Thursday, July 20, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes and Short Takes on Moka

“Vengeance is mine,” Saith … Whoever’s the Angriest Amongst Us

                                                      Reviews by Ken Burke
                    War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
In this concluding episode of the current … Apes trilogy we find enhanced-intelligence chimp Caesar attempting to lead his tribe away from the forests of northern California while trying to protect themselves from the quasi-military force of The Colonel, intent on killing every remaining ape so that our world’s sparse human population won’t be replaced by another species.
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Building clearly on what’s gone before in Rise … and Dawn of the Planet ..., this story focuses on intelligent, eloquent-speaking chimp Caesar’s attempt to avoid ongoing warfare with a quasi-military group, the Alpha-Omega led by a brutal ape-killer known as The Colonel, by moving his large tribe completely away from their present home in the wilds of northern California.  However, that plan’s already under attack by advance forces of The Col. so there are some brutal battle scenes in this movie but not many for a story with “war” in its title.  Mostly, we focus on the conflicted emotions that peace-attempting Caesar must wrestle with as he simultaneously attempts to get his fellow apes far away from these ruthless killers while also seething with the need for revenge against The Col. who managed to kill Caesar’s wife and elder son in a raid on the apes’ refuge.  To go beyond that in these comments would ruin the surprises this tale offers so unless you choose to read on in spoiler-land below I’ll just say there’s a lot more emotion and consideration of what it takes for any species (including ours) to remain “human” in the face of disaster than you might expect from a franchise sci-fi series built on intense hostile conflicts.

 I do generally recommend your attendance at War for the Planet of the Apes because it’s a well-crafted visual experience where the motion-capture of human actors has been successfully overlaid with believable computer imagery to allow all of these simians—chimps, orangutans, gorillas—to become plausible co-performers with the humans on screen, plus there’s more well-constructed tension than actual combat during the (admittedly, too-long) running time so this movie’s not as battle-heavy as it might imply.  However, it’s stuffed with allusions to previous … Apes episodes and other cultural markers that get a bit overbearing at times, unless you prefer to celebrate that stuff.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
What Happens: Opening graphics briefly summarize major events in the first 2 movies of this … Apes trilogy (more details in this review's next section), then we’re thrown into a northern California forest where a large tribe of enhanced-intelligence-apes, led by Caesar (voice and motion capture of Andy Serkis), try to live in peace in a huge enclosure behind a waterfall (reminds me somewhat of the Wookie dwellings in the Star Wars stories), but that’s not to be because a human paramilitary force called Alpha-Omega, led by a demented, gung-ho guy known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), is pushing further into the apes’ woodland home, resulting in an initial, intense battle between men with guns and bombs, apes on horseback mostly with spears.  Many die on both sides, but 4 humans and renegade-gorilla Red (Ty Olsson)—a follower of the late bonobo disrupter, Koba (Toby Kebbell), killed by Caesar in the previous Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Reeves, 2014; review in our July 18, 2014 posting [useful commentary, even if I do say so myself, marred by atrocious layout needing much better paragraph breakup {for the record, I still think the titles of these 2 opening episodes, now beginning with Rise ..., should be reversed for logical clarity, but, gee whiz, nobody in Hollywood’s calling me up for advice!}])—are captured by Caesar’s forces.

 Red breaks loose, but the others (focused on Preacher [Gabriel Chavarria]) are sent back with a message Caesar’s tribe only wants to be left alone so they can vacate the territory completely.  This doesn’t happen either because gorilla Winter (Aleks Paunovic), captured by the soldiers, is forced to reveal the apes’ location so The Colonel and a few backups slip in one night, the gruesome leader able to kill both Caesar’s wife, Cornelia (Judy Greer), and eldest son, Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones).

 Caesar sends the rest of the tribe off on their long journey to a new home far away while he goes to find The Colonel for a reckoning but, against his wishes, he’s joined by loyal companions Rocket (Terry Notary)—a chimp just like Caesar—Maurice (Karin Konoval)—a huge orangutan—and big Luca (Michael Adamthwaite)—a kind-but-no-nonsense gorilla. Moving along the CA coast they encounter a lone human whom they kill when he attempts to fire on them but then discover his little mute daughter (Amiah Miller), whom Maurice insists travel with them rather than be left to die so she easily becomes a close companion, despite the sudden, violent loss of her father at the hands (paws?) of this group; they name her Nova after an old Chevy logo given to her by Maurice (more on that later).  The group’s soon joined by another loner, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a semi-hairless zoo refugee (where he got his name from unsympathetic humans) who somehow knows The Col.’s troops are headed for an old military post near the CA border, to be joined by a larger armed contingent from the north.  When our travelers reach this destination they’re horrified to find their tribe’s been captured, with the adults brutally put to work hauling rocks to fortify a wall around the enclosure, the ape children (including Caesar’s younger son, Cornelius [Deyvn Dalton]) in confinement.  Luca’s killed by an Alpha-Omega patrol, Caesar goes into the camp alone only to be captured himself by Red (now called Donkey; he and a few other Koba followers joined up with The Col.'s army to avoid punishment from Caesar’s tribe).

 Caesar learns from a forced interview with The Col. the Simian Flu’s mutated, causing a new crisis in humans (still alive after the initial plague) it infects so they lose speech, then regress to a wild animal state; The Col.’s waging a “holy war” to kill any ape he can find but also any infected human—including his own son—to prevent further spread of the virus.  He also kills anyone who won’t obey his orders, so those other soldiers are coming to terminate not reinforce The Col.’s crazed-command, thus the stone barrier to help hold them off.  (Any comments about a maniac building a wall to shut out his unwanted arrivals should be sent to the op-ed page of your local “fake news.”)

 Caesar initially tries to stir up a rebellion among these ape slaves (beaten with whips so there’s no question about the racial-allusions here) but they soon go back to work to prevent him from being killed.  His next move's an attempt to convince the vicious, authoritarian Col. McCullough to give some food and water to these forced-workers if they’re expected to keep hauling those large rocks (I guess The Col.'s been given this surname so he wouldn't have a German accent, as other familiar allusions will also emerge in this movie), a plea that succeeds but Caesar’s still tortured by being tied to an X-shaped cross.  However, with some coordination from Maurice, Rocket, Bad Ape, and Nova an old tunnel’s found beneath the camp so the plan is for holes to be opened in the tunnel’s roof, allowing the captives to slip away during the night (a further complication occurs when rising underground water forces some of the tunnel to be shut off—the part under the kids’ compoundbut a shift in strategy allows all of them to escape) at the same time the invading soldiers arrive so The Col.’s men are shooting at everything that moves, including Preacher wounding Caesar (even though Preacher’s life was spared in those opening scenes) just as Red has a change of heart, killing Preacher before he can
hurt Caesar any further, Red himself dead in the process.  During all this chaos, Caesar—admitting his hate’s as real and damaging as was Koba’s—makes his way into the cruel Col.’s quarters to find him now mute (Nova snuck into the prison to bring food and water to Caesar, left her little doll, The Colonel took it from Caesar’s cell, apparently got infected), wanting to die, but Caesar refuses to shoot him so he takes the pistol, kills himself.  Then, just as the competing-armies’ battle ends with surrender of The Col.’s troops (after Caesar set off a massive set of fuel-tank-chain-explosions, an act demolishing most of the facility) the new soldiers start to aim their weapons at the escaping apes only for all the humans to suddenly be buried by a huge avalanche, as most of the apes escape harm up into the surrounding tall trees.  When all is calm again, the apes (along with Nova) make their journey to the far-away-new-home Blue Eyes found on an earlier scouting trip; however, Caesar—up on a hillside with Maurice, watching the joy of his now-ecstatic-tribe—is dying from his battle-wound, as his closest friend assures him Cornelius will know of his father’s importance to this new world of apes.

