J. K. Simmons

Spider-Man

Year: 2002
Directed By: Sam Raimi
Written By: David Koepp, based on character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

RYAN’S REVIEW

This movie changed everything. Not only in the movie industry itself but for me personally as well. It’s arguably one of the most influential movies of the new century because everything we see today started here. I was working at the movie theater part time when this movie came out doing my Tyler Durden impression and it was a very exciting time. It meant more to me because at that time and place I felt very involved in the experience. As an avid observer I got to see it all unfold and the aftermath has been nothing short of spectacular.

When I was 18 I had a very unique job at the movie theater in which I showed up once a week and built the movies for play in the theater. In a story for another time I actually inherited this job and wasn’t even officially on payroll. It was so cool because I would simply walk into the theater once a week, bypass all the real employees and go straight upstairs. There I would chat with management and then get to work splicing movies together in the projection booth. This allowed me access to screening the movies before hand as well as free entry to any movie I wanted to see which I took advantage of fervently in my teenage years.  It was a fun time in life and I watched a lot of movies. The reason I bring it up now is because throughout that time the most significant movie I built and watched was Spider-Man. I used to save a frame from each movie I built and the frame for Spider-Man was one I actually carried around in my wallet for years. I must have watched this movie in the theater eight times and I eagerly watched the box office returns everyday as it rose to one of the then highest grossing movies of all time.

I grew up as an X-Men fan. Since as far back as I can remember I was watching the cartoon, playing with the action figures, and reading the comics when I was allowed. I had somehow never really been exposed to Spider-Man though. I was aware of him but I had never really gotten into the character. Somewhere along the line as I grew out of being a kid and into a teenager I grew out of my beloved childhood comic characters as well. I was older and too cool for such things as I entered the rigorous social hierarchy of High School. Nevertheless I was really pumped when the X-Men came out and I loved it, but I have always admitted and known it was nothing next to this movie.  This movie was different, and the audience responded in turn. It changed everything for me as the fanboy within was woken and emerged full on in my late teens. I, like many people, became a Spider-Man fanatic. Suddenly it was cool to be into comic book characters again. I ended up reading like the first nine volumes of the original running of Spider-Man in the aftermath of this movie. It gave me a juvenile taste for what would eventually become a healthy appetite in reading comics as an adult.

Would there be a Marvel Cinematic Universe if this movie hadn’t been so successful? I don’t think so and I’d point to that as the number one reason that makes this one of, if not the, most influential movies of the century. This movie seems like an afterthought fifteen years, two reboots, and six movies later but that doesn’t change what it meant for movies going forward back in 2002. Technically X-Men really started the trend a couple years prior but it wasn’t nearly the success Spider-Man was. That X-Men franchise may have had more longevity but it didn’t start the noise about how much money could be made with comic book films. There were more than 400 million reasons to keep banking on superheroes after Spider-Man and in 2002 that was good for fourth highest grossing film of all time domestically if I’m not mistaken. Also important to understand about this movie was that Kevin Feige was an uncredited executive producer on the film. Six years later he would spearhead and oversee the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe one movie at a time. Now Marvel is putting out about four movies a year with no end in sight to success or the creative crossovers that fans have come to love.

It was a wild idea that nobody thought would work but it has worked beautifully. So much so that other studios are scrambling to create their own cinematic universes. Be it with DC superheroes, Transformers, or even classic monsters. All of which have trouble finding similar success but trying nonetheless and too far past the point of no return to stop. Nobody has been able to do what Kevin Feige has done, and would any of it have been possible without the success of this movie? I don’t think so and I think for that reason this has to be considered as one of the most influential movies of the 21st century.

