out on anything,” she says.

“Just everything,” replies Maddy.

For her online classes, Maddy builds scale models of places she knows she’ll never go, like a library and a diner—and always puts a tiny model astronaut inside them. She has a thing for the little spaceman; he symbolizes much about Maddy.

Maddy’s never had a boyfriend. She’s never been kissed. She’s never felt the passion, or the pangs, of love. Like the astronaut, Maddy will soon go “out there” herself, all alone into the unknown, exploring.

That’s where cute boy-next-door Olly (Nick Robinson, who starred in the YA sci-fi adventure The Fifth Wave then Jurassic World after his 2013 breakout in the indie hit The Kings of Summer) comes in. Long-haired, dressed head to toe in black and gliding down the street on his skateboard, he radiates adventure and excitement. Olly just moved into the neighborhood with his family. Maddy is instantly smitten. At first they just wave hi through their bedroom windows, then exchange text messages and emails—and pretty soon figure out a way to meet face to face.

And guess what? Maddy doesn’t die. So they meet again, thanks to Maddy’s helpful and sympathetic daytime nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera).

Not surprisingly, Maddy’s fiercely protective mom blows a gasket when she finds out. She fires Carla and forbids Maddy from having any contact with Olly ever again.

“Love can’t kill me,” says a defiant Maddy.

“That’s not true,” counters her mom, somewhat ominously.

DSC08396.dngAnd mom doesn’t know Maddy’s gotten approved for a credit card, and airline tickets to Hawaii are a snap to book online.

Director Stella Meghie, whose only other feature was the 2016 comedy Jean of the Joneses, makes everything look posh and pretty, but really doesn’t break a lot of fresh ground when it comes to young-adult conventions, from Love Story to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Fault in Our Stars. Beautiful teen with a fatal disease—check. Forbidden love—yes. Oppressive parents who don’t understand—affirmative. Hokey dialogue (“I loved you before I knew you”)—in there!

DSC09791.dngStenberg and Robinson are adorably cute; their scenes together have an exhilarating, untethered, young-love, first-kiss rush and gush, scored to a hip, youthful soundtrack of tunes from Khalid, The Internet, Kehlani and Alabama Shakes, plus a track from Stenberg herself (“Let My Baby Stay”).

But there’s a bit of preposterousness to the whole setup, and the film presents it with even more of a fairy-tale gloss of impossible affluence, coincidence, perfection and only-in-the-movies happenstance. A major plot twist toward the end is a real soap-opera golly-whopper, and the thud of its scorched-earth aftershock rattles the simple charm of an otherwise sweet finale.

Teenagers, the audience for which the film is obviously intended, will probably be able to relate to this tale of young lovers determined to overcome their fate—and perhaps swoon more than once as the screen is filled with displays of their overflowing passion. More seasoned moviegoers, however, will probably find that Everything, Everything is missing a little something-something.


The ancient tale of Camelot gets a modern-movie, hipster twist

KA-TP-0023 (72)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law & Astrid Bergès-Frisbey
Directed by Guy Richie

In the opening scene, the kingdom of Camelot of ravaged by a heathen horde and a rampage of gigantic, monstrous war elephants swinging black wrecking balls on their tree-like trunks.

Director Guy Richie’s wild-ride take on the legendary British folk tale is a bit like those jumbo Dumbos—it’s a huge, lumbering, dark fantasy that smashes and crashes into themes, events and characters that have been popularized in literature, lore, legend and popular culture for centuries.

Legend of the Sword gives Camelot a modern-movie, rock ’n’ roll makeover, with bombastic special effects, a pounding original contemporary soundtrack and a barrage of hipster Cockney slang.

“You’ve got some heat on you, Arthur,” young Arthur (Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy) is warned at one point—and he’s not being cautioned about standing too close to the fireplace.


Jude Law

We find out how baby Arthur was raised by in a brothel after the death of his parents at the hands of his evil uncle, Vortigem (Jude Law), now the ruler of the kingdom. Bullied by the other kids, Arthur grew up tough, haunted by nightmares of his childhood and learning to despise the king.

Director Richie brings to the movie much of his fondness for streetwise, wisecracking British lads, as in his previous films Snatch, RocknRolla and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and two Sherlock Holmes flicks. As the plot thickens and Arthur and his miscreant “crew”—with names like Wet Stick, Mischief John, Brother Blackleg and Back Lack—prepare to make their move on Vortigem, Richie indulges his love of fast-flying quips, jerky, quick-cut edits and characters fast-forwarding, downshifting into super slo-mo and “rewinding.”

Naturally, Arthur pulls “the sword” from “the stone.” But for a movie called The Legend of the Sword, we really don’t learn anything about the legend, or the sword—why it’s so powerful, how it came to be or even its name. For some reason, it’s never referred to as Excalibur, or anything—other than “the sword.”


Those elephants! 

The movie is far too occupied throwing everything else on the screen: There are family murders, a slashed throat, a severed ear, human sacrifices and knights that burst into flame. Not to mention those gargantuan elephants… huge, hissing rats… sirens that morph into a slimy blob of slithering eels… and a snake the size of a subway train. Why? If a street bloke can pull a magical blade from a rock, why not?

And it turns out Arthur’s weapon might be the world’s first smartsword—it seems to know who’s a bad guy and who’s a good guy, at least based on Arthur’s first big brawl. What’s next—self-firing catapults?


Astrid Bergès-Frisbey

Law makes a juicy villain, and Hunnam brings a muscular, scrappy outsider’s heft and attitude to Arthur, not quite yet the nobleman he’s destined to become. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (who played the mermaid Syrena in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is runway-model cool as the mage, a mysterious rebel with magical powers who helps Arthur harness the awesomeness of the sword not called Excalibur.

And hey, isn’t that the guy from Gladiator, The Legend of Tarzan and TV’s Wayward Pines? Yes, it’s Djimon Hounsou, whose character will eventually be knighted as Bevidere. And isn’t that archer a dude from Game of Thrones? Yep, it’s Aidan Gillan (GOT’s Petyr Baelish) as Arthur’s go-to bow-and-arrow guy, Goose Fat Bill. Is that former world soccer star David Beckham? Sure is—as a not-so-chivalrous knight in not-so-shining armor. Who’s that Lady of the Lake? It’s the director’s wife, Jacqui Ainsley, who gets a bit of screen time as the ghostly aqua-lass. Wasn’t Maid Maggie in Peaky Blinders? Yes, actress Annabelle Wallis starred on the BBC crime drama from 2013 to 2016, and she’ll play archeologist Jenny Halsey in The Mummy, opening June 7.

There are characters afoot everywhere, but too often, everyone’s competing with the spewing fountain of CGI show-off excess, a patchwork of unfocused, all-over-the-place storytelling and dialogue so rich and ripe with authentic accents “from the Isles” that American ears may have trouble keeping up. (I think “Goshen me brath” was “Catchin’ my breath,” but I’m not sure.)

This is supposedly the lead-off in a franchise, the first of six—rather optimistically—planned movies about Camelot, the boy king and his magical weapon.

“Did you see everything you needed to see?” the mage asks Arthur after his venture into the Dark Lands. “I saw enough,” he tells her.

After watching Legend of the Sword, I think I did, too.

In theaters May 12, 2017