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Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019, Jon Watts)

Spider-Man: Far From Home spends so much of its runtime being a constant delight, the first sign of trouble passes. Something where director Watts needs to connect doesn’t connect, only it doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t seem like it needs to connect too hard. Then the third act is this massive, impersonal action sequence where the sidekicks get a better action finale than the hero and the mid-credits sequence entirely changes the stakes of the film. And then the post-credits sequence entirely changes how the film plays. It’s like there’s a surprise ending then there’s a twist ending but the twist should’ve come in the regular ending… It’s also too bad because neither of the additional endings let lead Tom Holland act.

And Far From Home is usually really good about letting Holland act. He’s great, even when he’s going through the same hero arc he went through in his last solo outing. Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’s script has a lot of good jokes and nice moments for Holland (his romance arc is at least different this time) and his costars—as well as an almost great scenery chewing part for Jake Gyllenhaal—but it’s fairly thin. The film’s able to deliver some real emotion, not just from the film’s events but also from all the weight hanging over the world post Avengers 4, which seems kind of light actually but it’s set at least nine months after that film so maybe people are just emotionally fast healers and whatnot. Plus Holland and romantic interest Zendaya have oodles of chemistry so their high school romance but with overachievers on a school trip to Europe arc is wonderful. Lovely even, which is why its treatment in the additional endings is such a boondoggle.

Enough about the endings. I think.

The film has Holland and his high school classmates touring Europe while Samuel L. Jackson (in a shockingly humorless turn; not bad, just shockingly humorless) tries to get him to help save the world. Jackson’s got a new hero—Gyllenhaal, who’s from an alternate Earth and has ill-defined magical powers—but he wants Holland along for some reason. It makes even less sense once the film gets through the main plot twists, not to mention the additional end ones. See, I’m still on the endings. Sorry.

The reasons don’t matter because Gyllenhaal is really good. He’s earnest but mysterious. He and Holland have a good rapport, though it might be nice to see Holland not desperately needing a mentor. Or at least getting a funny one; Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove are comic relief as the high school teachers. Might not have hurt to give them something more to do. Far From Home has an excess of talent and doesn’t utilize enough of it. But, again, it doesn’t matter during the smooth sailing period of the film because just so long as nothing goes too wrong, nothing can screw it up. Cue ginormous third act action finale. The bad guys in the movie are these giant weather monsters (sans Flint Marko) so all the action is big. Great combination of action and landmark destruction (the monsters go after all the big European cities). There’s no way the film can top it for the finale and instead just puts more people in imminent danger. The film closes on iffy ground and then the additional endings—even if the post-credits sequence is inessential (it isn’t), the mid-credits one is the whole show—just cement the problems.

It’s a bummer because Holland, Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, and Jon Favreau are all great. Watts does a fine job directing. Europe looks great. Fun soundtrack. Competent if impersonal score from Michael Giacchino. Matthew J. Lloyd’s photography seems a little rushed on composite shots but whatever. Dan Lebental and Leigh Folsom Boyd’s is a little rushed though, especially during the exterior night sequences, which are already problem spots for Lloyd and Watts.

Speaking of Watts, despite that fine directing he does, he’s got no interest in the special effects visuals. He’s got no time for them. It’s okay for the giant weather monster fights because it keeps the focus on Holland. But when the film’s got this lengthy hallucination sequence? It’s okay. It gets the character from point A to point B, but the character doesn’t have any reaction to what they’ve seen. It’s a terribly missed opportunity. In so many ways. Including a great Empire Strikes Back reference.

Oh. Marisa Tomei.

The movie completely wastes her, while still managing to celebrate her awesomeness in the role and her chemistry with Holland.

For a while, Far From Home is such a grand European (superhero action) adventure with a wonderful—and likable—cast and fun attitude, it seems like there’s nothing it can’t get away with. The movie’s self-assured and justifiably so for most of the runtime, but those two additional endings just make it seem like… it was all bravado and not actual confidence. Hence a bummer. A weird one, wonderfully acted one.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Watts; screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Matthew J. Lloyd; edited by Dan Lebental and Leigh Folsom Boyd; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Claude Paré; produced by Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Zendaya (MJ), Jacob Batalon (Ned), Jake Gyllenhaal (Beck), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Tony Revolori (Flash), Angourie Rice (Betty), Remy Hii (Brad Davis), Martin Starr (Mr. Harrington), J.B. Smoove (Mr. Dell), Marisa Tomei (May), Cobie Smulders (Hill), and Samuel L. Jackson (Fury).