As of this moment we are a couple of weeks away from the newest version of Spider-Man. Spider-Man: Homecoming will be the third version of the character we have had in the last 15 years. It seems like too much even for one of the most popular characters ever but this time will be different. This first franchise has always been my favorite of the Spider-Man films but I’m wildly optimistic about the new film. The main reason being that this film will fully immerse Spidey within the MCU where he belongs. Sony seriously damaged the image of Spider-Man when they rebooted the character but were at least wise enough to throw in the towel before it was too late. They now have a shared interest in the character with Marvel and at least for now we can all sit back and enjoy the magic they make together. We have character after character coming out with his own film and everything working toward one common goal, Avengers: Infinity War. It’s the most ambitious effort to date by the MCU and thanks to this new rendition of the character Spider-Man gets to be part of that party. In a perfect world the same thing would happen with X-Men and Fantastic Four but sadly that is just wishful thinking.

I have always thought Tobey Maguire was the perfect actor to play Peter Parker. His frame and demeanor have always had him cast as kind of a dork and that’s what made him perfect for the part. Peter Parker was a dork, he was the guy who got picked on in school by everybody. That’s what makes him such a great superhero because as a victim of bullying he is out to protect everyone selflessly. The jury is still out on Tom Holland but he is playing a much different Spider-Man. I couldn’t stand the hipster cool guy portrayed by Andrew Garfield in the short lived Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Just like Michael Keaton will always be Batman, Tobey Maguire will always be Spider-Man. I think Tom Holland will be awesome as Spider-Man and I look forward to seeing it, but Christian Bale was a cool Batman too and that still couldn’t take the title away from Keaton, in my opinion anyway. I would have loved to see Tobey Maguire don the suit for a fourth time and was really disappointed when that fell through.

I didn’t hate the overloaded third film like everyone else did and would have easily shown up for a fourth film but studio plans got in the way. The MCU was not only in full swing at the time but it was flourishing as The Avengers was huge. Sony wanted their own universe and they were showing up late to the game. They had plans to make like 6 movies or something like that and build their own universe centered around Spider-Man. There was a really cool idea about making a Sinister Six movie. I was so disappointed in the quick reboot that I was never too interested in what they were doing. I thought it was ridiculous to retell the origin story in the reboot. Had they started this franchise with him already being Spider-Man that would have made more sense. Expecting the audience to watch a rehashed version of the same thing that came before was ridiculous. I don’t even think I saw the second one in the theater, but not many people did.  I quietly relished in the failure of this franchise as an angry fan who still hadn’t gotten over his woes. I feel differently this time around because at least the character is in good hands. I have no doubt the new film will be very good and I can’t wait to see it. I like Tom Holland as a younger Spider-Man, I think it’s awesome they got Michael Keaton to play the villain, and I love that Iron Man is in the film and it’s so immersed in the MCU.

To get back to this movie specifically I think the rest of the cast outside of Maguire deserves a lot of recognition. While there are many great performances to consider you simply can’t top J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. He was perfect with everything from his performance to his look as the character. He was so good in fact that there hasn’t even been an effort to recast the character in any of the new renditions.  I am a big fan of J.K. Simmons and I like him in everything he is in. I am also a big fan of some of the other actors in this movie. I have loved Kirsten Dunst since her amazing performance as a child in Interview with a Vampire. I don’t think she ever quite topped that performance or lived up to the expectations it started but I have always liked her nonetheless. I thought she was a great Mary Jane Watson. I have also been a long time fan of Willem Dafoe who was not the first, second, or even third choice for the part. He has such a menacing and goblin like face already that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. When he smiles he can look so sinister and his voice is laced with intimidation. A great actor who always delivers.

Writing about this movie has been like a trip down memory lane for me and I have really enjoyed it. Making the experience even more exciting was that when I sat down to watch the movie I had my kids watch it with me. After a lot of initial protest from my eight year old daughter the movie won her over quickly. That says everything you need to know about this movie. It will win you over. It’s an awesome movie that still stands up to the next generation fifteen years later. No matter how good Spiderman: Homecoming turns out to be there will always be a place for this first film. A film that changed so much and opened the door for an entire genre of films, and ultimately a universe of them.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea I haven’t forgotten that Superman and Batman came first, but they simply didn’t change things the way Spider-Man did. If you haven’t seen this then you have missed out. It’s worth your time to watch what started it all. I love this movie and think it should be appreciated by everyone. Even if you don’t appreciate the super hero genre you have to at least respect what this film was able to accomplish.

