Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

Spider-Man was a fairly revolutionary comic book character when he was first revealed back in the '60's. Being a nerdy, socially-awkward young teenager, a large portion of the comic-book-reading audience could relate to him in ways that they simply couldn't with characters like Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four. Peter Parker was one of them.

Finally casting an actual teenager to fill the role of Peter Parker / Spider-Man is an obviously brilliant (and overdue) move that does for this generation of young superhero movie audiences, what the original Spider-Man did for comic-reading kids in the '60's. For the first time, I can actually buy into this film version of Peter Parker as a high school student. There's a lot more focus on teenage drama and on Peter's conflicting responsibilities as Spider-Man and as a student. He flakes out on his friends, misses quizzes and extra-curricular activities. He worries about who he could invite to the homecoming dance, and worries that if Aunt May finds out about his superheroing, she might ground him.

Peter's age and his relatability to young audiences isn't the only parallel that this movie makes with the early issues of the comics. The first issue of Amazing Spider-Man included a storyline in which Spider-Man attempted to join the Fantastic Four. Homecoming is about Spider-Man seeking to join the Avengers (since Marvel doesn't have the film rights to the Fantastic Four yet). Homecoming skips over the first Spidey villain (who was the Chameleon) and focuses on the Vulture, who first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #2. This movie also throws in the Tinkerer, who was also featured in a storyline of Amazing Spider-Man #2. The love interest is even fellow high-schooler Liz Allan, who even preceded Gwen Stacy as one of Peter's first romantic interests in the comics.

Trying to step out of Sam Raimi's spider-shadow

Much like the Sam Raimi movies, the supporting cast here is excellent -- and unlike the Sam Raimi movies, the main cast is spot-on too! Sure, it doesn't have J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, and I have a hard time believing that anybody can beat Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but everyone here puts in a great effort. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark appearance is much more substantive than a simple phoned-in cameo, and Michael Keaton is absolutely fantastic as an increasingly-unhinged working-class bad guy who's simply trying to run his modest weapon-smuggling ring under the radar of the Avengers.

Instead of trying to join the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man is trying to join the Avengers.

I'm also grateful that this movie is a bit more upbeat and less mopey and brooding than the Sam Raimi films...

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Paul McCartney concert
We got to see Paul McCartney perform live in the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.

This past weekend, I got to cross something off my bucket list. My girlfriend and I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa to see Paul McCartney in concert. I had already seen Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band perform in Vegas, so seeing Paul means that I've completed my collection of surviving Beatles.

Sir McCartney is currently touring the United States as part of his "One on One" tour. Unfortunately, his only California tour date conflicted with some travel plans that my girlfriend already had, so the next closest city was Des Moines, Iowa. So we flew out to Des Moines for the weekend, and took the opportunity to visit with my sister, who lives a couple hours away.

I became enamored with the Beatles when I was in college, so being able to have seen both Paul and Ringo in the flesh is very gratifying. Now if only they'd tour together...

Paul McCartney concert
Paul performed a ukelele tribute
to George Harrison.

I think it goes without saying that the concert was fantastic. It may not be John, George, and Ringo, but Paul's current band is pretty good in their own right. The concert opened with "A Hard Day's Night", and the setlist was made up of half Beatles tunes, and the other half being solo material and songs from Wings. One song was even from back before the Beatles were "the Beatles", as Paul performed "In Spite of All the Danger", which was written while Paul was part of The Quarrymen. In addition to playing with the band, Paul also performed a handful of solo pieces, such as "Blackbird" and "Yesterday" (as part of the lengthy encore).

I wasn't expecting to hear anything written by George Harrison or John Lennon, but Paul did play a ukele rendition of Harrison's "Something" as a tribute to his departed friend. It was very sweet...

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Dunkirk movie poster

I've had a busy couple of weeks of movies! Three movies in the past two weekends, and planning on seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming in the next couple days. But first, while trying to keep ourselves entertained in Des Moines, my girlfriend and I decided to kill a couple hours at the movies and checked out the newly-released war movie from Christopher Nolan: Dunkirk.

I'll admit that it took me a little while to figure out this movie's chronological structure. Director Christopher Nolan decided to edit the movie into a non-sequential order, in which individual scenes jump back and forth between points in the movie's timeline (sometimes to show the same event again, but this time from a different point of view). There's three main storylines running in parallel: a pair of soldiers trying to catch a boat off the beach, a pair of pilots hunting down German bombers, and a civilian yacht captain setting sail to help rescue the stranded British army. Early in the movie, the scenes with the soldiers take place at night, and the scenes on the planes and in the yacht take place during the day.

