The Lost City of Z

Finally caught up with what many critics considered one of the great films—as well as one of the most unsung—of 2016, though it wasn’t released in the US until 2017. It was stunningly beautiful, slow but in the best sense, and the kind of film seldom made anymore. It “tells” the true story of South American explorer Percy Fawcett, a British explorer whose yearning for lost civilizations made him famous, put extraordinary pressures on his family, and may have cost him his life.

Writer/director James Gray (The Immigrant, We Own the Night) approaches his material like a modern-day David Lean, taking his time and not being afraid of painting on a large canvas. The images are often breathtaking, and remind home viewers like the author that watching certain films should be limited to seeing them in the theater. No home screen—no matter how large—could do justice to the images he creates and to the effect he is working to create.

Those images, too, are not just pretty pictures, but are part of the film’s total objective. For this is not the tale of an explorer—a specific person—as much as a story of exploration at a certain time in history, its highs and lows, and what an increasing drive to explore and discover can do. The camera stays at a distance throughout, keeping us viewing the lush greenery, majestic mountains, and groups of men working together, but also keeping us from a more sympathetic connection with our main character. We see what Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) goes through, and we alternately approve or judge this determined and flawed man, but we don’t get into his life. We view what happens, but just don’t connect with it.

Certainly this has to do with Gray’s long takes and camera distance, which keep the focus on the physical environment rather than the emotional journey of our main characters. The lack of connection may also have to do with Hunnam’s performance. This is the second film (the first being King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) that starred Hunnam and failed at the box office, delaying and perhaps halting his journey to dramatic leading man status. Hunnam, perhaps known best for television’s Sons of Anarchy and for having the good sense to walk away from Fifty Shades of Grey after landing the lead, was here directed to keep a slow pace and stay British. He reacts internally in many a scene that could have been more externally expressive. His only shouting is with his peers back in England, but it’s dignified and strong without being personally dramatic. Between the look of the film and Hunnam’s performance, it’s hard to be drawn into Fawcett’s own internal journey.

The big surprise is the fine work done by Robert Pattison, who with his co-star Kristen Stewart has done the near-impossible in throwing off the memory and stench of the Twilight vampire series. Both have shown themselves as capable of doing fine work recently. Pattison is almost unrecognizable beneath his beard and as a fine supporting character here—the most important in the film. Sienna Miller, fresh from playing the long-suffering wife whose husband is away for too long in American Sniper, here plays a long-suffering wife whose husband is away for too long. But there is a century of time between the parts, and this chameleon-like actress slips right into the early twentieth century while staying surprisingly progressive in her character’s thinking. Tom Holland (title role in Spider-Man: Homecoming) plays the “grown-up” version of Fawcett’s oldest son. Only 19 when the film was made, Holland, whose slight frame and young face worked for his character’s high school setting in the Spider-Man film, goes from looking quite younger than 19 to looking quite older than that—a feat for any actor, but especially for one so young.

Something that does begin to bring some dramatic excitement to the film is the surprise development of a villain, a fellow explorer named James Murray. This secondary story pumps some life into the film, but then ends up giving the film an imbalance as we boo and hiss this character and his outrageous actions, but are not allowed an equal connection with our purported hero. The film begins to veer off-kilter as this side story develops, but ultimately this subplot doesn’t derail it. But it does makes one wonder why the rest of the film couldn’t have been as emotionally engaging.

Gray has made a classic film in a classic style, and has evidently chosen to pull back from too much emotional connection with his main character. Some may complain that a little editing (it’s two hours and 21 minutes), a faster pace, and a more character-driven cinematic approach may have yielded a more popular film. That’s probably true, yet that would be another film entirely. But with a budget of $30 million and a take of just a little more than $8 million, it may be a while before we see something similar. And if we do, let’s choose to see it in a movie theater, where many beautiful and timeless, and yes, old-fashioned, films like this belong.

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Another of my websites is kicking into gear again

Dear Everyone: I’m re-presenting my “other” website,, starting next week. It’s for professionals and students that want to speak and write correctly, and not sound dumb! It’s been a while since I paid attention to it, and I’ve noticed in passing (!) that things haven’t gotten any better. So, in the spirit of near-futile perseverance, but with naive hope in my heart, I’m kicking it off again next week. Want to get a weekly entry that helps you sound and write better? Check out and sign up. First entry is next Tuesday!