NEXT MOVIE: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

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The Ladykillers

Year: 2004
Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen
Written By: Joel and Ethan Coen (screenplay), William Rose (original film)

RYAN’S REVIEW

Ah, the Coen Brothers.  Those genius filmmakers that can’t help but do something special each and every time they get behind the camera.  They have a range with no limits.  They can make the dynamic award winning films that prove they are masters of their art and then on the flipside they can make silly films that make us laugh with witty dialogue and intelligent jokes. With this movie about an elaborate heist they brought together an incredible cast of interesting characters and wrote an outstanding script for them to perform.

The cast as much as anything makes this film awesome.  Tom Hanks was still at the height of his career in 2004 although his star was beginning to fall.  In this movie he plays one of the most bizarre characters he ever has and delivered an incredible performance. He looks like Colonel Sanders and speaks with a great southern draw that comes across quite eloquently   He has very unique dialogue that is loaded with whit.   He has a very deep vocabulary and Hanks delivers these lines flawlessly.  It is probably one of my all-time favorite roles from Hanks.  I think the next greatest role has to go to J.K. Simmons, hands down.  Simmons has an incredibly funny quality about him and brings humor to everything he is in.  The Coen brothers recognize this talent and have used him multiple times.  He was great as the CIA director in Burn After Reading. I have always loved him in the role of Pancake, the man who “brought his bitch to the Waffle Hut.” I have always liked Marlon Wayans too but usually dislike most of his movies.  I thought he was awesome in this movie as the “proverbial inside man.” The rest of this ensemble is just as great.  The little known Tzi Ma barely needs to say anything at all in the film and still manages to be a badass.  I love when he is “even now exercising every effort” to catch that sneaky cat Pickles when it escapes again.  I have always been a big fan of Ryan Hurst but he plays the weakest role in this movie. It’s not his fault though, that is just the way the character was written.

The ensemble might be made up of terrific characters but it doesn’t stop there in the film.  Irma P. Hall is terrific and on point for the whole film.  Is there anything more intimidating in the world than an elderly strong minded black woman set in her ways? I love the scene that opens the film with her complaining about rap music and I also love when she continually slaps Marlon Wayans for his profanity, “sometimes it’s the only way.” Stephen Root is also on hand in this film and as I have said before, the man is simply incredible.  Root can literally do anything and I think he brings something great to each and every role he plays.  Also, I don’t know who plays the part and don’t think it is important enough to look up but the man who plays the choir leader in the church is awesome.  The suit, the hair, and the expression on his face as he directs the music is just too funny.  The Coen’s have quite a knack for finding actors like him to fill into small roles and it always serves them well.

This is not the greatest of the Coen Brothers’ movies and I don’t even know if it is one of their better ones but like all Coen Brother movies it offers unforgettable and incredible scenes that make it worth wild.  I absolutely love when the two gangsters try to rob the donut shop and get nowhere.  The General just stands there expressionless and smoking as these guys threaten him and demand “that donut money.” With a movement so quick the camera barely catches it he has incapacitated the one standing in front of him and their reaction to the action is hilarious.  One of the greatest intros to a character I have ever seen hands down. I love the scene in the Waffle Hut all around from Tom Hanks demanding waffles from the waitress to J.K. Simmons bringing “his bitch to the Waffle Hut.” They always write terrific scripts and I will say again that I think nearly everything Hanks says in the film is solid gold. I loved his response to the notion that Pancake would have a pretty good lawsuit if he decided to sue them over his finger. He takes a serious tone and different demeanor as a character to explain that they are part of a criminal enterprise and not subject to typical rules and regulations.

