Friday, October 20, 2017

"SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" (2017) Review

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"SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" (2017) Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) released its second film for the 2017 Summer season - "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING". Although this film marked the first time a solo Spider-man film within the MCU franhise, it marked the second appearance of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man in a MCU film. The character made its first appearance in 2016's "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR". In an odd way, this film could be seen as a sequel to the 2016 movie. .

Before the 2016 movie, the character of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man had been featured in five films released through Columbia (later Sony) Pictures - three of them directed by Sam Rami between 2002-2007 and two of them directed by Marc Webb between 2012-2014. Instead of allowing Webb to round out his own trilogy, Sony Pictures made a deal with Disney and Marvel Films to allow the Spider-Man character to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), while Sony retained final creative control over over any of the character's solo films and appearances in other MCU movies. In the end, both Sony and Disney hired British actor Tom Holland to be the new Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. The character made his first MCU appearance in the second half of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR" when he was recruited by Tony Stark aka Iron Man to help track down and arrest Steve Rogers aka Captain America and other rogue Avengers who had refused to sign the Sokovia Accords in Berlin, Germany. 

However, the first ten to fifteen minutes of "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" began in the past . . . a few days following the Battle of New York in 2012's "THE AVENGERS". Adrian Toomes, the owner of a salvage company, has been contracted by the city government to clean up the mess from the Chitauri invasion. However, their operation is taken over by the Department of Damage Control (D.O.D.C.), a partnership between Tony and the U.S. government. Angered at being driven out of business, Toomes and his employees decide to keep the Chitauri technology they have already scavenged and use it to create and sell advanced weapons. After Peter participates in the Avenges' battle at the Berlin airport, he returns to New York and resumes his studies at the Midtown School of Science and Technology. Tony informs Peter that he is not ready to become an Avenger, yet allows the web slinger to keep an A.I. Spider-Man suit that he had created. A few months later, Peter quits his school's academic decathlon team in order to spend more time focusing on his crime-fighting activities as Spider-Man. The latter also becomes aware of Spider-Man and utilizes a suit with mechanical wings forged from Chitauri technology to become the criminal known as "Vulture". However, his operation attracts the attention of Spider-Man, when the latter prevents a criminals from robbing an ATM with his advanced weapons.

"SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" became the second highest-grossing film of the Summer of 2017, following "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2" . . . so far. To be honest, I had expected it to become the highest grossing summer film of the year and a lot sooner. Nor did I expect it to become the second-highest grossing film within a span of two months. That seemed a bit long to me for a movie with such high expectations. A part of me cannot help but wonder why it took so long for "HOMECOMING" to achieve this position in the first place. I thought "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" was one of the more down-to-earth MCU films I have seen since 2015's "ANT-MAN". But the latter had the distinction of being something rare in a comic book film genre . . . a heist film. "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" proved to be a more conventional film in which the protagonist takes on a group of local arms dealers, selling their wares to local criminals. Like I said . . . down to earth. The movie also did a solid job in portraying Peter's development as a costumed hero. I say solid, because audiences were first introduced to the MCU's Spider-Man a few months after he had acquired his powers and become a vigilante. So, movie audiences never really saw how this Peter Parker became Spider-Man. But if I must be honest, I did not regard this as a major problem. Somewhat. The movie also did a pretty good job in conveying how Peter's Spider-Man activities interfered with his private life.

The movie also featured what I believed were a few memorable scenes - both dramatic and action. I enjoyed the sequence in which Spider-Man was forced to rescue his classmates from an elevator mishap inside the Washington Monument. Well, most of the sequence. I had one complaint about it, which I will point out later. The ferryboat sequence that featured Spider-Man's attempt to arrest the Vulture provided a good number of tension and great cinematography. The movie's ending proved to be very memorable to me. In this final scene, May Parker, Peter's aunt, walked into his bedroom and found him changing out of his Spider-Man costume. Her reaction to this revelation proved to be the funniest and most original scene in the entire movie. But my favorite moment proved to be when Adrian Toomes discovered Peter's identity as Spider-Man. It happened, in all places, inside Toomes' car as he drove his daughter Liz Allan and Peter to their school's Homecoming dance. From the moment that Liz Allan unintentionally revealed Peter's constant absences, Toomes knew that Peter was the costumed vigilante who had been causing trouble for him and his men.

"SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" also benefited from a first-rate cast. Tom Holland became the fourth actor I have seen portray Spider-Man . . . and the third to do so on the silver screen. He is probably the youngest to portray the role. Many critics and moviegoers regarded his age as the reason why he might be the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I cannot say that I agree with assessment. Mind you, he did a great job in the role. But if I must be honest, I was equally impressed with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's interpretations. Another first-rate performance came from Michael Keaton, who portrayed the movie's main antagonist, Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture. In fact, the Toomes character, along with Keaton's portrayal; seemed indicative of the film's down-to-earth style. I do not regard Adrian Toomes as one of the best villains that have appeared in the MCU franchise. But . . . I must admit that Keaton gave one of the best performances I have seen within the franchise for a while. Thanks to his skillful and subtle performance, Keaton elevated a character that otherwise did not strike me as particularly interesting.

There were a few other performances that I also found enjoyable. One of them came from Marisa Tomei, who portrayed Peter's widowed aunt and sole guardian, May Parker. And thanks to Tomei's skills as a comedic actress, she provided one of the most memorable endings in a MCU film. Jon Favreau continued his portrayal of Tony Stark's right-hand man, Harold "Happy" Hogan. I thought he did an excellent job of portraying Happy's never-ending disregard for any of Tony's fellow costumed vigilantes. Tony Revolori gave a rather entertaining performance as Peter's high school tormentor, Flash Thompson. What I found interesting about Revolori's performance is that unlike the previous versions of this character, his Flash utilize more subtle methods of bullying Peter, due to being the self-indulged man of a wealthy man. The movie also featured solid performances from Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Batalon, Hannibal Buress, Logan Marshall-Greene, Garcelle Beauvais, Tyne Daly, Kenneth Choi; along with Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts.

However, "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" has its flaws. Unfortunately, I feel that it has more flaws than virtues. I have so many problems with this film that I believe it would take a separate essay to discuss all of them. The best I can do is mention those I can remember at the moment - like the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline. What in the hell happened? Talk about a massive screw up. In "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR", Vision had pointed out that Tony Stark had revealed himself to the world as Iron Man eight years earlier. This movie began a few days after the events of "THE AVENGERS". Then the movie jumped eight years to its main narrative, beginning with Spider-Man's experiences with the Berlin Airport fight in "CIVIL WAR". Following that event, the movie jumped a few months later. Does this mean that both "IRON MAN" and "THE AVENGERS" were set during the same year? The entire Phase One of the MCU - aside from most of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER"? I doubt it very much, considering that according to Nick Fury, the events of "IRON MAN 2""THOR" and "THE INCREDIBLE HULK" had occurred at least a year before "THE AVENGERS". It is all so fucking confusing that I do not want to discuss this any further.

Another problem I had with "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" was the presence of Tony Stark in the film and that damn Artificial Intelligence Spider-Man suit he had created for Peter. I realize that Iron Man was the Marvel character that had kick-started the MCU, but . . . c'mon! It was bad enough that the character had nearly hijacked a Captain America film. Now we had to see Robert Downey Jr.'s mug in this film? And he has proven to be one of the worst mentors I have seen on-screen. Tony's idea of being a mentor was to plant a tracking device in Peter's new Spider-Man suit and order Happy to keep tabs on the kid. You know, long distance mentoring? What the damn hell? It was bad enough that he had dragged Peter all the way to Germany (and without May's knowledge) to help him battle the rogue Avengers. Then upon their return to New York, he advises Peter to stick with capturing local criminals. And then he leaves New York to monitor Peter from a distance. What the hell? I hate to say this, but the actor has really outstayed his welcome in the MCU . . . at least as far as I am concerned. 

Speaking of Tony Stark, the movie revealed that he had resumed his romance with his former Girl Friday, Pepper Potts. In fact, they had become engaged. Only this revelation was made near the end of the film . . . in a quickie scene that served as comic relief. Great! Between "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR" and this film, Marvel revealed how incompetent it has become in portraying on-screen romances - even between established couples. Audiences were told in "CIVIL WAR" that Tony and Pepper had broken up. And we were told in a brief scene in this film that they had not only reconciled, but had also become engaged. The MCU's screenwriters utilized the old "tell but not show" adage in the franchise's portrayal of the Tony/Pepper romance. How sloppy. I never thought I would say this, but I was not that particularly thrilled by the presence of Captain America in this film. Why? Because he was featured in a series of taped Public Service Announcement (P.S.A.) video clips shown to the students at Midtown High. Normally, I would not have a problem with this. And even the final P.S.A. shown in a post-credit scene struck me as rather humorous. But . . . Steve Rogers aka Captain America had been a fugitive for a few months. Why would any school show a P.S.A. featuring a wanted fugitive? The New York City School District had a few months to tape a new P.S.A. Or . . . I could have simply done without this little and unnecessary addition to the film in the first place. I thought it was a waste of my time.

