Funny without being tongue-in-cheek and epic without being ponderous, Spider-Man: Homecoming is what a summer movie should be. This latest installment in the Marvel comics blockbuster-verse is as bouncy as its web-spinning hero. Instead of numbly moving the plot forward for the sake of the Marvel corporate plan (I mean “storytelling initiative”), it seamlessly tucks itself into the ongoing Marvel thing without feeling obligatory. This is the way you do it.
We’ve seen a lot of Spider-Man in recent years, including Sam Raimi’s trilogy with Tobey Maguire and two installments with Andrew Garfield. Our current incarnation, played by Tom Holland, debuted last year in Captain America: Civil War, of which teenager Peter Parker’s mentorship under Tony Stark, aka Iron Man’s superhero-mentoring program, was the most engaging part. Teen angst loomed large in previous tellings of Peter’s story, but Homecoming makes the radical suggestion that high-school years might also be fun—even if you’re struggling with the newfound powers of being Spider-Man.
Of the titles from Hollywood’s golden age that aren’t broadly recognized as classics but really ought to be, Make Way for Tomorrow is on the short list—no arguments brooked. Leo McCarey, a director with a notable human touch, crafted this 1937 masterpiece from a simple story about two long-married folks forced to live apart when their money runs out and their grown children prove inept at compassionate problem-solving. This outline proves remarkably durable in Love Is Strange, a new film that finds an ingenious variation on the same story. Here, the couple has not been married long, but they’ve been together for 39 years; in fact, it’s the gift of their marriage that inadvertently causes the unwanted separation.
Meet Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), whose cohabitation stretches back long before same-sex marriage was a realistic goal.
We should have seen it coming. Parental Guidance director Andy Fickman’s previous family farce was “You Again,” which this writer called “totally, inanely, numbingly awful …. From the evidence on-screen, [Fickman’s] directorial skills might serve to mount a mediocre high school play.” Now this hack is back, gifting us with another DOA comedy.
Pity anyone who heads out to take in Guidance, billed as cheery comedy about the clash between old-school and contemporary child rearing, with heartwarming lessons to be learned by three generations of one fractured family. Parents and children blessed with an iota of gray matter or taste will storm the ticket booth to demand refunds. The only people sitting still for this overlong ordeal will be those brainwashed by bad TV sitcoms into yukking on cue at lowbrow comedy and cardboard clowns.
Alice and Phil Simmons (Marisa Tomei, mugging grotesquely, and Tom Everett Scott) are the type of “helicoptering” mommy and daddy who follow a strict program designed to produce perfect children. Off limits are sugar, competitive games, discipline, any kind of unscheduled fun that might derail the kids’ constant grooming for future success. Forget straight talk: Communication is strictly PC, couched in neutered pseudo-therapeutic jargon: “Use your words” instead of getting mad and bashing a bully. Tempted to talk back? “Your opinion has value.” Even the Simmons’ house is programmed to nag like a nanny — courtesy of dad’s prizewinning invention.
Darren Aronofky comes across as a very centered, easy-going, down-to-Earth guy. Not what you’d expect from the guy who directed Pi, Requiem For a Dream and The Fountain. Maybe not even The Wrestler, though his love of the story and the characters comes through when he talks about. I interviewed Darren Aronofsky in Seattle back in November, 2008, during his national press tour to promote The Wrestler, which had won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was the buzz of the Toronto International Film Festival. Since then, the film has been praised as one of the best films of the year and Mickey Rourke’s tender turn as aging wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson the comeback story of the year. Rourke earned a Golden Globe Award and early Thursday morning, January 22, both he and co-star Marisa Tomei were honored with Oscar nominations.
Early in the film, in the scene where Mickey Rourke’s character, Randy, has slept in his van and wakes up the next morning, he’s instantly surrounded by kids who adore him and he adores them, I though to myself, “He’s Wallace Beery in The Champ!”
(laughs) Sure. When we cast Mickey it was pretty hard to get the film made, and the reason was is because pretty much every financer in the world said that Mickey Rourke wasn’t sympathetic. So it was important for me to prove them wrong. And I think after the first three or four minutes of the film, you’re kind of hooked into Mickey. It’s partly because of that scene but I think it’s also because you look into his eyes and he’s very truthful, he’s filled with soul, he’s filled with spirit, and there’s just a burning desire in him.
Mickey Rourke has been doing great work for the last eight years but no one has been noticing it because they’re mostly small films and supporting roles.
He’s also had to play tough guys a lot. One of the great things about Mickey, that I remember from Angel Heart and The Pope of Greenwich Village and Barfly, is that even when he’s this incredible tough guy with all this machismo, there’s so much softness inside. And when you meet Mickey, that’s who he is. There’s a lot of armor built up, but it’s really covering up all this fear.
Casting him as a wrestler also evokes the boxing career he had after he left acting in the nineties.
Sure. I thought that, since he was a boxer, it would be very easy for him to learn how to wrestle. It was actually, I think, twice as hard for him. In boxing you want to hide your punches, you don’t want your opponent to see the punches. In wrestling, you want people in the back rows to see the punch coming two minutes before it ever happens. So Mickey really had to unlearn how he moved in the ring. I think also, as a boxer, you really look down on wrestling because it lampoons what you are doing. So it was hard, at the beginning, until Mickey learned to respect it as something that was as much sport as theater. Once he accepted that there was something theatrical going on, he was able to understand how to approach it.