So What? As noted above, this trilogy is very tight with plot lines so we find that characters and circumstances flow easily from one episode to the next beginning (15 years back from the actions of War ...) with the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011) where scientists in high-tech San Francisco labs conduct experiments with serums intended to enhance the intelligence levels in various simian species, with chimpanzee Caesar showing the most success but with a desire to no longer be a “lab rat” so he ultimately leads a rebellion of ape-escapees from laboratory and zoo cages across the Golden Gate Bridge (with massive fighting all along the way) to the wilds of Muir Woods, north of SF; however, the same concoction spurring intelligence in the apes proves to be a fatal virus to most humans, so in a short time the Simian Flu decimates most of the globe’s homo sapiens apes—us—except for the random souls blessed with genetic immunity.  10 years later (by movie timeline) in Dawn …, Caesar and his tribe try to live a peaceful coexistence from their forest home with the few remaining SF humans in the ruins of their city, but the stability’s broken when renegade-ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), still furious from his lab-experiments-mistreatment, mocks an attack on Caesar which allows this new leader to initiate violent action against the humans, threatening to destroy them all (soldiers are contacted to come in from some distance to help) so Caesar breaks his fundamental species' rule that apes (at least the non-human-ones) don’t harm each other by killing Koba (whom Caesar doesn’t feel is now behaving much like an ape anyway).

 Caesar’s long-shot-goal back then was to re-establish his tribal rule, bringing another halt to the inter-species-violence with hope for coexistence someday evolving along with all of these newly-intelligent apes. (Only a random few of them speak, though, while all the rest of them seem to understand Caesar and any other of the English-speakers—I never got the impression that any of them are bilingual but none of the humans in these stories seem to be either—yet communicate with sign language which is translated via subtitles to the audience; in that I’m not fluent in that mode of interaction I’ll just assume these signs are from a standard human code although I guess they could be ape-based.)  However, as War … begins we immediately see soldiers under the command of The Colonel have been indoctrinated into the mantra of “The only good ape is a dead ape,” so warfare is the sole option as long as these opposed species have to share their northern CA environment, with escape to a distant location the only hope the harrier apes have for survival, assuming their weapon-ready-distant cousins* wouldn’t come searching for them across the vast distance they’re trying to escape to.  (Even though this trilogy is set in a rather limited realm of the U.S. Pacific Northwest with no clarity at this point whether clusters of apes and/or humans exist anywhere else on the planet, although if there are other sequels—as rumor currently has it—then that would be a likely plot aspect to develop.)

*I’m sure there are more current studies available (even though I haven’t read them), but I keep recommending Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape (1967, just prior to release of Planet of the Apes) for its science-rather-than-religion-based exploration of how we humans are also apes, biologically, with detailed analyses of where we’re similar to/different from the other members of our family tree.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
 What now gives me a 2-pronged-trepidation of what could come in future … Apes stories is the fear they’re going to follow the same pattern of Ridley Scott’s never-ending-prequels that still apparently have much more to go before we can connect all of the dots that come between his Prometheus (2012; review in our June 14, 2012 posting) and his original Alien (1979)—in that his Alien: Covenant (you can find a review in the Two Guys' June 1, 2017 posting) proved to be more of a detour than a direct line of that narrative’s development.  Even Reeves (in his brief explanation in the 4th link to this movie that's available for your access here, farther below this review) implies that what we’ve been witnessing in this … Apes trilogy could lead to the events of the original Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968), a connection that Reeves encourages despite it being difficult to harmonize the older narrative with this new version of Caesar’s life (unless events of that far-distant-story are altered) because in the much-earlier movie the intelligent apes result from more-roundabout-events as U.S. astronauts led by George Taylor (Charlton Heston) fly into a time warp sending them from 1972 to 3978, unknowingly landing on Earth again to find humans are mute beasts living in the jungles while various ape species run this planet whose identity is revealed to Taylor (and us) at movie’s end as Earth, long changed as the result of atomic warfare and mutated-evolution.  By the end of its sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Ted Post, 1970), Taylor’s determined this new version of his old home is an abomination so he activates a doomsday nuclear weapon (with “Alpha” and “Omega” written on it) destroying Earth but not before sympathetic-scientist-chimps Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) and Zira (Kim Hunter) time-travel back to current day Earth (Escape from the Planet of the Apes [Don Taylor, 1971]) where, in due time, their son Caesar (also played by Roddy
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
McDowell), will lead a group of now-intelligent simians used as slaves (another intended racial analogy) in a rebellion against their human masters, resulting in the horrible all-out-nuclear-war which eventually changes the nature of our fragile world forever (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes [J. Lee Thompson, 1972], Battle for the Planet of the Apes [Thompson, 1973])—until it's blown up in the distant futurewith the remaining humans and apes finally living in harmony by 2670 (how the human race then regressed into what we see as history-denied, condemned beasts by the much-later-era-apes shown in the original Planet…’s plot is never addressed).  So, not only would this current … Apes trilogy-chronology have to go through a couple of millennia to catch up with Taylor’s story but there’d also have to be lots of ‘splainin’ to do to even begin to make it all fit; I just hope we’re not going to be inundated with … Apes movies for the rest of this century in an attempt to weave all of these disconnected storylines together (with a hint that Reeves or whoever will try because of the inclusion in War … of the Simian Flu mutation that turns humans into lower-cognition, speechless animals which would eventually line up with the presentation of most of Earth’s humans shown in Taylor’s shock-filled-encounters).*

* I’ve made no attempt to find rationale to include Tim Burton’s remake of The Planet of the Apes (2001) where Earth astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) ends up in a familiar, future-set, simian-dominated environment (but on a different planet), yet these apes simply evolved from ones also sent from Earth that arrived long before Davidson did.  However, when he escapes to return home he finds Earth of his time is now also dominated by intelligent apes, but studio disinterest in pursuing previously-planned-sequels (despite a hefty $362.2 million global gross, far dwarfing the estimated $160 million worldwide for the original 5 … Apes movies) leaves this oddity as an outlier in the franchise, with its mysterious, disturbing ending never given a clarification (unless you read the original Pierre Boulle novel [1963] which is considerably more like Burton’s version of this story).

 What I’d also prefer not to see too much more of—if additional … Apes sequels (or maybe they’re all just one continuous prequel, relative to what we eventually find in Taylor’s journey) become marketing-inevitabilities—is additional uses of pastiche that the current filmmakers admit they have generously taken from a wealth of movies screened in preparation for the script of War …, with distinctive aspects found in Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) as well as The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956) the most obvious influences, given the bald-headed, barbaric character of The Colonel only missing a chance to mumble “The horror, the horror” for a complete connection to the rogue Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) of that jungle-warfare-classic (along with the “Ape-pocalypse” graffiti in the military compound’s tunnel, scrawled by escaping humans from this detention center back when the plague first emerged) plus the conceit of Caesar finally leading his “people” to the “promised land,” then not being able to join them as his destiny was to die when his journey was finished (although at least it was from a fatal wound, not for some minor transgression against his prickly Deity [in my nasty, no-longer-Christian opinion]).  Based on the long list of other movies I’ve read about that Reeves and his team studied in preparation for War …'s structure I’m sure there are numerous other intimations here as well (such as the girl Nova referencing Taylor’s likewise-silent-human-female-companion [Linda Harrison] in both Planet … and Beneath …) as well as the latter movie's Alpha, Omega notation on the doomsday bomb corresponding to the “doomsday agenda” of The Colonel’s scorched-earth policy toward all apes and any humans (including himself) infected with the horrid Simian Flu mutation.  