As for the A.I. suit, I hated it. I really hated that damn suit. I hated it. It merely robbed Peter from most of the abilities and nuance that made him Spider-Man - especially his spider senses. Worse, it kept interfering with Peter's vigilante activities. When Spider-Man finally defeated the Vulture without the use of that damn suit, I sighed with relief. Unfortunately . . . the movie ended with Tony giving back that suit to him. Ugh! Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and the comic book versions of the character managed to survive and develop without Stark's tech additions. But apparently, Tom Holland's Spider-Man cannot. Why? Because he is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. UGH!

When I heard that actress/singer Zendaya had been cast as one of Peter's classmates - M.J., I cheered. She would be a new kind of Mary Jane Watson. Only, I had no idea how different Zendaya's M.J. would prove to be. One, her initials did not stand for Mary Jane. They stood for Michelle Jones. They changed the name, but kept the initials? What the fuck for? And like Peter, she proved to be a science-oriented student. Apparently, Marvel felt that the only kind of love interest - present or future - worthy of someone like Peter Parker, is one who is science-oriented like him. Which is why both Liz Allan and M.J. are science-oriented. Worse, the screenwriter completely changed her personality. This M.J. is an introverted and sardonic person in compare to the more extroverted M.J. from the comics. A romance between the introverted Peter and the introverted M.J.? Sounds like a great snooze fest. Come to think of it, the relationship between Peter and Liz Allan struck me as equally dull. I hate to say this but Tom Holland and Laura Harrier lacked screen chemistry. Honestly, she seemed a bit too much for the likes of him . . . on-screen and off.

Speaking of introverts, I found the movie's portrayal of Peter Parker rather confusing. Peter has always been an introvert - even before he became Spider-Man. Only when wearing the Spider-Man suit did he display an extroverted persona. Well, Holland's Spider-Man was extroverted. I had no problems with that. I had a problem with his Peter Parker persona. The only times Holland's Peter displayed any signs of an introverted nature was when he had to deal with classmates like the bullying Flash Thompson. Otherwise, his Peter was unusually extroverted. And he never had to pay the consequences for his activities as Spider-Man. Not really. I thought it would have been more dramatic if his academic decathlon team had suffered a loss at their competition in Washington D.C. because he was busy being Spider-Man. Only they did not. 

And the story lost an excuse for Peter to suffer any consequences for being Spider-Man. Also, near the end of the film, Tony offered him a position as a member of the Avengers. He brought Peter all the way to the Avengers facility in upstate New York and had a room waiting for the 15 year-old. Gee! All of this . . . without May's permission? After all, Peter was underage. Was Tony really planning to let Peter drop out of school and leave Queens in order to join the Avengers . . . without May's permission and knowledge? After the shit he had pulled with dragging Peter to Germany in "CIVIL WAR", I guess so. What the hell Marvel?

I realized that director Jon Watts and the five screenwriters who had co-written the screenplay with him thought they were being clever by not starting the movie with Peter's origin story. In a way, how could they? Especially since Peter had been Spider-Man for several months before the events of "CIVIL WAR". But dammit! Watts and the other writers could have utilized a flashback or two to reveal the events of that momentous occasion. More importantly, the movie's screenplay could have mentioned Ben Parker's name and how he had died. They did not even bother to do that. Instead, Peter merely mentioned to his friend Ned that his aunt May had managed to recover from a traumatic event. Peter's uncle went from "Uncle Ben Parker" to "a traumatic event". Gee. How nice.

I also had a problem with Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture. As I had stated earlier, I really enjoyed Michael Keaton's portrayal of the character, despite the latter being an underwhelming villain. But I had a problem with the villain's actions and goals. Let me get this straight. He was about to lose his business, because he lost the contract with the city to clean up the mess from the Chitauri invasion? Really? You mean to say that Toomes' salvaging company lacked any business before the events of "THE AVENGERS"? And how did the D.O.D.C. failed to confiscate the Chitauri technology that Toomes had already collected before losing his contract? When the Chitauri tech threatened to run out two-thirds into the film, Toomes' company was in danger . . . again? This guy could not operate a salvage company without depending upon alien technology? And could someone explain why Marvel had decided to make Liz Allan and the Vulture daughter and father? Yes, both characters are a part of the Spider-Man mythos. But they had nothing to do with each other. And in this film, both had different surnames. What was the point in making Liz the daughter of the Vulture?