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The Salesman (Iranian, 2016)

For MSM, “my Persian son”

The Salesman is the newest film from Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi, creator and Oscar winner (for Best Foreign Film) for 2011’s A Separation. As with A Separation, The Saleman is a meticulously crafted, well-acted film with moments of intense dramatic impact. Unlike A Separation, The Salesman tries to do a bit too much, and ultimately can’t quite decide what kind of a film it wants to be.

The film opens on a set, which provides a near-meta moment for the viewer that sends the head in a few different directions. Then the set turns out to be a stage set, not a film set, and we open with the Grand Suggestion of a metaphor. Oh, they’re doing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (now of course I’m remembering the film’s title, and wondering….) and I am signaled that there will be a connection between the events/themes of the play and what I’m about to see as a film. That’s a lot of weight to put on a film from its onset.

Because “reviews” of films seem to have to regurgitate the plot, I will oblige to an extent, for a reason. There is an apartment that our leads need to move into because their apartment building is cracking and needs to be evacuated (a rather imposing metaphor for what—Iran, the government, the lives of the principals?). Their new apartment used to be the home of a loose woman that draws a visit by someone who doesn’t know there are new tenants. With some discretion and the use of a Hitchcockian shot, we are led to an awareness of a violent, and perhaps sexually violent, act, and begin to see the film as a drama about violence and its aftermath–in this case its effect on a marriage, a stage production, friendships, etc. But then the film evolves into something different, which viewers will have to discover for themselves. Narratively, and emotionally, the twists and turns of the story veer from its original storyline to encompass a whole new story, one that isn’t just indicated, but explored, nearly making for short film within the film.

The film has a realist flavor, combining the modern realist cinematic approach of the Dardenne brothers (L’Enfant; The Kid on the Bike; Deux Jours, Une Nuit) with classic Hollywood editing patterns that keep the drama moving and the style from becoming too self-conscious. The acting is uniformly strong, with even the minor players playing fully lived-in characters who never come near playing either stock or stereotype (especially Babak Karimi as Babak). Shahab Hosseini as the male lead is the standout, holding the film together playing a slightly entitled, intelligent, talented man who is revealed to be less emotionally mature than either he or anyone around him thought. Tareney Alidoosti plays a necessarily more recessive role as wife and victim, but one who ultimately gains an emotional strength as the film moves into its “second story.”

It’s unfair, but the film suffers from its comparison to the superior A Separation, which focused its drama more simply, but allowed the viewer moment after moment of discovery and connection in a way this film doesn’t. That film’s “themes” were more subdued, less obvious, and were submerged under the narrative. Here, the metaphors start in the first minute, and continue to pull the viewer out of the admittedly strong story as we wonder if we’re watching a drama (and which kind—family, marital, crime?), an artistic stage-film compare-and-contrast expression, a socio-political commentary on the distrust of law enforcement in Iran, or a meditation on the power and effects of revenge on the soul and relationships. And then of course, are we to take in Shakespeare’s dictum that “all the world’s a stage,” etc., and apply that to what we’re seeing? Finally, the accumulated weight of all these connections and suggestions tend to dilute the focus and impact of the film, which nevertheless, even in its disparate directions, still manages to finish out with impact and a certain depth.

Farhadi has admitted that his love of theatre had led him to want to combine that love and expression with a film story. It’s been done well over the years by many others. Here, it’s not quite the most elegant fit, and with the several other dramatic and thematic shifts, has resulted, with all its stylistic confidence and uniformly excellent acting, in a film that has been too weighed down and bent just a little out of shape.

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Dunkirk is extraordinary. It’s a film, yes (a real film, but more on that later), but also an event and an experience. It should be seen in IMAX if at all possible, as with much of director Christopher Nolan’s previous work, it needs to be experienced as a gestalt of sound, image, and thought.

As most would know before seeing it, Dunkirk covers the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers from Dunkirk (Dunkerque), France to England in one of the most dramatic military withdrawals of all time. Nolan presents the story from three perspectives: the traditional divisions of land, sea, and air. But he puts a different time frame on each story, presenting the stories in one week, one day, and one hour, which makes for added energy and occasional confusion; Dunkirk becomes our modern-day Intolerance, crossed with the scope and beauty of Lawrence of Arabia.

