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Tag Archive: coming of age movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

In the new Spider-Man film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Tom Holland′s Peter Parker is trying to recover from the death of mentor Tony Stark in the final scenes of Avengers: Endgame.  He’s trying to take a break from literally saving the planet by going on a summer trip with his classmates to Paris.  And he’s trying to let Zendaya′s MJ know that he cares about her.  So it’s too bad Samuel L. Jackson′s Nick Fury is trying to get his help as the only Avenger available to take out a new inter-dimensional threat–a threat from world-destroying giants called The Elementals.  Spider-Man: Far From Home, which opened in theaters nationwide this weekend, is Holland’s fifth outing as Peter Parker, after Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, and Spidey fans will be happy.  Holland continues to give the best performances of any actor to don a Spidey suit (he wears a few new great versions in this film thanks to designer Anna B.  Sheppard).  He’s also as established in the MCU as Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine–Holland is Spider-Man.

But the supporting characters and actors are equally superb.  At the top, Zendaya has carved out her own fantastic MJ/Mary Jane for the MCU, much more integral to who Spidey is than the character from the past two trilogies.  Holland continues to convey that teen uncertainty and lack of confidence, while slipping in the word “awesome” every few minutes to acknowledge he’s seeing all the cool things going on around him that the audience sees.  New to the MCU, Jake Gyllenhaal creates another memorable character after excellent work in films like Donnie Darko and Source Code with the new power-wielding Mysterio.  Gyllenhall brings equal gravitas and charm to Michael Keaton’s Vulture as seen in the last Spider-Man solo outing.  And Angourie Rice really has a stand-out performance compared to when we last saw her, playing high schooler Betty, a new close friend to Ned (Jacob Batalon)–together they make a fun duo and solid coming of age movie sidebar to the film.

How does this compare to Spider-Man: Homecoming?  It’s hard to believe that incredible reboot film was in theaters only two years ago.  Screenwriter Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have inked both Spider-Man films plus the script for Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Homecoming still nudges out the others as the tightest story of the group.  But Spider-Man: Far From Home is a great follow-up, easily combining with the 2017 film to create the best two side-by-side solo films in the entire decade-plus run of the MCU.  No two back-to-back Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Guardians, Ant-Man or Avengers movies surpass what director Jon Watts has done with these two films.  Spider-Man has always been Marvel Comics’ #1 superhero, so it’s about time the movies at last reflect that popularity.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Make no mistake, Billy Batson aka Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel (aka Shazam since 2012) has always been the most difficult to fold into the DC pantheon of superheroes.  With Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman–the trinity at the top of DC Comics for so long–audiences always know much of what those characters are going to bring to a story even before they walk into the theater.  To be fair, Billy wasn’t a DC original, shuffled much later into the DC universe because of some decades-long legal tedium.  Billy Batson is a kid who suddenly becomes a superhero, so the trailers have been compared to Penny Marshall’s Big, another story about a kid suddenly dealing with being grown-up.  And that is, indeed, part of Shazam!  The movie is also part origin story, because although Shazam! adheres to Billy’s origin story going back to the 1940s (just as Captain America: The First Avenger adhered to its source material), much of the audience that saw the character in his heyday–when he was even more popular and well-known than Superman–aren’t around to make up the target moviegoing audience.  But Big and an origin story is just the beginning.

You know it when you watch a movie unfold and realize something great is happening.  DC Entertainment–the movie guys–finally paid attention to DC Comics–the actual writers and artists who built the character from the ground up–and at last delivered what this comic book reader has always wanted.  Shazam!, the story, Zachary Levi‘s superhero, and a new young actor named Jack Dylan Grazer as Billy’s friend Freddy–are fantastic.  The magic, wonder, and heart of DC Comics is finally back in the theaters.  It’s a gamechanger for the DC universe, because it finally steps away from Zack Snyder’s dark and brooding Justice League and returns it to the roots of DC Comics and DC At the Movies that we first got a taste of with Christopher Reeve’s first Superman and Michael Keaton’s first Batman.  So if the executives at DC are paying attention, and audiences agree once the film hits general release April 5, this could be an opportunity for a switch-up–an excuse to build a new Marvel-level superhero film universe around the new, amazingly fun and appealing superhero characters in this film.