 I’m sure these recognizable references (including scenes with Caesar in the prison camp suffering in crucifixion mode yet still bringing about life-giving-sustenance for the tormented apes when The Colonel finally allows them grain [i.e. bread] and water [maybe it could be miraculously turned into wine?] in a pseudo-Last Supper-manner that couldn’t be clearer in its Christ-allusions, wrapping up nicely with the Moses-allusions noted above [just as ABC TV always runs DeMille’s Exodus classic at Eastertime instead of something like The Greatest Story Ever Told {George Stevens, 1965} which is obviously directly about Jesus' life]) are all quite clever but ultimately, for me, just a bit too much.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Overall critical response to War for the Planet of the Apes has been quite outstanding, with 94% positive reviews surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes, an average of 83% by the normally-lower-scoring-folks at Metacritic; the box-office results have been healthy as well, with the worldwide gross after only 1 week in release already at about $106.3 million (about $62 million from the domestic [U.S.-Canada] market), well on its way (if this pace keeps up) to balancing/bettering the estimated hefty $150 production budget and adding noticeably to the current worldwide gross of almost $1.693 billion already tallied by Rise … and Dawn … .  However, I’m no more overwhelmed by this latest entry in the reboot-trilogy than I was by its predecessors, which doesn’t mean I don’t like them (I do; 3½ stars is a very positive response from me—given to both Dawn … and War … [likely the same for Rise … had I been writing reviews then]—because 4 is normally the highest I care to go, reserving the upper numbers for cinematic experiences that are truly unique and enduring), it’s just these ongoing messages—question the source of your prejudices before making someone else suffer for them, reasonable rationale might underlie even the most brutal of antagonists just as fierce anger can taint even the noblest hero, and, ultimately, war is not the answer—are great lessons to be reinforced in the instruments of our popular culture, but we don’t need endless episodes of the same homilies to get the point across (any more than there was little except economic justification to stretch the original series out to 5 installments), just as this current movie doesn’t have to be as long as it is (2 hours, 20 minutes) to either offer its messages or resolve its plotlines (e.g. the whole business of the underground flood preventing easy access for the ape-children to the escape tunnel so they had to be evacuated by other means merely allows for another dose of great visual renderings for our pleasure but is ultimately nothing but another obvious tension-diversion in the narrative's flow for a story that's already established its arc-movement toward needed resolution).

 So, yes, I did enjoy War for the Planet of the Apes,  as I appreciated the actual combat scenes occurring only in the movie's beginning and ending aspects, allowing for other means in this story to present an array of well-conceived, fully-dimensional-character-driven actions rather than merely the rapid flinging of dying bodies all over the screen; admired the mature acknowledgement The Colonel has some possible justification for his madness (still deathly-dangerous as it may be) in both the horrible decision to kill his own son to prevent further spread of the virus and his desperate attempt to preserve the planet for humanity rather than the evolutionary-challenge of apes taking over (another allusion to what’s to come in Taylor’s time, however it may be we get there)—misguided as both these decisions were, in that scientists are working on means of reversing the effects of the mutated-virus while it’s only Koba-like-renegades who actually present any threat to humans as Caesar’s tribe simply wants to live in peace, either in or without the presence of people—while Caesar admits that even when escape from the prison compound is the only reasonable action he’s still compelled by his need for vengeance to seek out, then kill, The Colonel in retaliation for the deaths of his wife and son (although whether his decision not to shoot his adversary when he finds the man already suffering from the plague comes from a position of compassion or from letting him sink further into his misery isn’t all that clear to me, much as Caesar’s being cast in the footsteps of Moses and Christ); and am rightfully awed at the magnificent computer-generated-imagery allowing the foundational-motion-capture of human actors to be replaced by plausible images of apes so convincing you're looking for animal wranglers in the final credits (not just for the horses).  Still, the abundance of references to earlier … Apes movies and so many other “knowing” allusions gets distracting in something that’s supposed to be a serious drama (even within a fanciful-sci-fi format) rather than a celebration of postmodernism.

 To cap all of this off, though, I’ll offer you my usual review-conclusion-strategy of listening to a Musical Metaphor to give one final dose of insight toward some commentary or just consideration but from the viewpoint of an aural artform.  In the case of War for the Planet of the Apes I’m going with Ten Years After’s “I’d Love to Change the World” (from their 1971 album A Space in Time) at https://www. E7T3S-s* (a video adding contemporary footage to the song, emphasizing our sad human trends toward craziness and destruction) because from both sides of this filmic conflict we have central characters asking “Tell me where is sanity?” even as their passionately-proposed-solutions exist in direct-oppositional-conflict toward each other (The Colonel’s troops are brainwashed to view apes as unacceptable enemies, but then we’re told the arriving soldiers out to terminate The Colonel also see the apes as even more deadly opponents so there seems to be no hope for compromise; Caesar’s apes are willing to try to follow him to salvation somewhere over the mountains [at least it won't take them 40 years to wander through the desert to get there] but constant aggression from humans has eradicated all hope of coexistence from Dawn …); both sides would “love to change the world” to a vision they long for, but their strategies haven’t worked so far as both admit “I don’t know what to do, So I’ll leave it up to you,” whomever “you” may be that could bring some peace to this war-torn-world, as the earlier Caesar was able to do somehow at the end of the previous … Apes series decades ago.

*If you’d rather watch the original band in a studio recording performance—with a brief introduction by singer/songwriter/guitarist Alvin Leethen you can watch this; if that puts you in an Alvin Lee-mood you might also like to see this group’s performance of "I'm Going Home" (on their 1968 Undead album) from the 1969 Woodstock Festival, presented in multi-image-fashion in the Woodstock doc (Michael Wadleigh, 1970)—but settle back for this one, it runs 11:23—that could also relate in Musical Metaphor fashion to our apes’ passionate quest to just get away from turmoil, to find some arena of serenity: As the refrain constantly repeats, “I’m goin’ home, to see my baby” (which could be understood as lover or child; remember, we’re blissfully in Metaphor-mode here).

 We’d like to think that once Caesar’s tribe found their new home somehow they’d be able to dwell there peacefully, but if various filmmakers are determined to once again get us to the calamities of Taylor’s so much later … Apes world then we’re just destined for more “world pollution, there’s no solution, institution, electrocution” scenarios, despite the intended-serene-closure-scene of this current tale, with its bombastic music, vivid colors, and easy (if not scary) resemblance to the overblown cinematics of The Ten Commandments (with a possible unintended comment of “Look how that scenario’s [the Israelites re-entering their homeland] worked out a few thousand years later”).  Will any species within the great family of apes (our included) ever find the peace that Caesar and his tribe seek?  Sometimes it doesn’t seem any more likely in a movie scenario than in real life as long as we focus on differences between communities, conflicting appetites for resources, rigid assumptions of hostility.  If we can learn anything from these … Apes scenarios maybe it’ll be about trust, cooperation, or hesitating before pulling the trigger.  I’d love to change the world too; would you?
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                                                     Moka (Frédéric Mermoud)
A woman in Switzerland (just across Lake Geneva from France) is distraught by a family tragedy which has her on the prowl to track down the perpetrators in order to gain a sense of justice; her private investigations lead her to a couple with whom she makes carefully-constructed-contact only to have the entire situation become more complex than she assumed.