There are three groups or individuals followed in Nolan’s telling. We have three very young men, one of whom is virtually silent, and another of whom is One Direction’s Harry Styles. The last is Fionn Whitehead, who has been getting a great deal of press as “the lead” in the film. All three young actors are fine, but none has what one would call a breakout role. Nolan films have good performances, but these are director’s films.

The “one day” portion is headed by the wondrous Mark Rylance (upset Oscar winner for Bridge of Spies), a stage legend who thankfully has chosen to also work in films. Here he anchors (no pun intended) this segment with grace, intelligence and, to use an overused word, gravitas. Either he is the perfect choice for this part, or he is simply a great actor, or both. He also provides the heart of the film, a challenge in Nolan’s heady film world.

The third segment is centered on a pilot played by Tom Hardy, who is apparently making a habit of covering his face with some kind of mask for many of his roles lately. Perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated work in The Revenant and for his breakout role in Nolan’s Inception, Hardy has been facially covered up here, in Mad Max: Fury Road as the title character, and in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises as the villain Bane. Hardy is an excellent actor who nearly singlehandedly carries the weight of the entire “air” segment of the film. With his strong screen presence, Hardy most definitely holds down his portion of the film.

The cinematography is, in a word, stunning. Much has been made of the film being actual film, and not video (a rarity these days), as well as how much of the film has been able to be captured on IMAX cameras, including many of the aerial shots. Much will be made of what Nolan has filmed and how he’s filmed it. Just when you thought the aerial scenes were the most spectacular you’d ever seen, Nolan brings you back to the land and his moody beach scenes, and you realize it’s strange, evocative and beautiful all at once. The film is our latest reminder of how good film can look.

Nolan has almost always been more head than heart, and I was just about sure his approach would keep the film solidly in the cool registers of the intellect when he allowed for one true moment of emotion. It didn’t last long and it was underplayed, and almost any other director would have made this moment the climax of their film, or would have built upon the moment. But at least there was a flash of warmth to help balance Nolan’s Brechtian visual and aural style. There were other touching moments, as with one gracious communication to a soldier suffering from

PTSD. But Nolan tends to stay in the realm of the intellect and, with a soundtrack that occasionally overwhelms the dialogue and can shake the viewer, in the realm of the physically experiential.

Familiar faces abound, but the level of acting is so high that one can soon forget the actor for the character. Cillian Murphy has a key role, as does Kenneth Branagh, whose legendary status as an actor/director works with his particular character. The underrated actor James D’Arcy (Agent Carter, Broadchurch), who can pretty much do anything, disappears into his role as one of the leaders. And Will Attenborough (grandson of director/actor Richard Attenborough) adds yet one more proof that this is one of the most accessible, relatable and warm-hearted young actors working today.

The scope of the film is huge on one hand, covering three stories with three different chronologies. And the visuals of land, sea, and air make for striking panoramic images. And yet the film is strangely truncated as well. While Branagh’s character makes some remarks that fit the huge rescue endeavor in the context of the war, Nolan provides strangely little context for this historic operation. We need to remind ourselves, as Nolan doesn’t, that this was a key moment in “the good war,” when the fight for civilization against a madman was raging, and no one knew what would happen.

If A Bridge Too Far covered the greatest European defeat of the war for the Allies, Dunkirk covered its biggest retreat. Yet we walk away with the story of Dunkirk as less a great historical moment as one experienced simply through two small groups (land and sea) and one individual (air). The personal approach is a valid one for any historical event (e.g., Mrs. Miniver), but Nolan doesn’t dig deep into the personal stories of his main characters. We get some insight into Rylance’s character’s personality and his depth of intelligence and compassion, but little into his personal story. So we are left viewing (and listening!) to these three sets of stories at something of a dispassionate distance. We are provided with some of the most amazing images film has ever offered, but Nolan’s three-part structure and his objective distance from his material tends to keep us, in spite of the occasional touching moment and dazzling shot, a bit detached emotionally.

Prediction: Like Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi), Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Alejandro Iñárritu (The Revenant), and Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Nolan may well win the Best Director Oscar next year for his technical achievement while his brilliant but cool picture comes up short in the Best Picture category. Dunkirk may not warm your heart, but it will stimulate your mind and rouse your senses. Whether or not you’re a WWII aficionado, the film is a must-see.