At its core, the story by new screenwriter Henry Gayden updating a script by Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, Jack the Giant Slayer, Goosebumps) is about a foster family and the importance of family, so don’t think this is another frivolous superhero movie to be easily dismissed.  As with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it’s loaded with emotional beats, and it’s all heart.  What do kids care about, and what are they afraid of?  The film takes some time to look seriously at these things.  It’s not only laugh-out-loud funny in spots, expect some snorts, too.  But look for some emotional pangs along the way, on par with an oft-forgotten superhero movie that may have more heart than any other, the 1980 John Ritter sleeper (and one of my favorites) Hero At Large.  Which makes Shazam! also a movie for fans who count Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Incredibles among their most favorite superhero movies.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Amazing?  Definitely.  Spectacular?  Absolutely.  Tom Holland, who stole the show in the key battle of last year’s Captain America: Civil War, has provided the definitive, and yes, the ultimate Spider-man performance in this weekend’s latest Marvel masterwork, Spider-man: Homecoming.  And Holland is equally good, if not better, without the suit as angst-ridden, overburdened teenager and Spider-man alter ego, Peter Parker.  Kids of all ages who ever envisioned the ultimate battle between Spider-man and Batman get their satisfaction here, too: Michael Keaton, in one of his best performances in decades, creates out of an obscure character one of the best supervillain performances to hit the big screen, complete with high-tech bat wings and the classic Keaton we all love to watch.

Moviegoers have seen good efforts from Marvel creating the comic book empire’s flagship, web-slinging superhero before, with Tobey Maguire in three Spider-man solo films and Andrew Garfield in two follow-up Amazing Spider-man films, but this latest story supplies what was missing from the other five: an authentic, likeable, smart, voice-breaking do-gooder and a classic coming of age story with heart.  But it doesn’t skimp on the action, and thanks to some well-filmed 3D and magical IMAX cinematography, one key scene that takes place high atop the Washington Monument made this viewer practically step backward out of his seat into the back row.  Just breathtaking filmmaking.

If you keep a list of superhero movie requirements in the back of your mind, you’ll find that Spider-man: Homecoming fulfills or surpasses them all.  A story with a solid character arc for its lead and antagonist.  A big relief for filmgoers who go to every new superhero movie: writer/director Jon Watts and five other writers (a fact that alone would normally spell certain doom for a film, but not here) knew enough to steer clear of another superhero origin story and instead delved right in.  They flesh out Parker’s relationship with his like-minded, knowledge bowl peers at school and provide more than one jawdropper along the way.  In Keaton’s villain they provide an exceptional, compelling villain, something lacking in the past several years of superhero movies.  Holland sports an update to the Spidey supersuit, and Louise Frogley’s latest costume design is superb, complete with believable, readily available tech supplied in-story by mentor Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark aka Iron Man in his latest perfect adaptation of the role from the comics.  And Michael Giacchino’s powerful and emotional score is among his best, complete with plenty of clever and unexpected themes that amplify the story at the right time.  If you think Peter Parker is a throwaway character, prepare for some emotional work by Holland, especially at his character’s lowest point in the story.

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my-pet-dinosaur

The first trailer released for the new Australian production My Pet Dinosaur at first has the look of a low-budget knockoff of E.T., the Extra Terrestrial.  Since E.T. many films have tried to capture what Steven Spielberg and John Williams brought to the screen.  Most have failed and resulted in decades of direct-to-VHS features.  But we also have had successes like Super 8.

My Pet Dinosaur comes from writer/director and visual effects supervisor Matt Drummond, who also worked on Dinosaur Island.  It stars newcomers Jordan Dulieu, Anabelle Wolfe, Harrison Saunders, Chris Gabardi, Scott Irwin, Rowley Holmes, Beth Champion, with Joanne Samuel (Mad Max), David Roberts (The Matrix), and Tiriel Mora (The Castle).

pet-dino

In one sense My Pet Dinosaur may seem doomed from the start.  In light of the success of all things retro, and in particular the Netflix series Stranger Things, My Pet Dinosaur may still have a chance.  Yet, maybe the preview doesn’t do the film justice, and perhaps the special effects work wasn’t in final form.  The dinosaur looks pretty good in some of the scenes.

Check out this trailer for My Pet Dinosaur:

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Max Steel

Not to be confused with Steel starring Shaquille O’Neil or Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman, Max Steel is a new “coming of age, family, superhero” movie due in theaters next month.  In a world of big budget superhero movies based on 75-year-old characters like Superman and Batman, how can a relatively unknown superhero compete?

With a new trailer that plays a bit like *batteries not included or Explorers, there may yet be room for a Max Steel.  Is there a young audience being missed by the violence and language of movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Deadpool?  Maybe a film for kids with a plot less complicated than Captain America: Civil War?  Or a movie for audiences looking for the next Sky High?

Max Steel is the combination of angsty teenager Max (not Mark) McGrath and Steel–a smart-alecky alien tech robot drone.  Does “organic armor” make Max Steel a new cyborg?  A plus for the character is its source in Mattel’s large-sized action figure line based on the format and marketing of the original, classic 12-inch G.I. Joe action figures, as well as an animated series.  Will that draw in viewers?  Max Steel apparently has a large following in Latin America: While Mattel’s Big Jim 12-inch action figure series died out in the U.S. in before the 1980s, it was thriving there.  Original Max Steel figures wore Big Jim clothes and were packaged with the same accessories.  In the 1970s Big Jim was sold in Latin American countries as Kid Acero, or “Kid Steel”.

