It: Terror at the End of Innocence

Stephen King is an author that is often regarded as a modern master of horror. Among the works that have helped him earn such a title is his 1986 novel, It. Telling the story of seven friends reuniting in their home town to battle a cosmic evil they had previously fought as children, the book is dense but gripping with every page. It captures well a lot of recurring themes in King’s writing, such as childhood trauma and its impact on adulthood or conquering evil through mutual trust. In addition, the novel gave the horror genre a great new boogeyman to fear with Pennywise, a creature capable of forming itself to look like the things people fear but whose most prominent form is a clown. It is no wonder how the book became so popular, even getting a television miniseries adaptation in 1990 that starred Tim Curry as Pennywise. Now, at long last, It has been brought to the big screen. However, it would seem difficult to adapt such a dense novel into a single movie. As such, this film instead focuses on those seven friends when they were kids, with a sequel planned to cover the portion of them as adults. The result is a really good coming of age story with some good scares as well.

In the town of Derry, kids prepare for fun as the summer of 1989 rolls in. However, one child does not have fun on his mind, and that is Bill Denbrough. Ever since the disappearance of his younger brother Georgie on a stormy day back in October, Bill is convinced that Georgie must still be alive somewhere. With the help of his friends, like the motor mouth Richie Tozier, hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak, and shy Stan Uris, Bill intends to find some evidence that Georgie is still alive somewhere. Along the way, they end up adding more friends to their numbers, befriending new kid Ben Hanscom, local girl Beverly Marsh, and home-schooled outsider Mike Hanlon. However, there ends up being something that unites them more than just friendship: they all find themselves terrorized by personifications of the things that they fear. Realizing that they are the targets of something that can shape itself into what people fear (with its most recurrent form being Pennywise the dancing clown), they learn that whatever this thing is might just be responsible for the decades of missing and dead children that plague Derry’s history, including Georgie. With no adults doing anything about this deadly history, these seven friends decide to step up and try to stop this creature, and just maybe find the truth about Georgie.

Plenty of adaptations have been done of Stephen King’s work, but It ranks among the better attempts to bring his writing to the big screen. Certainly, it does deliver on some strong jolts of horror, in particular thanks to Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise. His turn as Pennywise is one that captures the sense of a starving predator, one that relishes his meal as his prey feels fear. From his teasing and at-times puppet-like movement to the soft-lilting voice that can effortlessly shift to a growl, Skarsgard brings this classic monster to life with a seeming ease. However, there are moments with scares that don’t land quite as well. Occasionally, the film leans a touch too often on striking with a jump scare or having Pennywise rush his target with a yell. The stronger scares come through more in the surreal torment that Pennywise performs on the children or in scenes when Skarsgard gets to carry through with the creepiness, such as when he lures Georgie from the shadows of a sewer drain. Even the normal lives of these children capture some of that horror better, such as the psychotic bullying from Henry Bowers or the creepily possessive nature of Beverly’s father. In fact, that leads me into what helps this movie shine like it does: the coming-of-age story.

In attempting to adapt such a dense novel, one whose story unfolds during childhood and adult years, the choice was made for this movie to put the focus on the main characters as children. By making this choice, the story for this film is one about these misfits facing the darker edges of life that can emerge as one grows up. True, they do face certain terror from the hands of a shapeshifting creature responsible for a history of horrors. However, their fears stem from more than that. They emerge from the horrors that haunt their everyday life. Sometimes, it comes from bullies like Henry Bowers and Patrick Hockstetter, who torment them and see them as misfits. Other times, it stems from adults like their own parents, such as Eddie’s mother constantly needling him with health concerns or Beverly’s father displaying an unsettling attachment to his “little girl”. Life offers plenty of things for these kids to fear. However, it is with their mutual friendship and trust that they can grow, facing the things that they fear and not giving in to the terror. Thanks to strong writing, a good dose of humor to lighten up between the scares, and a cast of child actors who deliver some excellent performances, the coming-of-age story captures the feel of similar tales from the 1980s. For some, the result might seem slightly jarring when it shifts hard between these portions and the more overtly horror sections, but the whole film is still a good piece of work. To borrow a reference to another King adaptation, it is as if Stand By Me periodically swerved hard into a horror story.