 Although I’m generally enthusiastic about Moka, I’m consigning it to my Short Takes section because I realize it’s so obscure that, unlike the huge opening splash made by War …, this film didn’t even make Box Office Mojo’s Top 45 listings in last weekend’s gross tallies after 5 weeks in domestic release so all I know at present is it’s taken in somewhere in the very limited vicinity of $72.6 thousand in northern North America (no income info for me about other global markets even though Moka’s been out since almost a year ago in some European countries), currently playing in a tiny number of domestic theaters (last info I had is 14 for the weekend of July 7-9, 2017) so if you’re interested in seeing it some form of video is your most likely option (with the warning the dialogue’s in French so unless that’s one of your languages you’ll have to deal with subtitles, often an anathema for American audiences—I’ll also admit that when Nina and I saw it with our regular-film-attending-friend, Michaele [not a typo; her father wanted a boy, thus she added the final “e” later], we were the only ones in the Berkeley, CA Shattuck theater so I admit this story’s not drawing in even small audiences).  That’s too bad (unless you have a great home viewing system) because the scenery in Évian, France, along with Lausanne, Switzerland and the connecting scenic Lake Geneva, looks great on the big screen, although the intimate mystery quality of the story will likely still play well in somewhat smaller imagery.  This mysterious atmosphere starts right from the beginning as a woman, Diane Kramer (Emmanuelle Devos)—a writer trying to spur herself into necessary action—is shown  banging her head against a glass door, then she’s in bed smoking while barely-perceptible-but-ominous-background-music underlies her presence, after which she slips out of whatever this location is (avoiding a couple of attendants) into the night, catches a train, then surprises her husband, Simon (Samuel Labarthe), when she returns home (from what we later surmise must be some sort of sanitarium—for which she says he should be the more-likely-patient).

 Simon’s not all that pleased to see his wife (nor her with him) as they’re at bitter odds over something (not disclosed to us yet) which leads to the next scene, featuring an unnamed-private-eye (Jean-Philippe Écoffey) who tells Diane that he’s narrowed a search down to 4 cars in their vicinity (Lausanne, though much of the story occurs across the lake in Évian), all of which somewhat match what an eyewitness-bus-driver saw as  a mocha-colored-vehicle (thus the title, in French).  She goes on a stakeout for each car, deciding the 2nd one seems right enough (to not bother with the other 2) about a blond female driver so she plays out separate stalking scenarios with the woman, Marlène (Nathalie Baye)—who runs a local beauty shop—and her partner (as she says, although they seem to be married), Michel (David Clavel)—who’s offering their car for sale, although Diane questions him about what seems to be recent repair work to the front bumper; by the time most of the plot has run it’s course Diane (under the guise of Hélène) has struck up conversations with Marlène in her shop, spied on her calendar to see she wasn’t at work on some fateful day, convinces Michel to sell her the car (even though he’s got another willing buyer) after visiting his business as well, a local spa where he offers swimming-pool-physical-therapy.  In the process of all this, we see Diane casually meeting younger-man-Vincent (Oliver Chantreau) on one of her lake-crossing-ferry-trips, as he slips something he’s smuggling into the water just before they dock, but later she buys a pistol from him complete with a target-practice-lesson; we learn Marlène has a young adult daughter, Élodie (Diane Rouxel), who’s snippy with Mom while yearning to move somewhere else; we find Simon’s furious with Diane—whom he tracks down to the hotel in Lausanne where she’s staying under her assumed name—for her plot; and, most importantly, that plot’s about identifying the hit-and-run-driver who killed her teenage son, Luc (Paulin Jaccoud in a flashback phone video scene), months ago, with Diane now convinced Marlène is the guilty party.

 However, this all takes a major shift when Diane confronts Marlène with her accusations only to find the woman was in Paris on business that tragic Wednesday in the past, so Diane’s not sure what she should do next (previously she’d visited Vincent at his apartment, seemingly now ready to abandon any fidelity to Simon but then decided to leave, although later she came back for some sex after all) so she ends up at a noisy nightclub for awhile, but as she’s about to leave she sees Michel in a car, amorous with his stepdaughter who then zips away on a motorcycle, followed by Diane who eventually forces the young woman to stop (although Michel will soon be there, having been called by the worried Élodie).  Confronted by Diane, Élodie admits she’s the driver who hit Luc accidently; however, Michel was with her, panicked, insisted she drive away, which she did.*  Diane tells her to leave as well, then confronts Michel when he arrives; we see her firing several shots, seemingly at him, but really just into the killer-car, with a warning for Michel to go away, learn some decency toward others (“You stop, even if it’s for a dog!”).  This all wraps up when Diane tracks down Adrienne (Marion Reymond) at Luc’s school (they were orchestra partners, maybe more, as he had video of her on his cellphone which Diane’s kept and often viewed) in an effort to bring closure to this girl as well, with Adrienne reciprocating as she shows phone-video of Luc to his mother as the film ends.

The Great Gatsby (1974)
*I don't know if there’s any idea of intentional-plot-borrowing here, but I couldn’t help but think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s very famous novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), where Daisy Buchanan and her once-upon-a-time-aspiring/gone-but-now-returned-lover, Jay Gatsby, are racing back to their separate Long Island homes after a horrible attempt at an intimate-social-getaway into Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel on a hot day with Tom, Daisy’s harshly-overbearing, obnoxious husband and a couple of others; that awful night, as Daisy’s driving Jay’s car, speeding, she accidently hits and kills Myrtle Wilson, wealthy Tom‘s plain, miserable, working-class mistress, whose badly-aggrieved husband, George, now mistakenly thinks Gatsby was Myrtle‘s lover, kills him the next day in the swimming pool of his mansion.  The details from this classic novel reflected in the current film aren’t quite parallel but are close enough to at least merit consideration, along with how the different endings to these stories move us away, at least a bit, from the revenge-killing-scenario that’s led to so much ongoing violence in our real world along with the literary and reel ones, from The Godfather’s Mafia legacy (“This Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years!” as Kay tries to justify to husband Michael Corleone why she chose to abort the son she was carrying) to the species blood feud that fuels the
Planet of the Apes movies.  (A very effective … Gatsby film adaptation was made in 1974 [Jack Clayton] starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; much later, a decent-but-not-great version comes to the screen in 2013 [Baz Luhrmann] featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulliganmy not-fully-supportive review is in our May 17, 2013 entry if you'd like to read it).  

 While no deaths were involved with me and a car accident, I had a miserable situation where I was on a date in high school, hit the gas pedal too hard pulling away from a curb, smacked into the auto in front of me (some huge metallic monster that likely never got a dent in its bumper), then was encouraged by my frantic date to drive away quickly, which I impulsively did.  That soon resulted in my car's radiator being chewed up by the fan it’d been pushed into, a nervous call to my father when the car stopped running, a mortified explanation of my actions later that night, followed by no further dates with that girl (my choice; name withheld, despite no innocence to protect here for either of us) and more lingering guilt than either Daisy or Michel ever seemed to express, which finally faded away.

 Although the critical response to Moka has generally been solid (at RT the positive reviews stand at 83%, the MC score average is 69%, but that’s based [at the time I went to “press”] on only 18 reviews at the former, 10 at the latter, a sparse survey for either of these accumulation sites so you might want to check them again later) it’s not easy to find much about this film and even if you do you could be surprised if the death of Luc is given away easily (as it was in the 1st review that I came across, by G. Allen Johnson in the San Francisco Chronicle), if the key aspect of this carefully-constructed-mystery is revealed to you even before you take your seat (sure, I do the same, but that’s to be expected in my case; it’s a bit of a surprise when the mainstream guys do it), so by now if you do want to seek out this film you many know more than you’re supposed to as it unfolds which may undermine its ultimate impact but hopefully won’t dilute the marvelous acting by all concerned with special emphasis on the presence of Devos in the lead role, Baye in the important supporting one.  Yet, with the initial, effective establishment of a sense of conflict and tragedy, once it’s getting clear what’s going on here with the trajectory of Diane’s intention to find some sense of justice for her innocently-dispatched-son (even factoring in her possible sense of guilt because she may have caused a distraction while conversing with him on his cell phone just as he’s being hit by the infamous moka car [now removed from any association with coffee, milk, and chocolate]) the narrative moves in a mostly predictable manner toward its assumed conclusion, with the only question being whether Diane was really pumping bullets into Michel (a concern quickly resolved, but in a bit of a surprising fashion, as she seemed primed to make some amends for Luc).