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The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988, Nicholas Corea)

The Incredible Hulk Returns is severely lacking. It’s severely lacking pretty much everything. Despite being set in and filmed in Los Angeles, the movie looks generic and constrained–director Corea has a truly exceptional aversion to establishing shots. The interior shots often have a different visual feel. More like video (Returns was shot on film, but edited on video). The video feel makes everything seem more immediate. But the last thing Returns has is immediacy. It lacks an immediacy, even though it’s incredibly dramatic.

No pun.

The movie’s set an indeterminate time since the TV series ended, but two years since Bill Bixby has turned into Lou Ferrigno. He’s in L.A. making a gamma ray to cure himself and romancing fellow scientist Lee Purcell. Despite a not too big thirteen year age difference, Bixby and Purcell lack chemistry. They’re not bad together, they just don’t seem into one another. The script tries too hard to make them cute and they’re not. The dialogue’s real bad on their romance too. There’s a lack of affection, even implied.

It doesn’t really matter because Purcell’s not important. She even gets kidnapped at one point and manages not to be important. The movie willfully ignores her. Because after the first act, it becomes a pilot for a “Thor” TV show and not really a Hulk TV movie.

Bixby’s about to cure himself when annoying rogue nerdy but late eighties nerdy cool doctor (medical doctor… sure, why not) Steve Levitt shows up. Seems Levitt’s gone and found himself an ancient Viking war hammer and become bound to giant, buff, blond Viking warrior god Eric Allan Kramer. Pretty soon Kramer is fighting Ferrigno and they break the lab, causing a big problem for Bixby.

Except not because they just fix up the lab, much to the chagrin of Bixby’s boss’s little brother, Jay Baker. Baker works his ass off in The Incredible Hulk Returns. He takes this movie really, really seriously. More seriously than anyone else, including Charles Napier playing a Cajun mercenary without a Cajun accent but TV Cajun speech patterns. It’s painful. Anyway. Baker. He tries. He’s also a corrupt little shit who hates his older brother John Gabriel. Baker doesn’t like Bixby much either. Or Levitt. They work too hard. Not really a subplot, but it comes up a couple times and it’s a lot of character development for Returns. Baker goes wild with it.

The movie utterly fails him, of course, but he does try. No one else really tries. Tim Thomerson doesn’t try as the villain. He’s also a Cajun but he’s ashamed of it. Or so Napier implies. Because Corea’s script for Returns puts more effort into the back story on the industrial mercenaries than on its lead female actor. Oh, wait. It’s only female actor. Purcell manages to weather Returns with dignity. Maybe having less to do helps.

Bixby’s completely flat throughout. He’s default likable, but never anything more. He’s not bored or condescending to the material or anything. He’s just completely flat. He’s supposed to have figured out some zen thing to control the Hulk but still. A lot of it is probably the script. Or Correa’s direction. Neither succeed at all.

Regarding Baker and his valiant efforts in his role–he’s not auditioning for a series. Levitt and Kramer would be the leads on the “Thor” show and, although Kramer does try, he doesn’t try as hard. And Levitt is exceptionally bland. Again, some of it’s the script. Some isn’t.

Kramer at least has fun. But his character is supposed to enjoy having fun. No one else in the movie enjoys anything. Not even Ferringo enjoys breaking things. Then again Correa kind of gives Ferringo the worst stuff in the movie. Not just the script or how Correa directs him–though I guess Ferrigno does get a couple spotlight action sequences–but also the make-up. When Ferrigno needs to do “Hulk sad,” he can do it. Shame Correa only has him emote twice in the movie.

Jack Colvin (from the “Hulk” TV show) comes back too. He’s barely got a part and spends a lot of his screen time talking on phones. He’s not good but he’s not terrible.

