All posts by Andrew Wickliffe

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, Jon Watts)

If Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t the best film with six credited screenwriters, it’s got to be near the top. Additionally, the film’s got director (and one the Sinister Six–wokka wokka–screenwriters) Watts, who kind of manually binds the film together scene by scene. There’s so much different stuff going on–darker than expected villain Michael Keaton’s subplot, which is a “what happens when a psychopath loses his day job” origin, Spider-Man Begins, and a high school movie. The first two interconnect, the second two interconnect, but it’s a lot going on at once. Not to mention Robert Downey Jr. being shoehorned in for franchise purposes.

Watts, through his direction of the actors and the pacing of the scenes, keeps it enthusiastic but never too enthusiastic. The studio credits having the old “Spider-Man” cartoon theme is actually as far as it gets towards too self-aware. Keeping it grounded makes the “Spider-Man excitedly climbing buildings” sequences entertaining. It’s Spider-Man’s enthusiasm, not the film’s. It’s Tom Holland’s enthusiasm.

And Spider-Man: Homecoming is all about Tom Holland. Keaton gets to do his villain arc on his own for most of the movie and it’s flashy, but it’s a small part. Holland’s in every other scene (except when he’s Spider-Manning to save people or to stop criminals). He’s got Avengers training with Downey and Jon Favreau (who looks miserable), he’s got high school with Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, and Zendaya, he’s got friendly neighborhood crimefighting, he’s got home with Marisa Tomei. The script balances all of it pragmatically and impersonally.

Homecoming always errs on the side of narrative payoff. Even though everyone implies the potential of letting loose, only Batalon gets anything near the chance and it’s incredibly muted. The film’s focused on Holland’s story and goals, so much the things going on alongside him–Tomei, Harrier–are left out. Except when the script picks back up with them, there’s no gap. Quick, effective expositions, good acting, and Watts’s meticulous narrative distance to Tom Holland, it all comes together. And Homecoming, which has Chris Evans cameos, laser guns, suburban superhero action, Downey, stunt cameo casting, a terribly bland but competent Michael Giacchino score, and everything else–oh, the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off homage–it has so much.

Yet Watts keeps it together. Because he keeps it on Holland and it never seems like a pressure. Holland’s character development arc is a subtle one too. He usually just has to bake it into other scenes, with the script never getting too far into it. Homecoming doesn’t imply things often and it’s very careful when it does; it knows it’s a franchise picture with a familiar IP and it only wants to do what it wants to do.

But since it is a franchise picture, there’s also a lack of urgency. Everything feels very safe. Keaton feels restrained. Not sure letting him loose on a villain kick would result in a better performance, but he’s still holding back. The bad guys in Homecoming are never bad enough to hurt regular people, which sometimes too contributes to the “safe” feeling.

Though it allows a pointless but amusing Donald Glover cameo.

Excellent special effects. Salvatore Totino’s photography is simultaneously warm and crisp, letting the film toggle between thrills and light superhero angst, but it also provides a great backdrop for the CGI. You have to stop and reminds yourself the leaping figure isn’t Holland.

Homecoming finally figures out how to let the actor “playing” Spider-Man give a full performance as Spider-Man. Because Watts and Holland.

All the acting is good. Downey’s doing a schtick at this point, but likably. It’s a PG Downey in a PG–13 movie. Batalon and Harrier are great. Bookem Woodbine’s good as one of Keaton’s goons. Tomei’s good. Zendaya is likable. She’s got nothing to do but she’s likable. Besides appearing miserable to have agreed to appear, Favreau’s fine. Enough. He underplays an underwritten part.

Keaton’s fine. Kind of good. Never bad, but never anything too special. The script gives him a “little guy trying to survive” thing to do and Keaton can do it. It’s just not a great part. It’s effective and it’s only supposed to be effective.

And Holland’s amazing.

Given its production history (involving Marvel, i.e. Disney, producing a film at Columbia, i.e. Sony, to work it into the Marvel movie continuity), not to mention six credited screenwriters, and being such a familiar film property at this point, Spider-Man: Homecoming starts out with a lot it seems to need to do and a lot it shouldn’t do.

The film does everything it should and nothing it shouldn’t and never in a rush. Nothing’s perfunctory. Homecoming sets up Keaton, then it moves on to Holland, and it just does the movie.