 Overall, I liked Moka quite a bit, but as it evolves it loses a bit of impact for me toward the end as events begin to seem merely inevitable, although its overall sense of uniqueness gives me reason to encourage you to seek it out as long as unresolved crimes and an unjustified death (plus it's in French with subtitles) don’t give you reason to seek out something less ambiguous.  But when it came to choosing a Musical Metaphor, my initial response was to pick something in line with the steady sense of contained disgust toward Luc’s killer that’s clearly seething in Diane, such as Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” (from his 1981 debut solo album Face Value) with its scathing attitude of “Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand” (possibly based on a divorce Collins was going through when he wrote it [a result which may be in the air for Diane and Simon too, given their estrangement]) but—appropriate as this song would be for this film (you’re welcome to listen to it if you like [this is the official music video, although that previous link of Collins and Jimmy Fallon has another link at the end to a live version done with The Roots])—I’ve used it 3 times before in other reviews (I prefer not to overdo my choices for the benefit of regular readers—all dozen of you as best I can estimate [although that may be optimistic]) and I wanted something faster that better speaks to the actual rage roaring inside of Diane so I’ve chosen instead The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” (from the U.S. version of their 1966 Aftermath album) at (from 1966 with Brian Jones on sitar and some later footage inserted, or you can watch this relatively more recent version [2006] if you prefer) as I can hear Diane admitting “I look inside myself and see my heart is black […] Black as night, black as coal I want to see the sun blotted out from the sky,” although she allows herself to mellow some after the truth’s revealed, so we’re left with her warmer memories: “If I look hard enough into the setting sun [maybe “son”?] My love will laugh with me before the morning comes.” 

 What you choose to do with your own red doors until next we meet I’ll leave to your discretion, unless you’d like to share anything in the Comments section at the very end of this posting (farther down below), which you’re always welcome to do (even if I don’t always choose to share it with the world at large, I say to you silly spammers trying to sell your various goods and bootleg movies).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are just too many to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 forward this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about War for the Planet of the Apes: (quick [3:58] review of the previous … Apes  movies leading into this new episode) and (2:24 commentary by director Matt Reeves about how the new … Apes movies could ultimately evolve into the events we know of the original Planet of the Apes story in the distant future from these more recent stories)

Here’s more information about Moka: (just the trailer for this film; I couldn’t find a 2nd video of any value to enhance this review although there are several options in YouTube to watch the entire film if you wish to explore any of that possible pirating, which I'm not advocating)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 7/6/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 39,817—a new all-time-high!; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Big Sick and Spider-Man: Homecoming

                                     Successfully Sick and Sticky

                                                 Reviews by Ken Burke

 There’s not even an implied connection between these 2 cinematic expressions under review this time (except they both manage to transcend the formulaic-expectations of their respective superhero fantasy and romantic comedy genres), but they’re both worth watching, for the unique perspectives in the former, the large-scale-action with more intimate human realities of the latter.
                                    The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)
A Pakistani-American stand-up comic in Chicago becomes attracted to a woman in his audience, they date, but he doesn’t tell her his traditional family’s still trying to fix him up in an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman, which leads to a breakup with his new lover until she falls into a coma; this is all based on real events, presented mostly as an effective comedy.
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): We begin with Kumail, a struggling young Pakistani-American stand-up-comic in Chicago; one night he has some dialogue with a young woman, Emily, in his audience, continues talking to her after his set, takes her to his cramped apartment (complete with talkative roommate) where they have sex, but when she attempts to go home by calling an Uber driver it’s his phone that rings.  She attempts to not get involved, saying she needs to focus on her graduate school work in therapy-counseling to which he agrees, yet they keep seeing each other (with more sex of course) to the point they’re regularly dating as he continues to pursue his moderately-successful comedy career while also offering a 1-man-show, both of which are based on his observations about how different the U.S. is from Pakistan (his routine is somewhat funny—in a dry sort of way [maybe a lingering influence from British Empire days]), but the 1-man-show gets to be more of a lecture, although Emily and his comedian friends (who regularly lie to him about how well he’s doing) try to be encouraging.  His parents are encouraging too, but on a different quest, that of getting him into an arranged marriage with a willing Pakistani woman, as an endless line of them keep “dropping in” (complete with photos and contact info) when he visits his family for dinner; in a painful attempt to not alienate them, he doesn’t say anything about Emily (although he does come clean about her with his brother, Naveed).  This all goes wrong one day in his apt. when Emily comes upon the cigar box where he keeps the women’s photos, hurting her deeply such secrets have been kept from her so she breaks up with him, only to soon be rushed to a hospital with some strange condition requiring her to be put into a medically-induced-coma while the doctors try to find out what’s causing her infections.

 Soon her parents arrive from North Carolina, don’t understand while Kumail’s still sitting vigil at the hospital, ask him to leave (which he doesn’t), setting us up for where this plot goes in somewhat unexpected ways that can only be revealed in the spoiler-filled-review just below.  What I can say is this is a delightful story based on the actual situation of the lead actor, which manages to combine constant humor with insightful understandings of the human condition in a quirky story that defies the normal convention of silly rom-com plots; I highly encourage you to see it if it comes to your area (which I hope it does, although it’s now only in 326 domestic theaters after 3 weeks in release).

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.

What Happens: Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is trying to build a career in comedy with his regular gig at a club in Chicago, along with an in-progress-1-man-show in a small theatre, with all his material based on his experiences of the contrast between the Pakistan he was born in and the culture of the U.S. where his parents immigrated when he was a boy.  His humor is of the dry, think-about-it-for-a-second sort (with the play falling far too easily into lecture mode rather than useful comedy, except at how boring it’s coming across) so his career’s stalled—just like his fellow-comedians at the club—with few great prospects on the horizon, much to the frustration of his family who prefer he’d be in law school.  His parents, especially his mother, Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff), also want him to marry a Pakistani woman so every time he visits them for dinner a prospective member of an attempted arranged marriage just happens to drop in, with her photo and contact information joining a growing collection in his cigar box, with no intention by Kumail in pursuing any of them—he’s not pursuing the Muslim religion either (out of disinterest, not outright rejection) so when he excuses himself to go to the basement to pray he’s actually just killing time playing video games—why no one else in this religious family’s not praying either isn’t explained.

 One night, though, his life takes a sudden happy turn when he strikes up a conversation with Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young woman in the audience (she’s not heckling, but as he explains after his set, it still throws his timing off); their timing for the night is right, though, as she goes back to his small apartment, takes his advice to avoid conversation with his talkative roommate, has sex with him after watching about a minute of Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)—how romantic can you get?—but then wants to leave only to find her call for an Uber driver is answered by him.  She tries to cut off any attempt at a relationship, wanting to put her energies into her grad school work (psychological therapy); he agrees but calls anyway, she responds, soon they’re a regular couple (“overwhelmed” with each other), with her North Carolina parents finding out all about him.