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The Big Sick

I’ve been telling my film students for the last 20 years that they have been raised during one of the worst periods for romantic comedies in film history. I’ve encouraged them to pretty much ignore what passes for both comedy and romance in films made in their lifetimes, and to go back to the last years of the last century and the first couple of years of this one to find some good ones (though I still claim the best were from the ’30s and ‘40s). The Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan/Billy Crystal days have some good offerings, as well as my personal favorite during that time—Notting Hill.

Now, finally, there is a romantic comedy that works. It shouldn’t—it has too may disparate elements, too many subplots, and a variety of acting styles. Yet it all holds together as one of the best romantic comedies in ages.

A warning to those hoping for a PG- or PG-13 film. This is essentially a PG-13 film with a number of f-bombs, especially in the first half, that have turned it into an R. If that’s a deal-breaker, avoid it.

For the rest of the viewing audience, this is (finally!) an intelligent, genuinely funny, genuinely touching film. Directed by Michael Showalter and produced by Judd Apatow (but don’t let that dissuade you), the film stars Pakistani-American actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who co-wrote the script with wife Emily V. Gordon, who crafted a fictionalized version of their relationship (and its manifold cultural and family difficulties). The title is something of a spoiler, but the more serious aspects of the film bring both a real-world depth and a context for the humor, which veers from cute and delightful to breathtakingly outrageous.

The humor comes from a multitude of directions, starting with the flirty back-and forth between the two leads (the female lead, Emily, being the adorable Zoe Kazan). Stand-up figures in a great deal of the film, as the lead character is a developing stand-up comedian (also named Kumail). The semi-skewed, semi-snarky humor of the stand-up permeates the film, and provides the most cinematically significant marriage of stand-up and film language since the groundbreaking Annie Hall. Most films featuring stand-up comics merely shoehorn them into “funny” situations; here the humor arises from the comic perspectives that draw forth humor laughs and from any number of situations throughout the narrative. It’s what makes this film continually funny and unpredictable even through some rather conventional romantic stumbling blocks.

Perhaps the least expected but most valuable subplot involves the introduction of Emily’s parents, the powerful team of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. They have reason to be hesitant about Kumail when “the big sick” occurs, but they bring their own quite hefty baggage with them. Hunter, as always, is a force of nature, and she more than convincingly portrays a woman who will not be denied. For those not paying attention the last few years, the big surprise is Ray Romano, who just as convincingly plays a father in pain and with a boatload of regrets. His comic skills are used at times, but much less than one might think. It’s the kind of surprise performance that in a weak year might be touted for Best Supporting Actor.

The film almost tries for too much, covering too many people’s stories and heading down too many side streets. But due to Nanjiani’s charm and Showalter’s sure directorial hand, the film holds together. Comically, this is a brave film in how far out on a limb it occasionally goes, but it doesn’t feel brave, just enjoyable. If you, like me, have been waiting a long time for a funny, heartfelt, fresh romantic comedy, your wait is over.



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The Shack

Things to get out of the way: Yes, it’s taken me this long to see The Shack. And yes, I started to read the book years ago, but was one of the few who never finished it. Plus, I’m posting this analysis/review on both my film page and my Christian writing page. For those who only know my Christian writings, I’m also a film professor. For those who only know my film writings, I’m a Christian and a pastor.

And yet another “full disclosure” issue: my brother Chris, a wonderful singer-songwriter, once had one of his CD’s promoted at the second printing (I believe) of the book as “the music of The Shack.” Unfortunately, things changed behind the scenes and the development of the film took another direction sans his music. But still, my brother is a close friend with one of the film’s producers, and I am acquainted with many a story about the writing of the book and its journey to the screen.

So with all that on the table, here we go:

As much as I would like to just look at the film as a film, and forget the book, it’s impossible to when the book was 1) so popular and 2) so very controversial, in so many ways. There were theological debates galore about the book (as there should have been), and it’s my pleasure to say that the film tends to minimize or even erase most of those problems.

The first successful decision was go all Wizard of Oz and to make the experience of the central character Mack (Sam Worthington) something that (spoiler alert) may or may not have occurred in reality, but certainly occurred when Mack was less than coherent. That immediately dampens most of the theological arguments by placing them in the context of one person’s singular dreams or imagination. Mack, a churchgoer if not yet a true believer, would have the necessary church background to have created the journey we see. So while the film takes him in the most painful and, for him, unwanted directions, it’s built upon who Mack is at the start.