The music from Lance Rubin needs to be heard to be believed. At least for the first thirty or so minutes. Then there’s less or different music, but Rubin’s action sequence music? It’s loud, fast, layed, and terrible. There’s one good bit of music–when not using the show theme–and it’s a shock, because it suggests Rubin can do different approaches. He actually can’t. The good bit was anomalous.

The Chuck Colwell photography is bad. But is it because Colwell’s work is bad or because Correa doesn’t really do the whole shot composition thing. Either way, the result is bad. The movie never looks right. Or good. Unlike some things, the bad photography is quite bad. It isn’t just not good. It’s bad.

I suppose at the very least, The Incredible Hulk Returns is never boring. It’s just never good. And it’s often bad. Correa does a rather poor job, both at the directing and the writing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Corea; teleplay by Corea, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Chuck Colwell; edited by Janet Ashikaga and Briana London; music by Lance Rubin; executive produced by Bill Bixby and Corea; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Bill Bixby (David Banner), Steve Levitt (Donald Blake), Eric Allan Kramer (Thor), Lee Purcell (Maggie Shaw), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Tim Thomerson (Jack LeBeau), Charles Napier (Mike Fouche), John Gabriel (Joshua Lambert), Jay Baker (Zack Lambert), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


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The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)

The Return of the Incredible Hulk is the second pilot movie for the subsequent “Incredible Hulk” TV series. It aired three weeks after the first pilot, which featured the origin of the Hulk–scientist Bruce Bixby turns himself into green-skinned musclebound grotesque Lou Ferrigno thanks to gamma rays–and his pursuer, annoying, uninformed tabloid reporter Jack Colvin. Luckily Colvin doesn’t come into Return until over a half hour in so there’s limited Colvin, which is just fine. Return has enough acting… issues without Colvin mucking up too many scenes.

It’s not all Colvin’s fault; the details of his scenes are idiotic television shorthand. But it’s not like he makes the scenes work, which an actor could with some enthusiasm. The cast of Return of the Incredible Hulk is usually at least enthusiastic–all the guest stars act like they’re auditioning for a regular CBS show, which they are–but not Colvin. He’s just an unenthusiastic jackass, which isn’t a good kind of jackass.

And Colvin isn’t the one who drags Return down. The Return of the Incredible Hulk is a perfectly adequate, lower mediocre, late seventies television pilot. The one impressive shot in it doesn’t even involve the Hulk and it’s only technically impressive. Director Levi does show some interest occasionally, but he also shoots some really mediocre scenes. He’s got no interest in the soap opera aspects of the story, which is sort of a Gothic about a troubled young woman (Laurie Prange), who lost her father and her ability to walk, now getting sicker and sicker, in the care of stepmother Dorothy Tristan and special doctor William Daniels. Although an heiress, her true love is Gerald McRaney. He disappears after the first third, which is too bad. He’s rather enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Prange ends up getting the spotlight, befriending both Bixby and Ferrigno–separately. She calms Ferrigno’s beast and Bixby is trying to save her from those conspiring against her. Though there’s not much mystery in who’s conspiring against her. Kenneth Johnson’s teleplay is nothing if not efficient. The moment after Bixby reveals he knows Daniels’s doing something slimy, Daniels’s conspirator confronts Daniels about it. So all of a sudden Return’s got specific villains who have specific henchmen for Ferrigno to fight.

All the action takes place on Prange’s orange orchard in Northern California. At the opening, before it’s been made clear what a low bar Return is going for, it almost seems like there’s going to be a Bill Bixby as Tom Joad thing. There isn’t.

There is a Lou Ferrigno is Boris Karloff with the old man, which would be a lot more amusing if the old man didn’t stick around the rest of the movie. John McLiam plays the old man, a loner who has cut himself off from the world because of tragedy. He’s a veteran. He’s also a drunken Northern California hillbilly living in a surprisingly well-lighted shack. Oh, and his introduction is taunting the chicken he’s cooking about how he’s going to eat it.

And McLiam plays it all straight, which is just the wrong way to play it.

Everyone in Return, with the exception of Colvin and McLiam, tries. Daniels has some good nerdy creep moments. Tristan has some good moments. Some bad ones too, but at least there’s some energy to her performance. Though muted… as it appears in Charles W. Short’s thoroughly competent and boring lighting.