 His parents know nothing of her, however (although he finally tells the truth to his brother, Naveed [Adeel Akhtar] who’s not supportive of the idea at all), nor does Emily know anything yet about the onslaught of her lover's arranged-marriage-options until a fateful day when she stumbles onto his cigar box.  She’s terribly hurt at being kept a secret from his family and that in deference to them he might actually succumb to an arranged-marriage so she abruptly breaks off their relationship.  Soon, though, he gets a call from her close friend that Emily’s been taken to a local emergency room, so he rushes right over to the hospital where she is, then pretends to be her husband so he can give permission for her to be put into a necessary medically-induced-coma while the doctors try to figure out what’s causing her lung infection.  He also contacts her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), who soon arrive but question why he’s there anymore as Mom especially is aware of how distraught Emily was to learn of the secrets surrounding their failed romance (although she had one of her own: she was previously—briefly—married, but she does tell him about it, with the argument her situation’s now in the past with no impact on their future but his is preventing a future from even occurring for them).  Despite the parents’ wishes he simply leave, he continues to hang around the ICU waiting room, finally getting them into conversation with him, although Emily’s situation's not clear days later even after what was supposed to be a healing operation as infection continues to spread to her kidneys.

 Eventually Beth and Terry stay at Emily’s apt., agree to watch Kumail’s act (Beth gets into a loud hassle with a racist-frat-boy-heckler so they have to leave), show hostility toward each other (Terry admits later to Kumail it's been festering ever since he had a 1-night-stand, then told his wife about it out of guilt), eventually decide to move Emily to top-rated Northwestern Hospital (the one she’s in is only #17 in this huge city) but have to abandon that when the infection moves into her heart.
 Distraught, Kumail does a horrible job with his act that night, intended as an audition for the Montreal Comedy Festival, being both morbidly serious and flat in his comic attempts, but the next day Emily revives when a comment Kumail made about her sprained ankle not healing after several weeks miraculously leads to the discovery she's been fighting (even in her coma) an auto-immune-disorder (known to the medical profession as a condition called Adult-onset Still’s disease) which can be controlled with the proper use of appropriate medications.  Everyone’s jubilant she’s on the road to recovery, but she still doesn’t want to see Kumail, despite his long vigil in concern for her condition.  Later, there’s a welcome-back-party at her apt., Kumail attends, privately shows her a few things including the ashes of the Pakistani-women’s photos as he’s now been honest to his parents about everything (which caused them to disown him), yet she still doesn’t want to risk getting involved with him again so he leaves, deciding to move to NYC with a couple of comedian friends in hopes of jump-starting their careers (we’re given a little touch of hope here in that one of them’s played by Aidy Bryant, a current regular on NBC TV’s Saturday Night Live).  Back in Chicago, Emily had watched the YouTube video of Kamail’s horrible set but understood his sincere concern for her, visited him one night after his 1-man show was over to learn he's leaving Chicago, then appears unannounced in NYC when he’s doing his act, indicating their relationship will connect after all (no hints about what his parents will think, though, as his mother still wouldn’t look at him on the day he left for the East Coast, although Dad Azmat [Anupam Kher] was more conciliatory).

Real-life spouses/co-screenwriters Kamail and Emily
So What? If you think anything seems absurd about this story, we again have solid proof that life can be so much stranger than fiction because this is all based on real events that led to the actual Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself in this film that he co-wrote, stars in) and Emily V. Gordon (... Sick's co-screenwriter) meeting in a Chicago comedy club, falling in love, enduring her awful medical crisis (although a review I’ve read says they never broke up during this time), then getting married.  How much creative license has been taken in the film's depiction of their families I have no way of knowing, although in the 3rd link to this film way below you’ll find an interview with this creative-couple in which Kamail says his parents came to accept her (we get a few quick photos of the actual folks during the start of the end credits, including their Pakistani wedding, with what appears to be his parents in attendance) which is not the impression you’re left with in the film (especially concerning Sharmeen), so I guess these real-world/Old-World elders also are tolerant of the rather negative impression we’re left with of them in the script, as opposed to Emily’s parents who’re depicted as having come to really appreciate—probably love—Kamail, with their final hopes their daughter might someday come to a different conclusion about the guy she’s so hesitant to reconnect with.  Screenwriter Nanjiani implies some in-narrative-reconciliation with his actual parents, though, in a scene where after being disowned  for his heresies Kamail barges in on a family dinner to which there’s no longer a plate set out for him, telling them all (parents, brother, sister-in-law) that, like it or not, he’s still a part of this family, then leaves without even any sense of acceptance or agreement from any of them.

 There are enough odd-but-enticing-moments in this unique dramedy (with lots of solid laughs throughout the running time, tempered by legitimate-feeling aspects of human mistakes) a variety of viewers can likely find reason to relate to but one that immediately caught my attention (it’s shown in the trailer, 2nd link with this film far below) is when Terry crashes with Kamail in his small place one night after a fight with Beth, trying to explain to the younger man why love’s so complicated (“That why they call it love.”), a conclusion Kamail doesn’t understand; Terry admits it’s no great insight, just an attempt on his part to start saying something with hopes the ending will be meaningful even though he wasn’t able to make it so.  That kind of thing used to happen to me all the time when delivering lectures in my former life as a Mills College Film Studies professor, as I worked very loosely from my extensive notes, allowing spontaneity to take over even as I’d start a sentence suddenly realizing I had no idea how to finish it but push on I did until somehow I made my way to some sense of closure.  Based on responses I got from my students, I think I had some useful realizations I wasn’t aware of before the thought started working its way out of my subconscious; however, I’ll never know for sure because, unlike my students, I wasn’t taking notes on the lectures so I never really knew for sure what I said in those instances.  Later, when I started compiling lengthy lecture notes into course readers to distribute to them I told the students to always focus their studying for tests on their textbook readings—including my compiled notes—rather than any serendipitous remarks because I wouldn’t test them on something I couldn’t even prove I’d said.

 Now I wish I’d recorded those lectures because I’d probably been able to learn a lot from them, assuming whatever evolved in those random statements was actually true (hopefully it was, or at least I never got any after-the-fact-challenges about “Wait a minute!  That’s not right!”).  I’ve never encountered a reference to something like this in a film before, helping further individualize The Big Sick for me, with hopes similar components of it might yield the same effective result for others.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: 
In last week's posting I noted how, in attempting to write about Baby Driver (Edgar Wright), that words could just get repetitiously-frustrating trying to apply them to a strong cinematic experience so both audio- and visually-oriented that attempts at making verbal equivalents are inadequate in hoping for this filmic-work to come alive again on a small computer—rather than a large theater—screen; I’ll have to say the same thing applies to The Big Sick (not the most attractive title but a memorable one, which is likely more useful in trying to call attention to this unique independent film than it is in being eloquent) because the full range of emotions displayed among the many characters, along with the nature of Kumail’s odd sense of humor (which, as presented—probably intentionallyoften comes across as funnier in his offhand interchanges than in his stage acts), becomes hard to replicate in essay-words (maybe reading the script would give a reasonable facsimile of watching ... Sick, but I doubt it) so, once again, I heartily encourage you to go see this film for yourself or at least keep it in mind when available in some form of video (which may be soon as the film’s found its way to only 326 theaters so far in the domestic [U.S.-Canada] market, even after 3 weeks in release, making only $7.7 million worldwide [almost all of that domestically] thus far, so unless word-of-mouth begins to set fire to ticket sales I think you’ll have to seek another form of “on demand” to see it).  However, if critical opinion has any relevance here, there may be further interest as … Sick’s scored 97% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes along with an extremely-respectable-average of 87% at usually-more-demanding-Metacritic (details in the links to this film much farther below), so if what we reviewers offer to our publics can make a positive impact on the reception of a work of art, I hope this will prove true for The Big Sick, an amusing, charming, sad-at-times example of how life can be successfully rearranged into an arresting fiction.

