July 11, 2019

DVD Review # 50 Almost Famous (Plus I rank the Cameron Crowe filmography) With Talking Flick Podcast Appearance!

Almost Famous (2000) Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Francis McDormand Written and Directed by Cameron Crowe

"Aw, Man. You made friends with them. See Friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on the feeling like you belong." Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Lester Bangs)

Rarely does a film come along that truly gives you the urge to hug yourself. Almost Famous is a 2000 masterpiece that has aged like a bottle of Silver Oak Napa. Each time I view it through the lens of being older, more failures, more success, more love, more loss, more life…each time its meaning to me personally shifts a bit. The genius of this script is that a majority of it is based on the true life of its author, a young na├»ve Cameron Crowe, I mean write what you know right? Crowe, like Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Kaufman, Alexander Payne, a few select others has the ability to guarantee I show up at the theater when they write a film. They occasionally fail, but when they are good, they are so good!

Brilliant Writer/Director Cameron Crowe directs a perfectly sweet coming of age story that has stood the test of time so far, and I don’t see Almost Famous fading away anytime soon. Crowe loosely based the film’s protagonist William Miller (played perfectly by Patrick Fugit) on himself and his experience as a teenager covering bands like The Allman Brothers and The Eagles (In Fact Billy Crudup’s spot-on character Russell Hammond is loosely based on Glenn Frey). Almost Famous is chalk full of legendary supporting performances (if I could pry the 73rdAcademy Awards Oscars away from Benicio Del Toro and Patricia Clarkson and give them to Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Francis McDormand or Kate Hudson, I would, I would Bill & Ted that shit for sure), each supporting character gets many, many expertly crafted lines (credit Crowe the writer who has done this before). I can’t think of another film where so many small parts were casted this well. It is nearly impossible to single out one supporting character but if I had to, for me it’s the mother, Elaine Miller (Oscar Worthy Performance by Francis McDormand), she is the through line that allows us that glimpse into the mind of the young William. Without her fierce scenes of stern expectations and her thoughts on that corrupting rock music, we would never really understand this journey. The character, not surprisingly is based on Crowe’s actual mother, who is said to like the portrayal, she only complains that Francis McDormand is barefoot too often in the film. Once the mother allows William to go on this crazy journey, he needs a guide, for this Crowe smartly chooses the wonderful and interesting Band-Aid (not groupie), Penny Lane (Another Oscar Worthy Performance put in here by Kate Hudson, who did win a Golden Globe). Penny along with other Band-Aids (Fairuza Balk, Bijou Phillips, Olivia Rosewood, and Anna Paquin) all amazing, take William on a journey that will change his life forever. When he needs a little advice, he can’t call his mom and be honest with what’s happening, so who does he call? Lester Bangs (a real life American Rock Critic, played as perfectly as you can by the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman), he has the best lines in the film (that is full of amazing writing mind you), “Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love…and let’s face it, you got a big head start.”  In a sad twist of symmetry both the real-life Lester Bangs and actor Hoffman died of drug overdoses. Almost Famous is about a lot of things, the 70’s, band culture, rock star decadence, idealism, growth, naivety, all things Crowe seems to be more than qualified to write about. I think that is why this movie so rewatchable, with different viewings you find yourself understanding and relating to different characters in different ways. In my younger days I was always relating to William, after a few heartbreaks I could see the Lester Bangs viewpoint, now that I’m old, I think, jeez Elaine is just looking out for her son! Good writing is always some combination of art imitating life and life imitating art, this movie is constant loop of these ideas. I fully expect the music to live on forever and this film maybe the best music movie ever made (that’s not a documentary because truth is always stranger than fiction when it comes to bands SEE Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge, Genesis Sum of all parts, or History of the Eagles). Almost Famous is a MUST WATCH, if you only see 25 movies in your whole life, this needs to be one of them. SEE IT!

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite Directors and this is his second best work ever (Jerry Maguire a Top Ten Film of All Time, being the 1st), I won’t argue with you if you think Almost Famous is better than Jerry Maguire both films are All timers after all. I gave Jerry Maguire a 9.5 and it sits as my #5 film of all time, Almost Famous is just outside my Top 10, but not by much, I’m giving it a 9.0 on The Shawshank Scale and I look forward to watching it again…ITS ALL HAPPENING! 

Ranking Cameron Crowe Films:

1. Jerry Maguire (1996)-Such a beautifully crafted film with maybe the best casting of all time.
2. Almost Famous (2000)-Music, Love, Life…I mean Almost Perfect!
3. Say Anything (1989)-Lloyd with the boombox playing Peter Gabriel...I mean cmon!
4. Elizabethtown (2005)-Mix CD, Skynyrd, Road Trip, Dunst Perfect, Bloom less so.
5. Singles (1992)-Perfectly capturing the Seattle music scene at exactly the right time. 
6. We Bought a Zoo (2011)-A sweet family film, that got a bad rap.
7. Vanilla Sky (2001)-It has problems, but I found a lot to like in this interesting thriller.

SHOUTS TO FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (Which he wrote and Amy Heckerling Directed), His only truly bad film is 2015’s Aloha which had some nice thoughts but ultimately is just a bad film. I am a true believer, I think he has greatness in him still, I hope we see him on top of Hollywood again. 


Talking Flick: This week on Talking Flick we talk about an all timer ALMOST FAMOUS! 

Talking Flick on Anchor (Almost Famous Episode)
Talking Flick on iTunes (Almost Famous Episode)

July 5, 2019

Movie Review # 62 Spiderman: Far From Home with 7 Spiderman Films Ranked! Plus my Talking Flick Podcast Appearance!