Max Steel figure

Will Max Steel usher in the eagerly awaited return of Hasbro’s Mike Power, the Atomic Man?  That would be a fun blast from the past.

Check out this trailer for Mattel’s theatrical release of Max Steel:

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WayWayBack

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

When I think of Steve Carell, I think of The Office and how the American version turned out to be different than the British version just because Carell is so much more likable than Ricky Gervais.  I think of Even Stevphen with him and Stephen Colbert on The Daily Show.  I think of The 40 Year Old Virgin and how I found it to be one of the funniest movies I’ve seen because of the way Carell played the sweet awkwardness of Andy.

Within the first 15 minutes of The Way, Way Back, I find it impressive that Jim Rash and Nat Faxon made me dislike him more than I would have thought ever possible.  I’m not talking a mild dislike; I mean an active repulsion where I put my hand over my mouth in shock before I ball it into a fist to control my anger.  Then, they keep ratcheting that feeling higher.

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Of all the genre types there is one that doesn’t quite fit into any other bucket of movies.  These movies themselves are complex and rarely made, but when they are done right they tend to bridge popular audiences and critical acclaim.  They are about people who also don’t quite fit.  They are often referred to as “coming of age” movies, and with such a lame title it’s no wonder there is not a giant video header at the rental stores for “Coming of Age” movies.

Some of these are really just “teen angst” movies.  Some of the best of these for mid-teens, documenting the high school experience, are Clueless with Alicia Silverstone, 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles with Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald, Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden with James Dean, West Side Story, Tex with Matt Dillon, Crossroads and The Karate Kid, both starring Ralph Macchio, and even The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, where Dorothy establishes a defining piece of the genre–dreaming of “getting out of Dodge” (OK, Wichita, so close enough).

A younger teen focus subset of these films, where kids are either turning into teens or otherwise encountering adult situations at a young age, include Bless the Beasts and Children, Lucas, Stand by Me, Angus, The Sandlot, A Christmas Story, Explorers, the Harry Potter films, Super 8, and a superb superhero genre crossover called Sky High, that is one of those movies that pulls itself apart from the typical kid-centric flick by brilliantly delving into kids’ relationships with each other.

One film proves we probably shouldn’t stop with three subsets of the coming of age film, and reflects the universal nature of life in change.  A film that covers the same themes yet for the transition from college to the “rest of life” is Buck Henry and Michael Nichols’ The Graduate.  The Graduate launched the careers of Dustin Hoffman (All the Presidents’ Men, Kramer vs. Kramer, Midnight Cowboy, Rainman, Tootsie) and Katherine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, Donnie Darko).  The subject is simple, yet believable and accessible, stuck in a rut, not ready to move onward, a recent college graduate needs some impetus to get moving forward.  In the 1960s of this movie, Hoffman and Ross’s characters step forward at the end, but you get the feeling the “coming of age” for them is still far outside their reach.  Similar elements of angst, alienation, and change are reflected in films of the older set, like St. Elmo’s Fire, Do the Right Thing, Lords of Dogtown, Wayne’s World, Shaun of the Dead, and even the 1976 movie Car Wash.

The subset of the genre targeted at older teens, those teens at the end of high school transitioning to “the rest of their lives” (or at least trying to) stand separately as their own class of film.  The greatest of these reach cult status, and often include all-star casts before they were to become stars.  Very likely it is these films that propelled the young actors into bigger roles as a next step in their careers because we, the audience, love these characters, and when we like characters we latch onto the actors that portrayed them.  Sometimes these themes cross into other genres that take over the film, such as the sci-fi film The Last Starfighter–where a teen must decide not whether to stay in town and work or go to college, but be a starfighter and save the universe.  Let’s look at a few of these classics that should be on your must-see list:

AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973).  Even if George Lucas never came up with Star Wars he would have been remembered for creating this masterpiece of cinema.  All the key criteria of the genre are covered here: (1) fascination with cars, including races and chases; (2) incredible music, both as soundtrack as well as being listened to by the characters throughout the film; (3) teen rebellion, like pulling the rear axle off a police car (!), drinking, smoking, etc.; (4) alienation–one or more nerds, here exemplified by Charles Martin Smith’s Terry, who does the impossible, getting not only a girl, but THE girl, here Debbie (played by Candy Clark), and contrasted with the “cool kids,” (5) fitting in and not fitting in; (6) angst–Richard Dreyfuss’s Curt is the archetype for angst-ridden teen, not knowing his own abilities, uncertain and nervous about the next step in life: college; (7) life choices:  Go to college?  Go to which college?  Join the military?  Work in the garage at home?, (8) teens dealing with sex, and (9) an all-star or before-they-were all-star cast, launching careers:  Here that includes Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, and Harrison Ford.  Why do audiences of all ages relate to these themes?  Is it because we all continue to go through choices, decisions, and angst every day moving forward?