At first, I thought maybe this was some kind of time zone difference. Like maybe the scenes on the boat were taking place sufficiently east that the sun had already set; whereas, the planes were flying far enough west that the sun hadn't set yet. This wasn't the case. The movie was, in fact, shifting between an aerial pursuit taking place during one afternoon and the boat escapes that happened the night before (or several nights before). Maybe I missed something at the beginning of the movie that made this all more clear?

I didn't have any trouble following along with the non-linear, compressed time in Inception, but this movie threw me off a tiny bit simply because I wasn't expecting it. Once I realized how the movie actually worked, it was easy to follow along with each of the individual threads, and to start to see where and how they intersected. Not a deal-breaker in any way. By the end, everything comes together quite nicely.

The early movie cycles between the day of the evacuation and conflict from the night before.

Much like War for the Planet of the Apes (which is quite good), Dunkirk is a surprisingly slow and quiet movie...

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Alien Covenant poster

I really did not like Prometheus. The characters kept doing stupid things in order to create conflict and tension. The android antagonist seemed to act belligerently with no real reason to do so, and with the audience having no real idea what he was even trying to do. The tie-in to Alien also felt completely unnecessary and [more importantly] unwelcome. Apparently, the writers of Alien: Covenant saw those complaints and decided to double-down on all of them.

Covenant completely lost me as soon as the crew steps off the lander without any sort of environmental suits or helmets.

I could overlook the fact that the crew decides to land on the planet immediately instead of waiting for the storms to pass. Maybe they thought this was a rescue mission and time would be of the essence. Whatever.

I could excuse them for somehow completely missing the ruins of an alien city being within walking distance of the source of the transmission.

I could maybe even excuse the rapid pacing with which the alien gestates after being implanted by the facehugger, and how fast the alien grows. In the original movie, the facehugger was on the guy's face for like a whole day, then the chestburster doesn't pop out till the next day, and then it takes about another whole day for the xenomorph to grow to maturity. In Covenant, the whole process takes a matter of minutes or hours.

I could overlook all that stuff in a cleverer movie. But setting foot on an unknown alien world without even bothering to protect yourself from potential contaminants, and then setting the entire movie's conflict on infectious agents, is just unforgivable. Even Prometheus at least got that right ... until the crew decided to all take off their helmets because scans indicated that the "air is breathable".

Alien Covenant - no space suits
Why aren't you wearing environmental suits?!

You know what else is unforgivably stupid? Following a duplicitous android into his bio-weapon research lab and then sticking your face in an alien egg sac because he kindly asked you to. As soon as the captain found out that David had killed and/or experimented on Shaw, why didn't he just shot and killed him?

The movie is also a structural and pacing nightmare. The first 20 minutes of movie feels like pointless filler; while the last 30 minutes is a lazy, rushed rehash of the first Alien movie without any of the tension, suspense, or mystery. I could buy into the first thirty minutes being a "world-building" exercise, but not when you then go on to fail so miserably at world-building by not having your protagonists follow the most rudimentary of sci-fi safety procedures.

Aside from establishing the terraforming module, that first act really does absolutely nothing to set up anything later in the movie...

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War for the Planet of the Apes

Once again, I am amazed by just how good this new Planet of the Apes franchise is. Both of the previous movies (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) were my favorite movies of their respective years. War for the Planet of the Apes would probably also be this year's hands-down favorite if it didn't have to compete with Logan.

The most amazing and surprising thing is just how unlike a "summer Hollywood blockbuster" this summer Hollywood blockbuster looks and feels. These movies have, as their premise, an apocalyptic world-changing event, but yet the writers and directors manage to avoid the traps of making an apocalyptic movie. The stories and conflicts are always very personal and feel small-scale and low-key compared to the events going on around them. The focus of the movies also increasingly shifts away from the human characters and towards the ape characters.

The previous movie went a good 20 or 30 minutes without any dialogue at all, as its first act focused on the ape characters who use sign language as the dominant form of communication. War goes even further, as the majority of the dialogue throughout the entire movie comes in the form of subtitled sign language between otherwise speechless ape characters. It's a surprisingly quiet movie with a very minimalist sound design. As such, anyone speaking anywhere in the theater is a huge distraction, so hopefully you don't get stuck sitting next to anybody who feels they have to narrate everything they're seeing to the companion next to them. You know who you are! Asshole...

War for the Planet of the Apes - soldiers captured
Most of the dialogue is in the form of sign language and gestures between ape characters.

... Same goes for the scum-bag who sat in the front row and then spent the entire third act checking his phone -- without even bothering to dim the brightness. You're in the front row! Everyone in the theater can see your phone glowing under the screen!

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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