Kamail's filmic-family in happier times (i.e. before Emily's appearance)
 You might be aware that I try to end each review with a Musical Metaphor, intended to offer one last comment through aural artistry to some connection—be it solid, vague, or just whimsical at times—with what’s just been analyzed, so in the case of The Big Sick I’m drawn to a Beach Boys song, “I’m Waiting for the Day” (from their very significant 1966 Pet Sounds album—I’d love to say “influential” but it’s a musical expression probably more honored for itself than used as a model for others to follow) at https://www. B2ne_yQlwGY (although, if you’d like to see Brian Wilson perform this live [at LA’s Greek Theatre on October 20, 2013, supposedly with original B Boys Al Jardine and David Marks, even though I can’t say I see either of them in this video] then go here) because even though these lyrics are about a guy who’s trying to be a sensitive new lover to a woman in distress because some other man “broke [her] heart […] But you know that pretty soon I made you feel glad [… because] you’re the only one, I’m waiting for the day when you can love again,” while in … Sick’s case Kamail’s in the role of both heartbreaker and better-alternative, as he even admits to Emily when he’s trying to win her back he’s a changed man since she went into her coma, telling her that “You didn’t think that I could sit around and let you go,” although ultimately she’s the one to make the reconnection decision, implied nicely in the film’s last scene, with the verification of Nanjiani and Gordon’s off-screen-marriage truly ending The Big Sick with a healthy, happy romance (which finds ways to appreciate Pakistani Muslims, a needed addition to the media-images of our American society).
                    Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts)
Peter Parker’s story’s rebooted again (no radioactive-spider-bites shown this time; this new version of the web-slinger’s already known to us from Captain America: Civil War), as a high-school-vigilante under the tutelage of Tony Stark/Iron Man; Peter’s now dealing with Avengers-envy plus his standard adolescent qualms about girls, proms, bullies, and Spanish tests.
What Happens: Once again we’re treated to the story of young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) developing his identity as Spider-Man (firmly in high school this time, with detention, tests, parties, and the Homecoming prom as major factors in this adolescent’s life, even as he intentionally cuts back on school activities to be available should he get a call from Tony Stark/Iron Man [Robert Downey Jr.] to take on Avengers tasks—a call that never comes because Stark wants this kid to lay low, take care of petty crime in his NYC area [Queens to be specific, where I spent a couple of years in the early ‘70s] while better learning how to control his superhuman skills passed on from a radioactive-spider’s bite [which we don’t see this time, with the probable assumption this aspect of Peter’s life has been clearly established enough in the 2 previous Sony Spider-Man series beginning in 2002]), with exuberant early scenes of a smartphone video shot by Peter in his previous encounter with the Avengers (Captain America: Civil War [Anthony and Joe Russo, 2016; review in our May 13, 2016  posting]), after which Stark sends him back home to continue his seasoning, even though frisky Mr. Parker wants to evolve beyond retrieving stolen bikes or other Boy Scout-level-activities even as he’s dealing with normal adolescent challenges like trying to connect with Liz (Laura Harrier), who admires him as a whip-smart-member of their Midtown School of Science and Technology’s Academic Decathlon team but hesitates in taking his interest any further.  That might change when she invites him to a party at her parent’s sprawling suburban home, but Peter’s distracted by far-away-events, races to the location (creating some clumsy—although funny—havoc along the way) to find once again crooks with powerful weapons beyond the capacity of normal lawkeepers to control (he encountered such before when he broke up a local ATM robbery).

 The source of these weapons is disgruntled former industrial-cleanup-specialist Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who once thought he had a gold mine of ongoing work repairing the parts of Manhattan that were badly damaged 8 years earlier in the first Marvel superhero team-up (The Avengers [Joss Whedon, 2012; review in our May 12, 2012 posting]) when these guardians of Earth fought off the invading cosmic forces of Thor’s evil brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston); however,  we see Toomes and his team soon out of work as a U.S. government agency headed by Anne Marie Hoag (Tyne Daly) took command of their job, gathering all the alien hardware left behind from the battle.  Toomes took some of this stuff as he departed, gathered more over time, constructed wicked weapons for the highest bidders, as well as a large, mechanical flying contraption for himself in his Vulture villain-persona.  Long story (well, 133 min. total, just a bit over standard-movie-run-time) short, Peter tries to track the Vulture to his headquarters in Maryland (with the help of close friend Ned [Jacob Batalon], who accidently discovers Spider-Man’s secret identity), leading to near-disaster for his Decathlon team (in D.C. for a tournament Peter manages to miss, but they win anyway) in the Washington Monument where Spider-Man eventually saves them all, including Liz, leading to a firm admonition from Stark to Peter to stand down in his above-pay-grade-quests, but the kid can’t help himself so when Parker tries to capture Vulture and his crew selling weapons on the Staten Island Ferry, a battle results that cuts the boat in half, forcing Peter to use every ounce of his strength (and chemistry-class-manufactured-spider-webbing) to hold it in place until Iron Man arrives to put it all together again.  

 Complications continue as Peter shockingly learns Toomes is Liz’s father, out to highjack an Avengers airplane carrying a huge load of top-secret-stuff to a new upstate NY location; through a huge in-air-conflict, Peter manages to crash the plane at Coney Island, then digs Toomes out of the rubble he’s caused (saving his life) when some devices he tried to steal explode (even though Vulture left Peter to die under another pile of concrete when this confrontation started that night).

This series' version of the original Spider-Man costume
before the high-tech, Tony Stark-supplied upgrade.
 As all of this frantic plot comes to closure as Toomes is taken into custody, Liz is moved to Oregon while her father goes on trial so she seems to be out of Peter’s life without ever knowing how he was the one who rescued Adrian after the plane crash (although Dad also discovered Spider-Man’s secret identity, but in a quick scene during the credits he denies that to another inmate who's offering his outsourced-services to kill Spider-Man in retaliation for Vulture's capture, yet Adrian just turns down the offer seemingly in respect of how Peter saved the plausibly-doomed-lives of both Toomes, father and daughter), Stark offers Peter his prized-acceptance into the Avengers but he declines (the whiz kid seemingly realizing he’s still got some maturing to do but also making it corporately-convenient as to when this character will show up in the Disney-controlled Avengers stories or just have singular adventures under Sony's roof), then returns home to find Stark’s returned his high-tech-Spider-Man-suit (taken away after the ferry incident so that in the climatic battle Spidey’s uniform was the original crude mask/hoodie-combination) but just as he puts it on he’s surprised by Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) as the scene cuts to credits.  One last bit at the very end parodies the traditional Marvel post-credits teasers with Captain America (Chris Evans) doing one last promo (he’s done a couple earlier-on-videos at the school, encouraging good teenage behavior), this time talking about the frustration which can come waiting patiently for something that doesn’t seem worth your wasted time when it finally arrives.

