Out on Friday July 7
Spidey gets a reboot and a new tech-suit. Terrence Malick turns a fish-eyed lens on Austin’s music scene. Trey Edwards Shults delivers a taut paranoid thriller. An orphan gets raised by an anthropomorphic warrior bear.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Song to Song, It Comes at Night, The Boy and the Beast, The Last Word, A Change in the Weather, The Midwife, Tommy’s Honour, and The Tree of Wooden Clogs.
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Do we really need a second Spider-Man reboot in five years? Sure, the tyro web-slinger’s exuberant cameo during the airport smackdown in Captain America: Civil War was fun and, crucially, fresh, all zestful gymnastics and zinging gags, but really, haven’t we seen Spider-Man do whatever a spider can over three Tobey Maguire movies and two Andrew Garfield films? That famous red-and-blue onesie is smelling an itsy bitsy bit noxious.
Well, unitard + rightful universe (this is Spidey’s first solo screen outing in the MCU) = an adventure washed of fatigue and spritzed with Febreze. Picking up pretty much where Civil War left off, we find a 15-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) juggling schoolwork and spandex as mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tells him to build up his game by helping the little people.
By day he hangs out with best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon) and snarky Michelle (Zendaya) while crushing on bright and beautiful senior Liz (Laura Harrier). By night – or rather between 2.45pm, when school lets out, and 10pm, lest Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) worry – he too-soon kicks off his training wheels and embarks on a mission worthy of a fully-fledged Avenger: to clip the mechanical wings of The Vulture (Michael Keaton).
Keaton brings intriguing baggage to the part having played Batman and Birdman, and is made more interesting still by his antagonist possessing a legitimate gripe against Stark, who’s profited from the clean-up of New York following the alien invasion seen in Avengers Assemble.
Compare that to the man inside the battle-armoured bird – Adrian Toomes is a blue-collar construction boss when we meet him sifting through the rubble soon after that very attack. His business is crushed when the suits take over; fast-forward eight years and so what if he’s pilfered some of the Chitauri tech to fashion kickass weapons for the highest bidders, taking wing in the process? How is that different to Tony’s funding of Stark Industries?
Such piquant psychology and grounded storytelling is the very foundation of Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming. Taking its cue from the first dozen or so Amazing Spider-Man comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the early ‘60s, the Ultimate Spider-Man arc of the noughties and John Hughes’ ‘80s teen movies, this is a contained, emotionally centred tale about finding yourself.
“I’m nothing without this suit,” a distraught Peter tells Tony, to which his inevitable reply is, “Then you shouldn’t have it.” Yes, it features a vertiginous set-piece atop the Washington Monument; sure, the Staten Island Ferry splits vertically in two; and hell yeah, there’s climactic sky-high battle thrown in, but it’s also a character drama set largely in Queens and a recognisable high-school.
So good are these quiet, quotidian moments that you can’t help wishing they lasted longer. At one point Peter attends a house party only to suit up and rush off before he’s even spotted a keg, while the homecoming prom referenced in the clever title is similarly short-changed. Hughes’ movies are, undoubtedly, in the film’s DNA – there’s even a genius visual gag that riffs on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – but not so much as the promo talk had us believe. This is, first and foremost, a Marvel movie, just with a younger hero.
And what a hero. Ebullient, fretful and permanently awestruck, Holland is a delight as both Parker and Spidey, for his USP as the MVP in the MCU is his athleticism. This, after all, is the actor who leapt on the scene with a grand jeté by playing the title role in Billy Elliot the Musical.
Here, his dance training allows him to be his own stuntman when the mask is in place, and Watts proves an able partner by largely avoiding videogame shots to enhance that grounded feel – at least until the inevitable Spidey vs Vulture climax, which like so many superhero finales before, becomes something of a stretched-out slugfest. Briefer and better are Holland’s over-eager interactions with Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau as security heavy Happy Hogan. Never mind Tobey Maguire’s jazzy street-strut – this is what Spidey having fun really looks like.
And fun is what Spider-Man: Homecoming is really all about, from Peter trying to get to grips with his new Stark-fashioned tech-suit replete with its own AI to a hilarious post-credits sting that caps a running gag involving one of the other Avengers. Holland, like his character, is clearly having a blast throughout, and you’ll know just how he feels.
Verdict: Spidey’s got a spring in his step once more. The planned sequels will re-join him for junior year and then senior year. We’ll happily enrol right now.
Director: Jon Watts; Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.; Theatrical release: July 5, 2017
Song to Song
A continuation of the intimate, fragmentary ‘story’-telling style that informed Knight of Cups and To the Wonder, Terrence Malick’s latest mosaic of murmurs, metaphysics and magnified magic hours sees ace DoP Emmanuel Lubezki bend time and space as he turns a fish-eyed lens on Austin’s music scene.