Some of the controversy around the book was the decision to make Papa, the name of God the Father here, a black woman. We can only thank Papa that the rumored plans to make Oprah Winfrey the actress playing Papa were either false from the beginning or came to nothing. But the film explains why Papa is appearing to Mack that way, and it not only makes sense, it was deeply touching.

Making the Trinity visual by casting three separate people is a risk under the best of situations, but 1) it makes sense for Mack to experience God this way, and 2) it immediately creates a religious sense of mystery, which it tends to carry throughout, with only the occasional hiccup.

The film is a little too Hallmark Hall of Fame in look and style, and needed both a faster pace and a stronger hand in the editing process. But the slightly slower pace does allow for the most challenging ideas about God, sin, and pain to sink in. In fact, though it is nothing like it in style or feel, The Shack addresses more real questions about God’s relationship with the individual than any film I’ve seen since Diary of a Country Priest (1951). There are moments in the Narnia films and in Chariots of Fire that are insightful, but they are embedded in those films’ stories. Here, the truths about God and man are the story.

There are too many moments of wrenching sadness, hard questions, and the most profound spiritual insight to go into here; there are at least a couple of months of preaching material available for pastors. It’s clear that many secular writers who wrote about the film simply cannot connect with those moments, as these moments deal with issues that reside most deeply in the hearts of people of faith. It could be easy to dismiss those questions, those genuinely profound answers and the power behind them 1) if you think Christians are simply deluded by definition, and 2) because it’s easy to dismiss ideas that are presented in scenes that occasionally border on the over-sentimental or are visually candy-coated.

Perhaps the spoonful of cinematic sugar ended up making the medicine go down a bit more easily. The issues of the film include the most devastating of losses, the most brutal questions man asks of God, and the most deeply Biblical of answers to those questions. These answers challenge the characters, and us as viewers, to reject those answers as either facile or too hard to accept, or to open our hearts and minds to accept a deeper understanding of how this world operates with a sovereign and loving God. I must confess that there were no questions that Mack asked God that I haven’t asked God, and many of Papa’s answers are hard-won truths that I’ve received, but they were received over time and often with great struggling and dying to self. These are deeply personal and hard-won perspectives on self, sin, and God that have become real to me, and I can only smile a little at those critics that dismissed the more sublime exchanges between Mack and Papa as shallow or evasive. I found them often hard-hitting, and nearly always resonant and profound.

The casting is…interesting. I was a bit concerned about the casting of Octavia Spencer as Papa, as she is a good actress, but could fall into a pattern of big eyes, a set chin and a saucy attitude. She leaves all those behind here, however, and lets her ability to project kindness, sadness, and love just flow out of her easily and naturally. Avraham Aviv Alush as Jesus is alternately strong and delicate, but always loving and friendly. Only the model/actress Sumire is a weak link as the Holy Spirit. (Apparently modern concepts of diversity were called for here, as God is black, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern.) I’m not sure which is more difficult to portray—Father, Son or Holy Spirit. But as the Holy Spirit is the also-ran part of God for many Christians, the Holy Spirit characterization here is thin. Presenting the ethereal in a concrete art form such as film is always a challenge. So we’ll grant some grace and just agree that it remains a challenge.

Tim McGraw—I like you. I like your music. I love your marriage. I love that you have been in two of the most significant movies dealing with faith in the last several years—this and The Blind Side. You’re a presence, to be sure. But you’re still not an actor. I’m not sayin’ to stop. Just keep learning. ‘nuff said.

The casting of Sam Worthington was something of a mystery to me. Why him in particular? But it works surprisingly well. He often slips back into his Aussie accent, and he speaks too softly at times, swallowing his words and ends of sentences. But he has something of an Everyman persona that works perfectly here; another actor might have easily chewed the scenery beyond recognition—especially with what happens to his character. Another actor might have burned through the screen with a very specific persona, e.g., Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Michael Fassbender, James Franco. They all would have added an individual screen presence that might have made Mack’s experiences too individual, too specific to his character. Worthington is a more recessive screen presence, and what he goes through is more accessible to the viewer because he leaves enough blanks for us to fill in.