Excellent result from Watts, Holland, and everyone else’s efforts. Except Giacchino. One of Homecoming’s early hurdles is succeeding in spite of Giacchino’s boring score.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Watts; screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers, based on a story by Goldstein and Daley and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Debbie Berman and Dan Lebental; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Michael Keaton (Adrian Toomes), Marisa Tomei (Aunt May), Jacob Batalon (Ned), Laura Harrier (Liz), Zendaya (Michelle), Tony Revolori (Flash), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Martin Starr (Mr. Harrington), Bokeem Woodbine (Herman Schultz), Logan Marshall-Green (Jackson Brice), and Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark).


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Return of the Street Fighter (1974, Ozawa Shigehiro)

Return of the Street Fighter almost stages a third act rally. It comes so close, then it doesn’t. After a string of boring fight scenes, director Ozawa finally gets in a couple good ones. Lead Sonny Chiba against one adversary, instead of a half dozen, two dozen, or four dozen. The failure to do big fight scenes is all on Ozawa. Chiba’s holding up his end–vicious karate killing machine–but Ozawa’s not shooting the fights well. When it’s just Chiba and someone else fighting, Ozawa and editor Horiike Kôzô create this rhythm to the cuts; the “story” pauses entirely for the fight.

When it’s Chiba vs. the evil karate school? Yawn. No fault of Horikke’s though; there’s just no good footage. Ozawa doesn’t do establishing shots. No matter how long Chiba’s fighting or how much ground he’s covered, no establishing shots. Ozawa never takes the camera off Chiba and never lets Chiba stop moving. Not fighting moving, but actually moving from place to place moving. It’s sort of narratively efficient but it doesn’t get the film anywhere. It’s just another unfortunate Return detail.

The story this time has Chiba working for evil karate school owner Tanaka Hiroshi–mostly doing hits. Chiba’s got a plucky, cute girl sidekick, Ichiji Yôko, who seems a little too cozy with Tanaka. Because Chiba doesn’t believe in Tanaka’s brand of karate, Tanaka’s just another client. And when Tanaka tries to hire Chiba to take out rival (good guy) karate school owner Suzuki Masafumi… well, Chiba’s got a line.

Thanks to flashback footage from the first film, we know Suzuki is the only karate school owner Chiba’s ever going to trust. Because we get to see their entire fight scene from the previous film. Return doesn’t even run ninety minutes and there are three lengthy flashbacks using first movie footage, then there’s Ozawa’s karate documentary where he showcases the various weapons and styles in use at Tanaka’s school. Why? Because then when there are actual fight scenes involving weapons and styles, Ozawa gets to rush through and just get to Chiba running away before taking the bad karate men down.

Again, it’s narratively efficient, it just doesn’t do anything good. It makes the actual fight scenes seem abbreviated. It’s a shame. When Ozawa wants, he can direct one hell of a fight scene.

Koiwa Hajjime’s script is pragmatically plotted, even when it misses opportunities. The connecting scenes between fights improve a lot in the second half of the film, contributing to the impression it’s going to get really good for the finale.

None of the cast stands out. Chiba’s pretty good, but underutilized. And it’s not like he can fix the poorly directed group fight scenes. Ichiji is annoying, but because she’s a narrative drag, nothing about the performance. Claude Gagnon is an unimpressive Mr. Big, however. And the showdown with returning baddie Ishibashi Masashi disappoints. Group fight.

The more obvious to becomes Return of the Street Fighter has nowhere to go, the more hurried the film becomes. It’s too bad; Return has the pieces to make something. The good fight scenes are quite good. They’re just dramatically inert. Given the whole film’s about Chiba resolving threads from the last movie, dramatic inertness shouldn’t even be possible.

But dramatically inert Return gets. It’s not all on director Ozawa. Most of it is on him, though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa; screenplay by Koiwa Hajjime, based on a character created by Takada Kôji; director of photography, Yoshida Sadtsugu; edited by Horiike Kôzô; music by Tsushima Toshiaki; released by Toei Company.

Starring Sonny Chiba (Tsurugi), Ichiji Yôko (Boke), Claude Gagnon (Don Costello), Ishibashi Masashi (Shikenbaru), Tanaka Hiroshi (Otaguro), Shima Naoki (Yamagami), and Suzuki Masafumi (Masaoka).