GREASE (1978).  The PG-13 rating really reflects components of all the films on this genre list: “sexual content including references, teen smoking and drinking, and language.”  Showing that you can successfully deal with the transitional phases of life in musical version like West Side Story (who doesn’t like music at any level in these movies?) here the 1970s portrays the 1950s again (this time 1959) as did American Graffiti.  Social strata, growing up rich or poor, from the south or west or north or east side–it all has meaning in the genre.  Like Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story this is focused on high school teens–yet Sandy is thinking about college and Danny and Sandy each need to figure out who they want to be when school is out.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982).  With American Graffiti documenting the American teen experience of the 1950s in the 1970s, Fast Times reflected the day.  Who is more of a classic rebel than Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli?  Full of both nerds and chock full of household name actors to-be, like Penn, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stoltz, Nicholas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Edwards, Judge Reinhold and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Fast Times included another piece of the genre, generational slang.

THE OUTSIDERS (1983).  Probably the biggest film to launch careers of teen actors is The Outsiders. Francis Ford Coppola was harassed by a high school class to make this film and finally agreed to do it.  Socs vs. Greasers.  Literally kids from opposite sides of the tracks.  Matt Dillon plays Dallas, the ultimate teen anti-hero.  C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio again, the poster actor of the genre, play the alienated unlikely rebels with heroes within screaming to get out.  This one launched the careers of Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, and Diane Lane.  For teens who think they are alone, that the crap piled on them only happens to them, like the other films on this list, The Outsiders illustrates that everyone is an outsider sometime.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986).  Although it is Matthew Broderick’s character Ferris Bueller’s sister Jeannie, played by Jennifer Grey, that really shows the teen experience in the high school of 1986, it is Bueller and his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), that are soon moving away to separate colleges.  Bueller rebels differently than most characters in this genre, yet is he really any different from Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times or Curt in American Graffiti?

SAY ANYTHING (1989).  You don’t have to have an ensemble cast to make your point and here a small cast illustrates dealing with adult issues early, struggling with who you want to be and what you want to do.  If you don’t want to make something bought or sold, sell anything made or bought or buy anything made or sold, John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler feels your pain.  Cusack, Ione Skye and Lili Taylor form a great team to reflect angst and confusion.  Dobler standing at the Gas and Sip with a bunch of “losers”–and Dobler leaving them behind, is what the genre is all about.  And blaring your stereo from the street so the girl of your dreams hears you to apologize outside her window–again, music is key to a classic like this one and made that single image iconic.

DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993).  Here the 1990s plays the 1970s, almost cementing the cyclical nature of these themes as a part of the genre.  The highs and lows of partying, friendship, and rebellion.  Every bit as much a classic film as American Graffiti, with authentic (not so cool) clothing and very cool cars, this movie probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves from a huge cast of good young actors.  Like some of the other films above, this one was an early film for later big names, like Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, and Parker Posey.

ORANGE COUNTY (2002).  Orange County is one of those films you can watch over and over, with Colin Hanks’s Shaun Brumder a wanna-be writer whose high school guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) sends the wrong stats to his college of choice.  His girlfriend wants him to stay home.  His brother (played by Jack Black) chose to stay home and shows Shaun what he doesn’t want.  A mentor emerges in the form of a professor played by Kevin Kline at just the right time.  Like Ron Howard in American Graffiti, Shaun makes a different choice from his friends, a different path than he’d originally planned.

SUPERBAD (2007).  Christopher Mintz-Plasse takes Charles Martin Smith’s alienated nerd full circle in Superbad as the self-named “McLovin.”  Despite being the third wheel in the film, he manages to conquer all the roles of the myriad of characters throughout all the above films.  Speeding along with Van Halen’s “Panama” blaring as he buddies up with two local police officers, McLovin practically gets arrested trying to buy beer, and ends up setting fire to a police car in a near parody of the genre.  And he gets the girl.  Future Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill and pal Michael Cera show what good friends will and won’t do for each other as Hill’s character learns Cera’s character will be rooming with McLovin at college.  Yet it all works out somehow, after the “quest for beer” and obligatory party, and Hill’s character giving his girlfriend an inadvertent black eye.  Superbad proves the genre stays strong, and that the themes of life in transition remain universal and accessible to movie audiences.

C.J. Bunce
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