While I do love this movie and think that it is awesome I can’t even say it qualifies as one of the Coen Brothers better movies.  I have always felt it started to come apart in the end somehow.  After Pancake is dispatched the movie starts to lose my interest a bit.  It still has its moments afterwards but it just seems to lose that captivating quality and closes kind of poorly in my opinion.  However everything that comes before makes the movie worth wild.

This movie offers some of the funniest scenes I have ever seen in a movie and I enjoy it each and every time I watch it.  I think anything the Coen Brothers do is worth the time of every movie fan out there and that includes this one.  Yes this is not their best film but this is still a good film and there is plenty to appreciate and enjoy about it.  If you get the opportunity to see it I strongly encourage anyone to give it a shot.  This movie is without doubt worth your time to see.

AMBER’S REVIEW

This is not my favorite Coen Brothers film. It’s funny and interesting, but some of the actors parts fall flat and I think they could have been a little better. The point of the story is awesome, and I support anything that these guys do. It is worth seeing.

ladykillers

This is a great example of how to include multiple characters into one poster. I love the scene and that you can’t see the lady’s face. The typography is really nice as well. I think the designer did a good job a offsetting it and making it look off in a really nice way. Sometimes, it can get out of control. Overall, really successful poster.

NEXT MOVIE: Land of the Lost (2009)

Burn After Reading

Year: 2008
Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen
Written By: Joel and Ethan Coen

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is not the best Coen Brothers film and in fact it isn’t even one of their better ones but there is a lot to like about this film.  It has an awesome intro that is very funny but overall the film tends to go up and down.  I may be somewhat biased in my criticism though. While I always think highly of the Coens I do have a big problem with infidelity and so much of this film is about infidelity. I am a child of divorce and grew up as the inadvertent victim of infidelity and because of that I get uncomfortable and weird when seeing it.  Like all Coen Brother movies there are a lot of weird things going on in this one, but the positive aspects make it worth our wild.

There is a great cast on hand in this one. John Malkovich gets the movie started with a great outburst and his character is so constantly funny.  Brad Pitt is hilarious and he plays his part well but I felt like this was when we were really starting to see his age.  He was 45 when this movie came and trying to play the part of a much younger man.  He is still great and his character has one of the best moments in the film (with Clooney, coming out of the closet). What makes it so funny is the look on his face when he pops out of the closet. He has this expression that is ready to explain it all “no big deal man I was just hanging out in here.” Francis McDormand is great in this movie. I really don’t like her character and she looks awful but she is such an amazing actress.  I think J.K. Simmons is great in everything he does, and he is fantastic as the CIA director.  George Clooney and Tilda Swinton also star in the film but I don’t really care much for either.  I tend to think Richard Jenkins brings more to the film actually.  For my thoughts on the directors see my posts for Blood Simple or The Big Lebowski They wrote this movie at the same time they were writing No Country for Old Men. I’ve read that they actually alternated days, working on Burn After Reading one day and No Country the next.

This is a really funny movie but it’s that dark comedy that doesn’t appeal to everybody.  There are also a few scenes that could rival the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone a la Clooney’s project going on in the basement.  Better yet Clooney’s character in general is a bit much, such a devious pervert. I don’t mind recommending this movie but it’s R rating does need to be taken seriously.  This movie has a lot of great laughs and really memorable scenes, it is definitely worth you time.

AMBER’S REVIEW

This movie is great. It starts out on such an interesting note that you have to keep watching it, just to see how it all comes together. One of my best friends was raised as a Mormon, and in that opening scene they say a line that is one of our all time favorite lines. “I have a drinking problem? Fuck you, Peck, you’re a Mormon. Compared to you we ALL have a drinking problem!” After this line, I was hooked in for the entire movie. It connects all these people in different scenarios into one big story, in true Coen Brothers fashion. The only thing I didn’t really like about this film was the fact that Brad Pitt maybe was a bad choice for his role. I think he did a good job at it, but ultimately I think it would have been better to have him played by someone younger. This movie is worth watching, because all Coen Brothers movies are worth watching.

NEXT MOVIE: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)