Squint into the sunset and you’ll spy a speck of plot involving singer-songwriter Rooney Mara twirling between Ryan Gosling’s soulful artist and Michael Fassbender’s Mephistophelian producer. Mind you, it’s easy to get distracted by the likes of Natalie Portman, Bérénice Marlohe and Cate Blanchett floating through, and by the iconic musos – Flea, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith – drifting through VIP areas at outdoor rock concerts. The original title, Weightless, fits like a gossamer glove.
Admittedly, Song to Song feels like a remix of Malick’s favourite tics, tricks and themes, but here the leads are more compelling than in Malick’s last couple, and they even occasionally talk to each other, to ground the action amid the usual celestial thought-bubbles that act as a scattered voiceover.
It makes for Terry’s most substantial outing since his work rate suddenly accelerated, though his recent declaration that he’s now ready to return to narrative filmmaking is certainly welcome.
THE VERDICT: No Badlands, but the best of the recent minor Malicks. And it features Val Kilmer with a chainsaw.
Director: Terrence Malick; Starring: Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender; Theatrical release: July 7, 2017
It Comes at Night
The trailer for Trey Edwards Shults’ Krisha follow-up sells it as a Blumhouse-esque multiplex-pleaser. Instead, this tale of a survivalist patriarch who gives a young family refuge is an intimate and hauntingly ambiguous horror that favours paranoia over rote scare tactics.
An uncompromisingly bleak slow burn, it leaves the pulse frantic and nerves frayed.
Director: Trey Edward Shults; Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo; Theatrical release: July 7, 2017
The Boy and the Beast
Despite the (temporary) retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, anime is having a storming 2017. This is the latest must-watch, about an orphan who is raised by an anthropomorphic warrior bear after stumbling into a magical alt-universe.
The burgeoning bond between man and monster hits soaring emotional heights, even if the new world feels a little under-developed.
Director: Mamoro Hosoda; Starring: Bryn Apprill, Kumiko Asô, Morgan Berry; Theatrical release: July 7, 2017
The Last Word
Shirley MacLaine douses her tongue in acid once more to play Harriet, who hires journo Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to pen her obituary – not easy when even her priest despises her and her gynaecologist says, “She has the angriest vagina this side of China.”
Much mellowing and life-learning ensues in a plodding dramedy, though the glint in MacLaine’s eyes makes it almost worth your while. Almost.
Director: Mark Pellington; Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, AnnJewel Lee Dixon; Theatrical release: July 7, 2017
A Change in the Weather
For his portrait of ageing actors juggling love, life and art, no-budget director Jon Sanders (Late September) favours a gloomy outlook. Like an austerity-pinched Mike Leigh, Sanders’ stress on long, improvised takes spotlights raw-nerves performances; Anna Mottram and Bob Goody excel.
It’s bold, yet the emphases on reality and acting divisions, plus midlife torpor, get old fast.
Director: Jon Sanders; Starring: Meret Becker, Douglas Finch, Maxine Finch; Theatrical release: July 7, 2017
Martin Provost’s Parisian drama stars Catherine Frot as Claire, a single mother and midwife reacquainted with her late father’s terminally ill mistress Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve).
With recriminations turning to compassion, the film sings when these French titans share the screen, Deneuve’s loose cannon a mixture of hedonism and terror. If only the other scenes were as compelling.
Director: Martin Provost; Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Frot, Olivier Gourmet; Theatrical release: July 7, 2017
Fathers and sons, tradition and innovation, love and loss… There’s more than just golf to Jason ‘Son of Sean’ Connery’s biopic of Tom and Tommy Morris (Peter Mullan and Jack Lowden), two of the founders of the modern game.
OK, so enough time is spent on the fairways to put some viewers off, but Tommy’s Honour scores a hole in one with its unpacking of the class wars at play.
Director: Jason Connery; Starring: Sam Neill, Ophelia Lovibond, Peter Mullan; Theatrical release: July 7, 2017
The Tree of Wooden Clogs
Generally reckoned the masterpiece of Italian director Ermanno Olmi, this rural epic, dating from 1978, follows a year in the lives of four peasant families in 19th Century Lombardy.
Using a non-professional cast it demands patience, but stick with it and its warm, gentle humanism, plus Olmi’s affection for his characters, soon become beguiling.
Director: Ermanno Olmi; Starring: Luigi Ornaghi, Francesca Moriggi, Omar Brignoli; Theatrical release: July 7, 2017