Among the many works of Stephen King, It is often regarded as one of his best novels. Now, It has arrived on the big screen as a terrific coming-of-age story that shines even if a few of the scares might not land.

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Death Note: Lost in Translation

As anime and manga grow in popularity around the world, it is only natural that Hollywood would come calling to adapt them. After all, it is a new media vein for them to tap into and adapt to the big screen for a new audience. However, adapting these media genres to films for a Western audience presents its own fresh round of challenges. Plenty of hurdles present themselves, such as trying to translate more extreme illustrated moments to live action or figuring out how to navigate the cultural differences that might be present. Indeed, most of the live-action American adaptations of anime that have stepped up to the plate tend to swing and miss. Netflix has taken their own stab at this challenge, releasing a live-action American film of the popular anime series Death Note. This would seem to have a better shot of making it as an American film, with its clash between the law and vigilante justice being an idea that can work in an American lens. Unfortunately, the resulting movie waters down the source and offers a blander product, missing the core battle of wits that helped to make the series so popular in the first place.

Light Turner is a high school student burning with anger. Haunted by the fact that his mother’s murderer had gotten off scot free thanks to his wealth and connections, he sees the world as one where the innocent suffer and the wicked escape any punishment for their deeds. One day, that fire gets an outlet as a mysterious book known as a Death Note seems to fall from the sky and land near him. Examining the book, Light is greeted with the sudden appearance of Ryuk, a god of Death. With a nudge, he reveals to Light the book’s ability to kill anyone whose name is written in it. After testing the book’s power, Light begins using it to dole out brutal justice, gaining an ally in the form of cheerleader Mia Sutton. The two operate as Kira, making the world fear them as a vengeful god. There is one person, however, who refuses to bow to their power: L, an eccentric and brilliant detective. Gleaming that the Kira killings began in Light’s home town of Seattle, L comes in and sets his sights on bringing the killer to justice. Now, Light must contend not only with L and his pursuit, but also with the growing darkness of Mia and her twisted goals.

While there is plenty of flaws present in this adaptation of Death Note, it is worth bringing up some of the strengths that are in this film. For instance, Willem Dafoe is a great choice of casting as Ryuk. Even though Ryuk himself does not do a lot, mostly serving as an observer to Light’s killing spree, Dafoe delivers a performance that crackles with a mocking delight as he watches the proceedings. Another good choice on the film’s part is that Mia Sutton (the movie’s version of Misa Amane) is a more active participant of the plot. Instead of being merely a pawn in Light’s plans, Mia works alongside Light and helps him in their schemes, while having plans of her own. Even Lakeith Stanfield offers some solid work as L, capturing his drive along with his eccentricities…at least, to a point. Unfortunately, there comes a moment in the plot when L drops the ball and becomes a reckless, emotional idiot, losing the intelligence and calm that are part of his character. That problem is among some of the film’s bigger issues, most of all in how it handles its depiction of Light.

In the original series, Light Yagami was an ace individual. He was handsome, a top student, and a friend to many. That makes his inner darkness all the more shocking (whether a God complex like the original manga and anime, or a frustration with the legal system as presented in the Japanese live-action films and J-drama) when he gets the Death Note and begins blossoming into a killer that sees himself as a god of justice. Meanwhile, this film’s counterpart in Light Turner is presented as a young man bullied by others, disheveled in his appearance, and still nursing an anger from his mother’s murderer avoiding punishment. While that motivation can make it understandable how Light could start down the path of Kira, it feels like they made him too sympathetic by making him look like the sort of outcast that would be picked upon and by making him be pushed further into darkness by Ryuk and Mia instead of pursuing it himself. Along with taking away the great intellect that was part of his character, the result is a bland protagonist who feels made to be too sympathetic and lacks the more unique nature of this blossoming genius teenage madman. In addition, by taking away his genius the film does away with the great battles of wits that are a staple of the series. L would find ways of proving that Light Yagami was Kira, while Light would use a combination of his own cunning and some clever application of the Death Note to spring himself from L’s latest trap. In fact, that battle of wits was the core balance to the anime: a seemingly normal teenager like Light lashing out with a dark vengeance, in opposition to a weird eccentric like L who fought for justice. It is that dynamic which helped to make Death Note such a popular anime, and what the adaptation sorely lacks.

