Wednesday 13 December 2017

Review - Spider-Man: Homecoming: Marvel's most tangibly human screen creations to date

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Caught in the web: Tom Holland in the titular role in Spider-Man Homecoming
Caught in the web: Tom Holland in the titular role in Spider-Man Homecoming
War of the Planet of the Apes

Ushering Spider-Man into the modern cinematic age has been problematic to say the least.

In the late 1970s, a groovy, saxophone-themed take went straight to TV sets. Tobey Maguire donned the red spandex for three Sam Raimi films that suspended the web-slinger in a post-9/11 New York. Bizarrely, Sony did reboots just three years after Raimi's third outing. Andrew Garfield starred in those two films, but the question remained: Why isn't Spidey working on the big screen?

Swooping to the rescue was Disney, whose Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) now straddles the globe. Cameos alongside various Avengers led to this complete screen makeover of Marvel Comics' biggest traditional cashcow, and it's a case of fourth time lucky.

Not that luck was involved. Instead, director Jon Watts and a team of writers get the basics of the character right - the high school awkwardness, the coming-of-age heroism, the salt-of-the-earth New Yorker tonality. Young Tom Holland fills the suit perfectly as Peter Parker, going up against Michael Keaton's winged weapons designer by night and negotiating much bigger stresses by day in the school corridor with classroom crush Liz (Laura Harrier).

To help suck the new-and-improved Spider-Man into the MCU, brand lynchpin Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) pops up to hold Peter's hand.

It's not perfect - Harrier's love interest and Marisa Tomei's guardian are paper-thin - but on the whole, Watts delivers fun, charm, danger and heart.

Equally, these characters are Marvel's most tangibly human screen creations to date, which matters a lot.

★★★★ Hilary A White

War for the Planet  of the Apes

Cert: 12A; Opens July 11

This third film in the prequel trilogy of the Planet of the Apes is set 15 years since the events of the first film. Much has changed, not least the advances in CGI that make these apes emote more than the humans. It's a strange enough dynamic where the audience is rooting for the victory of another species but this is where this movie, serious in all senses, takes us.

Pitching more for classic than blockbuster with a Great Escape/Ape-Apocalypse Now vibe, it does have flaws but fans of the franchise should very much enjoy director and co-writer Matt Reeves's visually stunning episode.

After 15 years of war between man and monkey there are no winners. Humanity has been decimated by war and the Simian Flu, the bellicose bonobo Koba is dead and the more peaceful-minded Caesar is holed up with his followers waiting to find somewhere to escape to.

The film opens amongst a group of human soldiers, loyal to the fanatical military renegade The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who is both Col Kurtz-esque and a nutter who wants to build a wall. He goes after the mythological Caesar, killing his wife and son, and turning the former peacekeeper into a vengeful chimp. Narrative is not the film's greatest strength, but it still holds its own over the 140-minute run time. ★★★★  Aine O'Connor

The Midwife

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Martin Provost's story of two women covers life from start to finish, birth to death and focuses on making the most of everything in between. It is not new territory, it's classic feelgood albeit in this case inimitably French, but two wonderful Catherines offer excellent performances with great chemistry, taking it from good to great.

Claire (Catherine Frot) is The Midwife (Sage Femme) of the title, 49, dowdy, sensible, healthy, controlled and rigidly uptight, she has locked herself in a very specific environment. But circumstances beyond her control are changing her life. Her job in a local maternity clinic is ending, her only child is moving in with his girlfriend and into this changing future comes Claire's past. Her father's former girlfriend Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) asks to meet up after 30 years, looking for news of the only man she ever really loved.

Claire keeps everyone at a distance, calling them "vous" instead of the more familiar "tu", engaging only minimally but there is an additional anger in her dealings with Beatrice which is explained as their history unfolds. But Beatrice is ill and Claire is a carer and the older woman, a drinking, smoking, animal-fat consuming old school gambler knows how to live in a way Claire has long ago rejected. Confidently told, it doesn't manipulate emotion but allows the script and two great performances - Deneuve is brilliant - to conjure a sweet, affecting, uplifting two hours. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Cert: 15A; Now showing

The cast who made Christian O'Reilly's play, Sanctuary, such a success are the same people who make Len Collin's film version so good.

It's a long overdue look at an important subject, it's brave but surprisingly light and funny.

Larry (Kieran Coppinger) is a young man with Down's syndrome and a plan. He and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) have met and fallen in love in their day centre and they want some privacy which Larry has engineered with their careworker Tom (Robert Doherty).

On a day trip to the cinema Larry and Sophie will sneak off to a hotel room, no-one will be any the wiser. But naturally, not everything goes to plan.

What Larry and Sophie's love story raises is the commonly overlooked issue of the romantic lives of people with special needs. The film covers how, as a response to abuse scandals, it is illegal for people with special needs to have sex unless married.

It looks at the picture broadly, also covering inclusion, perception and lots more with humour and real feeling. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

It Comes at Night

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Into the woods we go, where Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) are hiding from a deadly disease that appears to have ravaged the world beyond their abode. They take in a desperate couple and their child, figuring that swelling their ranks could aid survival. They didn't bank on twitchy paranoia, cabin tension and Travis's nightmares.

There has been much talk about this pared-back US psychological horror that makes great gains from the less-is-more approach. Edgerton, Drew Daniels's cinematography and Brian McOmber's score are leading lights in Trey Edward Shults's film. There is a slight sense of unfinished business about it all that leaves you wanting more, however, and Harrison Jr's performance lets the side down in places. ★★★ Hilary A White

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