For those looking for points of error, there may be a little too much of a suggestion of universalism here, and a lack of specificity about the centrality of Jesus there. But overall, the film is surprisingly on the nose Biblically. If some of the scenes can’t bear the theological weight of too much pressing or expansion, perhaps it’s good to remember that Jesus’ parables generally had one major point to make, and to expand upon them or universalize them would be a error in Biblical exegesis.

The Shack is a parable, not a cinematic Bible study, and it’s presented as one man’s experience. Yet even within that context, its story is strong, its questions nakedly and powerfully direct, and most of the answers worthy of reception and reflection.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

The awkwardly titled newest entry in the Spider-Man series generally succeeds in rebooting the series, and turns into one of the most enjoyable—and funny—mainstream films of the year. There are pitfalls aplenty in rebooting a series so often in such a short timeframe, but this film avoids most of them, only falling apart at the end.

The newest Spider-Man, already introduced in Captain America: Civil War (apparently, Spider-Man liked colons), is played by superhero newcomer Tom Holland, 19 years young (and looking younger) at the time of shooting. Holland of course was hardly a newcomer to performing. He was one of the Billys in Billy Elliot the Musical in London’s West End, and has the dancing and gymnastic skills that add to his graceful action sequences. He was also in The Lost City of Z, In the Heart of the Sea, The Impossible, and TV’s Wolf Hall, among many other shows. But this is his first lead, and he carries the weight of the film on his small shoulders with ease. One critic described previous Spider-Man Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (then a real-life couple as well as a screen pair) as more adorable than a basket of puppies. That was true, but Holland has his own brand of cute and adorable, and the film builds easily around that trait.

This is a reboot that doesn’t just go back to a younger Spider-Man, but the youngest yet, and does so with a completely new attitude. Adding a best friend to Peter Parker (spoiler alert) who knows pretty much right off the top of the film that Peter is Spider-Man, adds a double dose of “I can’t believe I/you can do that” gee-whiz geek factor that is carried slightly too far, but which otherwise infuses the film with a joy of discovery that rejuvenates the entire idea of this superhero. There are also layers of discovery that keep adding life and joy throughout the film.

This Spider-Man focuses less on crime-fighting than on trying to figure out what being Spider-Man means when you’re a high school sophomore who lives with his aunt and has a crush on an older student. Oh, and of course, you’re a science and engineering nerd who is part of a competitive team going to nationals. So yes, there are lots of challenges in this coming-of-age story.

Michael Keaton plays Vulture, the villain of this entry. It was hard for this writer to erase his comic persona from my viewing of the film, but Keaton gives it everything he has. Unfortunately, Keaton’s film history aside from his persona gets in the way. He was Batman, then Birdman, and now wears the wings for a third time as the bad guy. Let’s hope for wingless performance soon.

Where the film falls apart is at the end, where the film’s innocence and sweetness gives way to the corporate mandate of a huge CGI battle. This trend seems to have begun to get out of hand in the Man of Steel battle between Superman and General Zod, and recently crammed its way into Wonder Woman, threatening to ruin the film. The tensions between Peter and Vulture build up unexpectedly and could easily have come to a head without the requisite (and by now, tired) attempt to destroy a city. Please, Marvel and DC, find another kind of climax—please!

What there isn’t enough of is Aunt May, played by Marisa Tomei. The ending of the film indicates there might be more of her in the sequel. We can only hope—a film can’t have enough Marisa Tomei in it.

The film is a bit overstuffed, both with characters and plot points. But the main sparks work. One set of sparks is between Spider-Man and Iron-Man, who takes on a typically snarky but more paternal role with Peter, a connection that works surprisingly well with both characters. The other sparks are provided by Peter and his best friend and Peter and his classmates. This is where Holland is at his most vulnerable and sweet, and where he demonstrates his strongest ability to carry a film. He’s major star material.

There are a couple of surprises along the way, one being something of a shock/twist. Can’t say more, of course, except that it’s totally unexpected and yet makes sense as the film progresses.

This latest reboot has taken the series in a positive direction, exploring new attitudes of innocence and discovery, all hanging on the shoulders of a smart, endearing, and multi-talented young man. It may be the most enjoyable and entertaining of the series. It’s certainly a refreshing new beginning.



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