Hollywood has turned its eye to the world of anime and manga as a new source for film adaptations, but unfortunately the track record has not been a stellar one. Death Note is the latest of these missteps, maintaining its basic idea but watering down its protagonist and peeling away its gripping battles of brilliance.

Roald Dahl: Macabre Sensibilities, for Young and Old

Plenty of children’s stories tend to be thought of as light and fun. In truth, they are not all fun and games. There is normally some darkness that lurks within these stories, darkness that helps to make the light and its messages shine brighter. Even the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, regarded as some of the original tellers of children’s stories, contain plenty of mentions of cruelty and violence. Now, some might feel that this could be too intense for children, that these should be scrubbed clean according to a certain set of standards. In truth, there is a certain value in not talking down to children about this. One such author who understood this was Roald Dahl. His stories for children, remembered for whimsical touches and adapted in plenty of media, also possess plenty of darker elements. Perhaps it might be worth looking at what inspires an author to not shy away from these darker elements.

Born on September 13th, 1916 in the town of Cardiff, Roald Dahl was the son of Norwegian parents. When his sister and father had both died when he was three, his mother had the choice to remain in Wales after their passing, even when she had the option to return to Norway. Dahl first began the life of a schoolboy at the Cathedral School in the district of Llandarff. It was that time that he and his friends had gotten into trouble for putting a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers (also known as jawbreakers) owned by Mrs. Pratchett, a local sweetshop owner who was mean to the boys. He would go on to be transferred to St. Peter’s boarding school, where he and other students endured a fierce faculty. However, the school which would be a pivotal place to Dahl was Repton School in Derbyshire. Beginning his time there at age 13, he endured cruel treatment at the hands of both students and teachers. From the brutal corporal punishment he suffered and witnessed dealt out by the teachers to the demeaning work of having to serve senior students, Dahl’s experiences there would develop a definite cynicism in him about humanity. His main joy in that time were the candies and chocolates that the chocolate company Cadbury would send to the school for students to test.

As Roald Dahl got older and World War II began to roll in, he would come to join in the Royal Air Force as a pilot. Among the many missions that he flew in, one flight would bring him to Libya. Having trouble finding the airstrip as night approached, He was forced to make a landing in the desert. The result was a crash, one that landed him in the hospital with a fractured skull and blindness. Eventually, he would regain his sight and continued to serve as a pilot, until he was grounded for suffering from a series of headaches serious enough to cause blackouts. After that, he was made an attache to serve in the British Embassy in Washington D.C. From there, he would come to serve in the intelligence division alongside such noted officers as David Ogilvy and Ian Fleming (best known as the creator of James Bond). During this time, Dahl would come to meet the famed novelist C. S. Forester. Forester had been approached by The Saturday Evening Post with writing a story, and he in turn wanted to write a story about Dahl’s experiences as a pilot. Dahl wrote and compiled a number of anecdotes from that time, then provided them to Forester to work from. Instead, Forester provided the story exactly as Dahl wrote it. Thus was born Roald Dahl’s first story, “A Piece of Cake”, which The Saturday Evening Post had published as “Shot Down Over Libya” in order to have a more exciting title. It was also the story that would go on to launch Roald Dahl’s writing career.

Before he became renowned as a writer of children’s stories, Roald Dahl first began as an author for adults. Most of his early work came in the form of short stories. Plenty of these stories concerned deadly gambles, acts of revenge, and bitter spouses. Most of all, they frequently came with endings that served as a macabre punch line to the proceedings. There is no doubt that Dahl’s more cynical view of humanity comes through in stories like “Lamb to the Slaughter”, about a wife who murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and tries to cover up the deed, or “Parson’s Pleasure”, about a deceitful antiques dealer who poses as a clergyman for his cheats. However, it is actually his children’s novels where Dahl really cranks up this cynical attitude. While a few stories concern monsters like witches or giants, nearly all of the villains in his children’s novels are rotten, vile adults.

Sometimes they may lord their wealth over others, sometimes they may be verbally abusive to those they see as weaker or lesser, and sometimes they may simply be sadistic with physical cruelty. In any case, these parents are the sort of commonplace evils of which even children are familiar. As dark and imposing as such cruelty may seem, Dahl balances things out with how he presents goodness. The children that serve as the heroes in his stories are not generally portrayed as extraordinary. In fact, they frequently are presented as rather average. Instead, they possess an innate goodness, recognizing the wickedness around them and rising above it. In that way, Dahl offers a way to challenge and overcome the commonplace evil in their own lives. He also delivers it in a more playful, slightly morbid manner than the squeaky-cleaned stories that some believe children should be given. The result is a more naturalistic approach to teaching children about the cruelty of the world and preparing them for it, treating them with respect and understanding they can grasp it without being directly moralized.