I do not know what else to say about "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING". Well, despite some first-rate acting from the likes of Tom Holland and Michael Keaton and a few solid action and dramatic sequences directed by Jon Watts, I guess so. Unfortunately, the movie's virtues seemed to be rather few. And if I must be honest, Watts' direction struck me as okay, but not really that impressive, considering that I was only impressed by a few scenes. But there were too many aspects in this film that either rubbed me the wrong way or seemed badly written to me. In the end, I found "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" rather disappointing. It is probably my least favorite Spider-Man film.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

"DEVIL AND THE DEEP" (1932) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "DEVIL AND THE DEEP", the 1932 adaptation of Maurice Larrouy's 1927 novel, "Sirenes et Tritons". Directed by Marion Gering, the movie starred Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper and Charles Laughton: 


"DEVIL AND THE DEEP" (1932) Photo Gallery

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Friday, October 13, 2017

"DOWNTON ABBEY" Food Styles



Below are images of culinary dishes created by food stylist/chef, Lisa Heathcote, for the 2010-2015 ITV series, "DOWNTON ABBEY"


"DOWNTON ABBEY" FOOD STYLES


































Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"RIVER LADY" (1948) Review




"RIVER LADY" (1948) Review

While perusing the Internet on the career of actress Yvonne De Carlo, I noticed that she made a handful of conventional costume pictures for Universal Pictures, after she had signed a long-term contract with them in 1946. One of those films was the 1948 movie, "RIVER LADY"

Set in the upper Mississippi River Valley during the decade after the Civil War, "RIVER LADY" is an adaptation of Frank Waters and Houston Branch's 1942 novel. It told the story of a conflict between the citizens of a Minnesota mill town, the loggers who worked downstream and the lumber mill owners. The representative of a local lumber syndicate named Bauvais wants to purchase a struggling lumber mill from its owner, H.L. Morrison. But the latter refuses to sell. However, the owner of a gambling riverboat owner named Sequin manages to purchase the mill in order to provide a reputable job for her boyfriend, Dan Corrigan, a lumberjack whom she loves. However, Sequin has a rival in Morrison's only daughter, Stephanie. When the latter learns about Dan and Sequin's engagement, she exposes Sequin's purchase of the Morrison mill. Dan becomes enraged when he realizes that his fiancee has manipulated his life and in a drunken fit, rejects the riverboat owner and marries Stephanie. Business sparks eventually ignite between a vengeful Dan and an angry Sequin, who has aligned herself with the mercenary Bauvais.

What can I say about "RIVER LADY"? I have seen my share of minor period dramas from "Golden Age of Hollywood" over the years. Some of them have been decent. Some of them have been surprisingly pretty good. Others have been . . . well, a waste of my time. "RIVER LADY" was a waste of my time. 

Did "RIVER LADY" have the potential to be a pretty good movie? I do not think so. Frankly, I found it difficult to summon the energy to get excited over a messy rivalry involving the lumber business in 1870s Minnesota. And I am confused over Sequin's role in this story. She purchased part of the Morrison lumber mill for lumberjack Dan Corrigan. But once he had dumped her, why was there no conflict between her and Morrison over Dan's role in the business? Instead, she sat back and watched him use the business to engage in a conflict with her other business partner, Bauvais. Would it have not been easier if the writers could have found another reason for Sequin and Dan's breakup? And why would Dan be so upset over Sequin manipulating him into a major position with the Morrison lumber mill . . . and not express any anger over the ugly manner in which Stephanie Morrison had interfered in his upcoming marriage? Odd.

Then again, I also realized that I did not really like most of the characters in this movie. To be honest, I just did not find them that interesting. Except for two . . . namely Sequin and Bauvais. I would never regard either of them as nice, but Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea did such excellent jobs in making both of them interesting and dynamic that it seemed a pity that neither ended the movie on a happy note. Rod Cameron and Helena Carter gave solid performances as lumberjack-turned-businessman Dan Corrigan and his bride, Stephanie Morrison. But to be honest, their performances seemed like a walk in the park in compare to DeCarlo and Duryea. And as a leading man, Cameron did not exactly rock my world . . . if you know what I mean. The movie also featured solid performances from John McIntire, Lloyd Gough, Florence Bates and Anita Turner. Only Turner really impressed me, for I found her portrayal of the Morrisons' maid Esther rather witty. However, none of the cast members were not helped by D.D. Beauchamp and William Bowers' dialogue, which seemed more appropriate for a 1940s crime melodrama, instead of a film set in the mid-to-late 1800s.

I have no idea on whether "RIVER LADY" was a "B" movie or not. It feels like a "B" movie, despite having a cast that featured the likes of De Carlo, Duryea, Cameron and McIntire. As a frequent visitor of the Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park, it is pretty obvious that a good deal of the movie was filmed on that studio's back lot. And although the costumes designed by Yvonne Wood struck me as pretty colorful, a bit too much of late 1940s fashion seemed to have crept into some of De Carlo and Carter's 1870s costumes. 

What else can I say about "RIVER LADY"? Despite first-rate performances from Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea, along with the colorful production; this is a movie that I doubt I would be interested in watching again. Once was enough.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

"A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY" (1989) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY", the 1989 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1964 novel. The movie starred Joan Hickson as Miss Jane Marple: 


"A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY" (1989) Photo Gallery