Spiderman: Far From Home (2019) Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal and Directed by Jon Watts

"You’re all alone. Your friends are in trouble. What are you going to do about it?" Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan)

So we are at the end “Phase 3”, we know the fate of several characters from Avengers: Endgame, we know the weirdness that is “The Blip”, people reappearing (5) years after they disappeared, and now we need to realign the superhero-verse and move forward, the question Spiderman Far From Home asks (in a sort of unnecessary and incoherent way) is: who will be the next Iron Man?

**This Review contains mild spoilers for Avengers: Endgame and Spiderman Far From Home**

Returning Director Jon Watts (who made his name with 2015’s Cop Car) does a noble job picking up after the star studded and momentous events of Avengers: Endgame. The opening of the film directly addresses the losses of Tony Stark, Steve Rodgers, and Natasha Romanoff with a clever song choice. Spiderman is now front and center of The Avengers, whether he likes it or not. Peter Parker (a solid Tom Holland who again is no Tobey Maguire) is clearly overwhelmed with his new responsibilities and has not dealt with the emotional blow that losing another father figure has handed him. Peter wants nothing more than to take the summer off to process all this and figure out a way to tell his crush M. J. (a perfectly cool Zendaya) he really likes her. Unfortunately (or Fortunately) for us this is a superhero movie so that isn’t going to happen. A sleepy Nick Fury and Maria Hill show up and hijack Peter’s European vacation and inject rather sloppily, a lackluster bad guy Mysterio (played adequately by a bearded Jake Gyllenhaal, who was almost cast as Spiderman once) into the fold. Peter makes a bunch of bad decisions, a bunch of mediocre CGI occurs, and the legacy of Tony Stark and his infinite supply of robot killing machines gets a little more tarnished.  This move is perfectly watchable, don’t get me wrong, it is very charming especially when it forgets it’s about an Avenger and focusses on entertaining teens doing teen stuff. I found the action sequences lazy and the villain backstory rather unimaginative. Tony Starks killer robots are starting to feel like Batman’s parents dying (if I have to watch them one more time…!!!!). I admire the attempts to keep Tony’s name involved here, but reminding us that he was a flawed narcissist who continuously put the world he cared about at risk because he kept inventing and losing control of killer robots (in this case drones) and didn’t treat people who worked for him very well, maybe isn’t the best way to honor the guy that helped save the planet (tip o’ the cap to my man Capt. America!). I did enjoy the flirty relationship between Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan and the lovely Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May (my favorite Aunt May ever!). It was also nice to have a quiet moment where both Happy and Peter get a few scenes to grieve the loss of Tony, it is some of the most earnest filmmaking in the MCU and I commend them for making time for it. 

I read somewhere that Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (Vulture) was supposed to be in this film, I am not sure why he wasn’t, I really felt like Mysterio’s character was poorly conceived, he maybe could’ve used a little Sinister Six backup. After Thanos it looks like Marvel will go back to its generic “bad guy” problem that has plagued many of the solo adventure films. And I don’t know if Marvel will ever recover from losing (2) of its major stars (Evans and Downey Jr. we know Scarlet Johansson will be back for at least one more), but I do hope they find more interesting ways to introduce and interweave these characters together for future team-ups. Holland is a good Spiderman and Watts is an interesting director, but I would suggest this be their last film together, Spiderman has to grow up and maybe Watts and these teen stories need to be swept aside for some more “adult” problems. The movie contains (2) post credits scenes (you will want to see both) and ends with a nice little twist (and **SPOILER**heee’ssss back!!! J. Jonah Jameson played by the brilliant J.K. Simmons). Spiderman Far From Home has a clever teen charm to it, but ultimately feels like a letdown after Avengers: Endgame, I could’ve lived a little longer without this film (think Sony rushed it a bit), waiting would’ve allowed us to digest Endgame a bit more. SEE IT!!! but no need to rush

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Zendaya’s M.J. needs more screen time, Parker needs to make better decisions, and Happy Hogan needs to be in all these films! Spiderman: Far From Home is fine, I will give it the same rating I gave Homecoming, a 6.0 on The Shawshank Scale, but it isn’t as cool as Homecoming and it isn’t as epic as Endgame, so what it is? I think it is just another middle of the pack Marvel movie, let’s hope for a fresher take next time out!

My Peter Tingle tells me it’s time to rank the Spiderman Films (No Into the SpiderVerse*):

1. Spiderman 2 (2004)-Sam Raimi is the perfect comic director; it all comes together here. 
2. Spiderman (2002)-I was blown away that they were able to get this so right, it felt groundbreaking in its day. 
3. Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)-The charming “John Hughes-like” take wins you over. 
4. Spiderman 3 (2007)-Overstuffed, often ridiculed, but I still like many parts of this film. 
5. Spiderman: Far From Home (2019)-It’s a tad lazy, but still maintains its charm. 
6. The Amazing Spiderman (2012)-Marc Webb made some interesting choices in this unnecessary film, Garfield and Emma Stone are too EMO to be charming though.
7. The Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014)-The rails come off, though Jamie Foxx was good, and they had the gaul to kill Gwen Stacy. 


Talking Flick: Listen to my recent guest spots on Talking Flick a great movie podcast where we talk about all things Spiderman! Available on iTunes, Sticher, Anchor, or wherever you listen to Podcasts: Links below. 
Talking Flick on Anchor (Spiderman: Far From Home Episode)
Tallking Flick on iTunes (Spiderman: Far From Home Episode)