For those who have never read any of Roald Dahl’s stories, there are two avenue I might offer, depending on if you wish to try his adult work or his children’s stories. For those who wish to explore his more adult-oriented work, Tales of the Unexpected is an anthology that collects some of his yarns of the macabre. With such stories as “Lamb to the Slaughter”, “The Man Down South”, and “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”, this collection will help to show how Dahl’s writing career was launched thanks to his clever writing. As for his work for children, the best example I would guide new readers to would be Matilda. Centered around an intelligent and kind-hearted girl named Matilda and her challenges overcoming her obnoxious parents and a cruel headmistress named Agatha Trunchbull, this novel stands to me as a great example of the kind of whimsical yet morbid stories that he crafted for children.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A Flaw in a Fun Future

The most frustrating kind of artistic failure, at least to me, is not the sort that is a complete wash-out. For me, the most frustrating sort is when a work can be good and touches the edge of good, but one key flaw hobbles it from fully reaching that greatness. For instance, a novel might have a good kernel of an idea but the writing and presentation of it can turn a reader off. A song might have a beat and rhythm that cuts to the core, but its lyrics might be troubling and problematic when actually understood. One such example of this kind of failure is present in filmmaker Luc Besson’s newest movie, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Written and directed by Besson and based upon the Valerian and Laureline series of French comic books, the film was rife with potential as his big return to sci-fi since The Fifth Element. Indeed, it has all sorts of visual splendor in its futuristic setting, along with an interesting cast of side characters. However, there is a central flaw that knocks down the film from fully becoming the fun, old-school pulp adventure it was meant to be. Namely, it suffers in the writing and its leads.

In the twenty-eighth century, Valerian and Laureline are a pair of special agents who work for the United Human Federation. Valerian is a more libertine rogue while Laureline serves as a more conservative counterpoint, but both work together well in tackling all sorts of dangerous missions. After a risky mission to retrieve a creature known as a Converter from the clutches of an alien criminal, the pair are given a new mission. They are to serve as bodyguards for Commander Filitt during an important meeting on Alpha, a massive space station home to so many species from across the universe that it is regarded as “the city of a thousand planets”. The purpose of this meeting is to reveal a threat laying within the depths of Alpha: a toxic infection from an unknown source, and one that is spreading. Unfortunately, the meeting is cut short when a group of aliens burst in and kidnap the Commander. Valerian and Laureline set out to get the commander back, but find themselves challenged not only by malevolent aliens but also suspicious gaps in Federation records. As time ticks down, they find that there might be more at work here than what they have been told.

Before getting into the faults, it is worth discussing the positive points for this film. For instance, the world of this film is a visual feast. There is a striking variety of locations on display along with tons of alien species, with distinct appearances for all of them. From a desert world home to a multi-dimensional marketplace to a beautiful seaside-inspired planet to a pulp adventure-style ancient temple, the locales and characters work will in conveying the variety within this film’s universe. These locales also serve as home to inventive action sequences, such as a multi-dimensional shoot-out and chase that unfold at the aforementioned marketplace. The side characters also fit in with the fun variety of this film, offering nice slices into the other parts of this world. For instance, there are the Shingouz, a trio of gargoyle-like aliens who serve as information brokers and offer a solid slice of comic relief. Another interesting side character is Bubble, a shapeshifting performer who dreams of being a great actress but is reduced to burlesque performances under the thumb of a controlling pimp. However, even as there are all of these interesting components, their standing is unfortunately knocked down due to the film’s biggest fault: the leads.