So What? This latest superhero flick’s already so ubiquitous that if you haven’t seen it yet you’re probably part of a vast minority worldwide (this movie's global take so far is about $268.7 million [roughly $129.2 million of that from the domestic market—playing in 4,348 theaters in northern North America] after just 1 week in release) so I doubt that there’s much I can say at this point to sway you one way or the other, although I certainly do want to recommend your attendance while it’s on the majestic big-screen because like others of its ilk, whether from various owners of various Marvel properties that range all the way from the current Sony offering (Spidey), to Disney (the large Avengers group plus Guardians of the Galaxy), to 20th Century Fox (the even larger collection of X-Men) or Warner Bros. for various DC stalwarts (including the “holy trinity” of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), the special effects justify the $175 million budget with many web-swinging-scenes played out in spectacular fashion while more-intimate character relations also resonate well, with Tony Stark as his established-obnoxious-self in a pseudo-father-role with Peter; (Aunt) May as a much hotter property than in the comic books I’m familiar with* (or how that traditional portrayal was carried into the earlier Spider-Man series when her character was played by Rosemary Harris [in the Sam Raimi-directed-versions of 2002, 2004, 2007, Tobey Maguire in the lead role] or Sally Field [in the Marc Webb-helmed-versions in 2012, 2014 starring Andrew Garfield; reviews in our July 12, 2012, May 8, 2014 postings]); a very
clear sense this is viably a 15-year-old-high-school-sophomore (even though Tom Holland is now 21 he’s still passably seen as of juvenile appearance, even has a high-enough-pitched-voice that one of his confronters isn’t sure if it’s actually a girl under that mysterious red mask—which marks a nice conceptual change from assumptions about the all-male-hero-paradigm, a long-established-cultural "norm" which the current huge-box-office-success of Wonder Woman [Patty Jenkins; you can find a supportive review in our June 8, 2017 posting]—$746.7 million worldwide so far—has helped to challenge) who’s sincerely trying to succeed with his new-found-abilities while easily falling victim to his own emerging-adult-emotional-limitations; along with some grandiose, computer-driven special effects, especially the climactic scene of Spider-Man taking down the Avengers self-flying-plane while simultaneously battling the deadly, high-flying Vulture (here’s a Variety article with 5 reasons … Homecoming’s had such a grand debut—including younger-viewer-appeal, fortuitous-timing in this 2017 summer schedule, and links to the well-established, highly-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe [MCU]).

*But, as I’ve noted before, I’m not nearly as up on Marvel backstories—that these movies are based on, more than I realized—as I used to be with the DC ones (although that’s also fading fast), so if you’re as out of touch on what may be inspiring story lines in this—and other—Spider-Man cinematic stories I encourage you to view the 3rd link in the group connected below to this movie for a useful refresher/revelation on how much of what we see on screen’s not that original after all but probably does please the die-hard-fanboys (and girls) who constantly analyze this sort of thing.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Comic-book-based-superhero-movies often end up with difficulties getting praise from critics looking for more substantial plots and complex characters than these stories are likely to provide, but that’s generally not been the case with … Homecoming where those surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes offered a highly-supportive 93% cluster of positive reviews (although those included in the Metacritic tally were considerably more restrained with an average score of 73%; details on both in links a bit farther below), setting up an opportunity for me to explain my 3½ stars for something my overall comments might imply deserves a 4.  My score’s mathematically in line with the Metacritic reviews (3½ of 5 = 70%, although there’s always my “fudge factor” to be considered because I’m terribly stingy with any rating over 4, saving those stars for truly exceptional cinema) whereas RT ratings tend to be noticeably higher than those at MC because all a review at that former site has to do is be deemed “positive” to go into the “win” column, so when 93% of 228 shows that result it seems overwhelming, even though when you read
the full context of many of those reviews you will find frequent negative comments because RT doesn’t offer a “mixed” status like MC does—although how the MC custodians calculate the specific numerical scores for many of their included reviews  is a process that still mystifies me.  Thus, I can fundamentally “like” … Homecoming in just a reductionist “thumbs up" or "down” manner but still  perceive reasonable reservations enough to temper my stars a bit, especially with superhero movies which are mostly required to follow certain formula-constructs even if some added-attributes help distinguish a few of them from the pack, as is ... Homecoming's case.  

 For me, a superior superhero movie needs something like the psychotic-character-insights into The Joker (Heath Ledger) or even Batman (Christian Bale) himself in The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) or a foundational sense of caring—rather than just the ego-gratification we see with most of the Avengers—such as what we find from a demi-god in Wonder Woman to rate 4 stars (or more?), although I was also willing to offer that honor to both The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 if you’d like to slip back in time to see what fascinated me about them (but, as usual, please disregard as much as you can the lousy layouts I was content with back then which look especially bad on Firefox so I encourage you to view on Safari or Chrome if available).

 None of this rationale explanation should cause you any hesitation in going to see Spider-Man: Homecoming if you’re among the likely few who haven’t done so already, but I’m just saying that along with what's been constructed in this blend of magnificent computer-generated-imagery where Spidey careens through various landscapes, the effective comic timing of Jon Favreau as “Happy” Hogan (who, as Stark’s loyal assistant, shows no interest in Peter’s reports of his activities in hopes of promotion to Avenger), or the appearance of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) at the ending's press conference where Stark was to announce Spider-Man’s inclusion into the superhero team, then gets upstaged when the kid turns down the offer (with the announced-event seemingly saved by Tony’s decision to propose to Pepper in public, but we’ll have to wait to see if that plot twist carries over into the next MCU episode) you also get the requisite amount of troubled-heroic-sacrifices for the greater good, spectacular scenes not really needed to move the story along (the Staten Island Ferry near-catastrophe looks great but is too-easily-resolved, not even resulting in an effective stand-down of Spider-Man, who’s soon back on the Vulture’s trail—admittedly, because Happy’s not interested in Peter's attempted phone warning about hijacking of the Avenger plane), and questioning on the part of the protagonist if all the efforts on humanity’s behalf are really worth it.  Taken together, you get a satisfying return on your investment, great for distraction from current-real-world-awfulness, but still not quite as finely-focused a cinematic-experience as is The Big Sick, at least in my opinion.

This goofy image (not actually from the movie) 
is indicative of the sparse selections available 
 for me to enhance this review; even the site 
where I can buy images is prevented from 
releasing them until a week after opening 
night which doesn't work with my posting 
schedule so I beg your indulgence for not 
having access to a better range of shots.
 My honored opinion also leads me to make a somewhat-silly-choice for … Homecoming’s Musical Metaphor, in tribute to the often-whimsical-tone of this movie, so I’ll combine Spider-Man’s amazing ability to swing himself through urban jungles via his webbing (not unlike Tarzan in nature’s jungles with his ever-present-vines) along with his decision to stay somewhat local, moderately-heralded (for now at least, but we know that will surely change in the near future) to sum up this latest interpretation of our well-known-web-slinger’s most-recent-adventures with Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” (from their 1978 self-titled debut album) found at https://www. (this is a 10:38 live performance from the 1988 70th Birthday Tribute to Nelson Mandela, with amazing duo lead guitar work by Mark Knopfler and guest Eric Clapton, virtuosity ranging from subtle to near-screaming notes) in recognition of these lyrics about an obscure “trumpet playing band” (not the equivalent of the Avengers, what the “crowd of young boys” noted in the song or the headline-attentive-audiences within these movies would “call rock and roll”) that Parker’s willing to emulate at this point, as “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” until he’s more ready to “get up under the lights to play his thing” in some upcoming Marvel/Sony/Disney movies when he knows he’ll draw crowds “out of the rain to hear the jazz go down [despite any] Competition in other places” as Spidey’s story will continue on for years, in solo work and with his ultimate Sultans, the world-famous Avengers.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are just too many to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 forward this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about The Big Sick: (7:09 interview with director/co-screenwriter/actor/real-life-husband Kumail Nanjiani and co-screenwriter/real-life-wife Emily V. Gordon about the transformation of their lives into a now-very-well-received film script)

Here’s more information about Spider-Man: Homecoming: (14:35 video about Easter Eggs references from the comic books) and (11:25 video about the post-credits scene—very detailed, in that this explanation runs considerably longer than the scene itself, filling in information for those of us who haven’t been reading Spider-Man comics for the last 50 years—along with quick comments on the parodic-post-credit scene using Captain America)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 7/6/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 36,978; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (by total chance, the 2nd most after a whopping tally from the U.S. come from Pakistan so they must have known I’d be writing about The Big Sick [how cleverly-prescient of them]):