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Sentence of Death (1953, Matt Harlib)

Sentence of Death unfolds gradually. The action mostly follows Betsy Palmer, playing a naughty blue blood who the tabloids love to cover. She’s slumming it and having a nice private dinner at a drug store. She’s there when someone holds it up and kills the owner.

Enter cops Gene Lyons and Ralph Dunn. Lyons is the younger, more sensitive one. Dunn is the older, lazy one. They round up suspects based on previous behavior and new widow Virginia Vincent identifies James Dean as the murderer. Palmer does not, but also doesn’t say it isn’t him for sure.

Dunn railroads Dean with Lyons nodding along, albeit hesitantly.

Jump ahead until after Dean’s convicted and on death row (hence the title) and Palmer happens to see the man she saw that night. She tries to convince the cops without much success and has to threaten to use her tabloid platform if they don’t investigate. Eventually she convinces Lyons to look into the matter.

When Sentence opens, Palmer’s just annoying. Adrian Spies’s teleplay goes out of its way to make her unlikable. Same goes for Dunn. Dean gets some great material–or just does great things with it–as he realizes he’s in a lot of trouble. For most of that time, before the story jumps ahead, Lyons is just along for the ride. He perturbed banters with Palmer, not much else.

Once they partner to investigate, however, Lyons gets a lot better. Dunn’s failures as a responsible cop wear Lyons down. He also can’t help finding himself interested in Palmer, who proves to have a bit more depth than anyone thought she did.

Palmer’s good once the action gets started. Dean’s only got a couple scenes, he’s excellent in both. Lyons gets good too, though more than anyone else in Sentence he gets too stagy, too exaggerated. Director Harlib doesn’t do much to rein in performances.

Sentence of Death has a surprising twist at the end, some excellent character development, and some nice performances. The wrap up is a little rushed. Not too much, but a little.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Matt Harlib; teleplay by Adrian Spies, based on a story by Thomas Walsh; “Studio One” created by Fletcher Markle; produced by John Haggott; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Gene Lyons (Sgt. Paul Cochran), Betsy Palmer (Ellen Morrison), Ralph Dunn (Sgt. MacReynolds), James Dean (Joe Palica), Virginia Vincent (Mrs. Sawyer), Tony Bickley (Tommy Elliott), Fred J. Scollay (Harry Sawyer), Henry Sharp (Eugene Krantz), Eda Heinemann (Sylvia Krantz), Charles Mendick (District Attorney Lugash), and Frank Biro (The Man).


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Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, John English and William Witney), Chapter 12: Captain Marvel’s Secret

Captain Marvel’s Secret opens with yet another lackluster cliffhanger resolve. No reason to change it up at the end, apparently.

The chapter has a lot to do in sixteen minutes. It’s got to reveal the evil Scorpion’s identity, stop the Scorpion’s evil plan, and maybe do something regarding Frank Coghlan Jr. and Tom Tyler’s Captain Marvel.

Secret drags out the Scorpion identity reveal–with William Nobles’s photography showing off how much he can keep two actors’ faces in shadow when there shouldn’t be one–while putting William ‘Billy’ Benedict and Louise Currie on the run. Their attempt to escape from the Scorpion’s thugs has an awesome special effect–thugs on horseback, good guys in car. It almost seems like Captain Marvel is going to up the ante as it winds down.

But no.

Not even when it gets around to the final transformation from Coghlan to Tyler, even though events are perfect for something entertaining.

Tyler gets a lot of lines before the chapter’s over, his most of the serial. In context, he’s fine. But it’s probably good he didn’t get a lot of pontificating throughout.

All those lines are at Coghlan’s expense. When he’s not Shazamed up, Coghlan’s either preparing to say the magic word or he’s literally gagged.

The finish, after Secret takes care of outstanding business, is abrupt and inadequate.

Set design is real nice though.

CREDITS

Directed by John English and William Witney; screenplay by Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Arch Heath, Joseph F. Poland, and Sol Shor, based on the comic book by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker; director of photography, William Nobles; edited by William P. Thompson and Edward Todd; music by Cy Feuer; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Frank Coghlan Jr. (Billy Batson), Tom Tyler (Captain Marvel), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Whitey Murphy), Louise Currie (Betty Wallace), Kenne Duncan (Barnett), Robert Strange (John Malcolm), Harry Worth (Prof. Luther Bentley), John Davidson (Tal Chotali), and Reed Hadley (Rahman Bar).


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