Part of the problem with Valerian and Laureline, the movie’s two lead characters, is that they are miscast. With Laureline, Cara Delevingne’s performance comes across as a tad wooden. Despite that, at least she somewhat seems to fit as Laureline. Dane DeHaan, meanwhile, does not fit in the role of Valerian. With Valerian, the character is supposed to be this libertine, playful rogue. What would come across as charming in another actor instead reads as somewhat whiny in DeHaan’s delivery. Of course, even if one were to have replaced these actors, there is a greater weakness to these characters: the writing. The writing does no favors to these two leads, giving them generic dialogue and inconsistent personalities. The result is that, in a world that features so many interesting parts, the audience is left following the two dullest characters in the whole movie. That is what is so irritating about it. If they had cast better-suited actors and did a stronger job on writing the two leads, the film would have firmly been good and served as a fun slice of old-school, pulp sci-fi adventure. Instead, it is brought down at the knees because such an important part of the movie is one of its weakest aspects.

One of the worst forms of artistic failure is when everything falls apart, but instead one big flaw takes down a work that would have otherwise been good. Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets is an example of such failure, as its two poorly-written and miscast lead characters drag down a film with wonderful visuals and interesting side characters.

The Marvellous Miss Take: Charming Stand-Out in Staying Silent

In the realm of video games, plenty tend to be based around the thrill of a fierce battle. However, there is one subset of games that thrives on the opposite. These sorts of games are the stealth-based games, which are all about evading the enemy and pulling off your objective unseen. Though there had been a few early examples of stealth-based games, such as Metal Gear (the first game in the Metal Gear franchise, released in 1987), the stealth-based game would truly be born in 1998. That year, there were a trio of games released that would lay a lot of the core foundations of the genre. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was the first of the trio to demonstrate the power of stealth-based gameplay, Thief: the Dark Project showcased the importance of stealth over blunt force in this sort of gameplay, and Metal Gear Solid codified the tropes together with a gripping story crafted by Hideo Kojima. Now, plenty of games have been turning up with a focus on stealth and working unseen. Among these games is an indie title known as The Marvellous Miss Take. Within its colorful, cartoonish aesthetic is a game that showcases a strong example of what stealth-based gameplay can deliver.

When her great aunt had passed away, Sophia Take was supposed to be left with her incredible collection of art. However, that did not happen. A crooked millionaire by the name of Ralph Blackstock instead swindled his way into possession of the collection. Not only that, he has broken the collection up and sent all of the pieces to different art museums around London. However, this will not stop Sophia. She still plans to open a private gallery that will have all of the pieces on display. However, if the ways of the law will not help her in reclaiming the art, then she will take the one route left available: she will steal them back. With her own keen intelligence and variety of gadgets, she sets out to reclaim the collection. However, she finds that she is not alone. Two other thieves join her in her quest: Harry Carver, a former painter turned gentleman thief, and Daisy Hobbs, a teenage pickpocket hailing from Bristol. Together, these three thieves set out to accomplish more than just reclaiming this stolen art. Indeed, they set out to strike a blow at Ralph Blackstock himself.

As an example of the stealth-based game, The Marvellous Miss Take is a fun title that showcases what the genre can bring. Each level (aside from the introductory stage) has three different variations, one for each of the main thieves. While all three variations are divided into two portions and are all about avoiding getting caught by the security guards while reclaiming the goods, each variation has its differences. Sophia can move at an average speed and is able to use a variety of gadgets (which are generally provided at the stage of a stage, if they are available). However, her heists play out during the day, meaning that museum guests could get in the way of her path. Harry, meanwhile, moves the slowest of all of the characters due to his need for a cane for movement. However, this is counterbalanced by him always starting with a noise-generating gadget, useful for distracting a guard. Daisy moves the quickest of the three, but her stages are the most different from Sophia and Harry. She has to pickpocket the guards to get a key, then use that key to unlock a safe and steal an art deed. No matter which of three variations you play, the central goal remains to be unseen. Of course, that gets harder as the game goes along, introducing threats like security cameras and guard dogs. Another bit to this challenge that goes along with the stealth gameplay: you cannot fight back.

In plenty of games, fighting and open combat are par for the course. In fact, there are even a fair number of stealth games that offer the ability to lunge in and start swinging. However, that is not what makes a stealth-based game so appealing. Stealth-based games, with their emphasis on evasion, are intrinsically about using one’s intelligence and resourcefulness to overcome the obstacles. They understand the appeal in outsmarting your opponent, whether using stealth and surprise to take down enemies before they can get you or simply slipping by and achieving your goal unnoticed. True, plenty of stealth games do offer methods of combat, but sometimes there might be a temptation to brute force a solution to the problem instead of being smart in how you handle it. By taking away the ability to fight back, this game forces you to be clever and figure out the ways around all of the security measures. Sometimes, it can get frustrating and a player would want to strike back. However, that moment when a player figures out the best approach to outwitting their foe can feel so satisfying. It is that moment of clarity, that moment of realizing the smart move and executing it, that makes stealth games so appealing to play.

Stealth-based games are a genre that has come to stand out thanks to an emphasis on evasion and clever tactics instead of just brute combat. The Marvellous Miss Take is a good example of the appeal in such gameplay, thanks to a lack of combat that pushes the player to think about how to move or use their gadgets.

Spider-Man – Homecoming: The Boy is Back in Town

Of all of Marvel Comics’s many superheroes, none have had quite the media presence as Spider-Man. Tons of adaptations have been done of the iconic web-swinging, wall-crawling hero. With numerous video games, cartoon shows, and even a Broadway musical, there is no shortage of stories in different media about Peter Parker. In fact, one of the biggest spots where he has held the spotlight is in movies. First, there was director Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Spider-Man films, which helped to show the great potential in good superhero films before suffering with a weak third entry. Following that were the Amazing Spider-Man films, whose first film was alright before being sunk down with a dreadful sequel. Well, the third time has arrived, and it does so with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before getting his own film again, Spider-Man first appeared in Captain America: Civil War, played by Tom Holland with a masterful capture of the nerdiness of Peter Parker and the wisecracking charm of Spider-Man. Now, Tom Holland turns up again to star in his own film, with Spider-Man: Homecoming. This newest film iteration of Spider-Man is one of the strongest done, delivering a good story that captures the core spirit and appeal of the character.

Ever since his part in the battle of Avengers during the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker has been riding high on the idea of being mentored by Tony Stark. Covering up his activities with excuses about being in “the Stark internship”, Peter Parker has been fighting low-level crime and helping out those in need as Spider-Man. In fact, his continuing battle against crime has given some challenges to his own life, as he tries to balance it with his teenage life at the Midtown School of Science and Technology. However, his world gets shaken up when he discovers criminals armed with high-end weaponry. These criminals even turn out to be linked to a bigger threat: Adrian Toomes, whose flight suit and hi-tech wings evoke the image of a vulture. Peter Parker sees this as his big chance to earn a place among the Avengers, but Stark wants him to stand down and leave the threat of the Vulture to the big guys. Tired of being treated like a kid by Stark and his assistant Harold “Happy” Hogan, Peter sets out to stop the Vulture, but he might just end up in over his head.

As the latest film centered around Spider-Man, this particular film proves to be one of the strongest entries about the iconic hero. Firstly, Tom Holland once again delivers a great performance as Peter Parker, but it is more than just his performance that works. The world around Peter Parker is a far richer one that previous films have presented. For instance, Peter’s high school life does not feel chalked up to the classic high school stereotypes. Character have a more believable sense to them, whether in their actions or how they are presented (such as reimagining “Flash” Thompson, a classic jock bully in the comics, into a rich and preppy jerk for this film). In truth, the presentation of teenage life in this film feels akin to a John Hughes movie. Also, Michael Keaton shines as the Vulture, who comes across as one of the best villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though his evil is on a lower-scale compared to some of the other threats in the MCU, his motivations are understandable. In short, Adrian Toomes simply seeks to make money to support his family, now turning to stealing and selling advanced tech after being driven out of legitimate business. With the combination of this relatable motivation along with the menace that Keaton brings to the role, it takes one of the more lesser-known Spider-Man villains and truly makes something out of them. Among these and other strong elements, however, is the key point to it all. Namely, that it captures the overall core of Spider-Man.

In the previous films that had been made about Spider-Man, they tended to capture certain aspects well while dropping the ball in other areas. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, for instance, were able to capture (with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker) the sort of picked-on nerd for whom life uses as a punching bag. However, the version of Spider-Man from those films lacked the quips and sense of fun that come with the web-slinger, who is almost Parker’s pressure valve for all the frustrations in his life. In addition, those films definitely captured elements of the classic Spider-Man comics which, while there is still a definite charm in them, do not feel as natural in today’s world. On the other end of the spectrum, the Amazing Spider-Man films delivered more of that wit to Spider-Man and also made a good attempt at displaying the intelligence of Peter Parker. That said, the actual presentation of Parker himself comes off as too cool, along with complicating his origin in a way where it has to be him getting the powers, instead of it being truly a simple accident. Part of what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so good, then, is that it hits the mark in capturing both sides well. As Peter Parker, he is this smart nerd living in Queens who finds himself put-upon by life. As Spider-Man, he is a thrilling hero ready with quips and an eager sense of excitement. Though the lives of both sides may conflict with each other, both are united in one simple ideal: that with great power, comes great responsibility.

Spider-Man has been the subject of all sorts of media over the years. In terms of movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming has done the best job of capturing the character along with delivering a more relatable world and interesting villain.

Baby Driver: Rhythm and Rev

Music is a powerful medium. Its rhythm and pace, from the plucking of a gentle melody to the grand sweeping of a symphony, has a way of stirring the heart and capturing the imagination. A moment in time can be captured with just the right tune. It is ever so evident when music is used in the other media. For instance, the throngs of theatrical fans can prove the power of the musical, which captures the emotional heart in its music and pairs it with words to better articulate it. A video game can use its music to set the right pulse for whichever moment a player finds themselves journeying. Of course, there is no place quite like the movies to showcase the power of music. Plenty of scores and songs have cemented their place in the pop cultural consciousness, their notes and words conjuring images from the silver screen. One person who knows this power is director Edgar Wright, whose latest entry showcases the sort of punch that music can deliver. His new film Baby Driver is a stylish entry that showcases a masterful use of music, even if the core story and characters may seem a little thin.

Baby is a man with plenty of problems in his life. For one, he has been suffering from a constant ringing in his ears, ever since a terrible car crash that claimed the lives of his parents. At least for that, he has a multitude of iPods filled with music to help drown out the tone. The far bigger problem is that of Doc, a local criminal kingpin who has Baby under his thumb. Ever since a mistake that landed Baby in debt to Doc, he has been serving him as an extraordinary getaway driver for his heists. Whether it is for criminals like the daring couple Buddy and Darling or the insane Bats, Baby’s intense focus thanks to his music allows him to keep his eyes to the road and pull off some insane escapes. However, he has his eye on the exit. He seeks to break free from Doc, a desire that is stoked further when he begins a romance with a diner waitress named Debora. That plan to escape is challenged, though, by one last job that just might be more dangerous than Baby has expected.

As Edgar Wright’s latest film, Baby Driver does offer plenty of fun. I will say, though, that it does not quite land as well as some of his other films. The main weakness is in terms of the plot and the characters. When it comes to the plot, it hews more on the simpler side. Not just that, but this sort of story has been seen plenty of times before. Likewise, the characters are also simpler, filling out more as archetypes for their roles in the story. The result is a story that feels shallower than some of Edgar Wright’s other works, such as Shaun of the Dead and its use of a romantic comedy core within a zombie movie. That said, even given the simple and familiar nature of the story, this variation on the criminal trying to leave the business is still a sharper-written version than most which try to copy this basic story type. It also helps that the material is delivered with some good performances, from such actors as Kevin Spacey and Lily James. However, there is a particular component where the film truly shines. That component is music and how the film uses that music.

Music permeates all throughout this movie, and not just in the background. Action is frequently synced up to the songs that play. Every gun shot, every rev of the engine, it all plays in beat to the rhythm. A dangerous shootout plays its explosive flair to The Button Down Brass’s cover of ‘Tequila”. A thrilling getaway zooms to the beat of John Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms”. Even a simple walk to get some coffee plays out to Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”, complete with images and moments that sync to the lyrics. In addition, the music also works to capture the emotional heart in a moment. A bond over the thrill of a fast drive is showcased with Queen’s “Brighton Rock”, while a tense moment to protect Debora is underscored with Marvin Gaye’s “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up”. The effect gives the film a feeling of being a jukebox musical, without having to actually be a musical. This particular spin on this story, combined with Edgar Wright’s skillful direction and writing, helps to make it stand out above the rest. In a way, it is reminiscent of a movie called Streets of Fire: the story and characters may be a bit thin, but the mood and atmosphere it presents is top notch.

Music is a powerful medium, and movies have been using it as a way to add some real punch to their stories for ages. Baby Driver is one such example of that punch, presenting a near-continuous stream of music synced with action for a thrilling musical feel.