Prange tries. And she is frequently bad. But when the script’s at its best and the melodrama is toned down, Prange has a really good moment or two. There’s a sweetness between she and Ferrigno and it’s entirely from the actors. Johnson makes the time in the movie for it, but–as producer–he doesn’t make Levi enable it. Instead they rely on Joseph Harnell to do a terrible theme for Prange, separate from the “Incredible Hulk” theme, which gets a disco-ish remix early on in Return. And they use that theme for Prange ad nauseam. It ruins scenes, it ruins momentum.

Because Return finally gets some momentum in the second half, when Bixby, Prange, and McLiam are on the run. Through the Northern California orange country swamp, chased by men with dogs and a guy in a helicopter. And there are snakes.

And bears. And Ferrigno fights a bear. It’s not a bad fight. Like, for a TV pilot movie? With the “Hulk”’s demographic target audience? It’s a decent bear fight. Much cooler than the rest of the Ferrigno action. There’s too much slow motion, not enough choreography. When there’s choreography–even a little bit–it works better. There’s also the breaking stuff factor. Ferrigno breaks things (it’s the reason Bixby can’t stay in one place too long, Ferrigno might break something–not kill someone, break something). They’re big things, sure, but the set pieces are often tedious in Return. And sometimes Levi will all of a sudden decent to get serious during a fight scene and totally change the tempo.

But the bear fight is cool.

The snake not so much.

There’s also a quicksand sequence, because it’s a TV pilot movie from the late seventies. The quicksand is a disappointment.

I forgot McRaney (just the like the movie; though maybe he was busy shooting other things). He’s not good, but he’s likable. You can tell he’s got the TV star thing down. And when he’s in the movie, there’s at least a chance for it to go someplace surprising, story-wise.

It’s when he disappears Return becomes a race to the half hour chase scene.

And the half hour chase scene makes up for the rest. Enough for a late seventies TV pilot movie. The whole thing is an audition tape for Bill Bixby and the various things he’ll be able to do on the subsequent series. There’s just enough with Ferrigno to show off the action possibilities. Prange has just the right amount of tragedies to show off the sentimental possibilities. Bixby’s likability, especially opposite Prange, makes up for a lot throughout. Johnson does a fine job advertising a series.

While still adequately plotting out the ninety minutes. Return is well-produced, it’s just unimaginatively executed and rather underacted.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Levi; teleplay by Kenneth Johnson Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Charles W. Short; edited by Glenn Lawrence and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; produced by Johnson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Laurie Prange (Julie Griffith), John McLiam (Michael), William Daniels (Dr. John Bonifant), Dorothy Tristan (Margaret Griffith), Gerald McRaney (Denny Kayle), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Victor Mohica (Rafe), Robert Phillips (Phil), Mills Watson (Sheriff), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, Peyton Reed)

Despite being in the first scene in the movie and sharing most of Paul Rudd’s scenes with him, Evangeline Lilly is definitely second in Ant-Man and the Wasp. The film gives her her own action scenes–some truly phenomenal ones–but very little agency. She’s entirely in support of dad Michael Douglas; even after it’s clear Douglas–in the past–was an egomaniac who hurt lots of people, it’s not like Lilly has any reaction to it. Or the film for that matter. During the scene maybe, with Rudd laughing about what a dick Douglas has always been, someone getting very upset remembering how Douglas treated them, Douglas looking bemused, and Lilly looking vacant. There are a few of those scenes and they really define the film’s dramatic qualities.

It doesn’t have many.

It’s got a lot of humorous qualities and a lot of charming ones, but not dramatic. Nothing ever gets as emotionally intense as the first act, in flashback (either straight flashback or dream sequence). Even when there’s all the danger in the world, as Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas race against time to save Lilly’s mother (and Douglas’s wife), Michelle Pfeiffer, from being trapped in the Quantum Zone. Realm. Sorry, Quantum Realm. There’s a lot of quantum things in Ant-Man and the Wasp, it’s hard to keep track.

But the film isn’t about dramatic possibilities so much as good-natured, comedic special effects action ones. There’s this omnipresent theme about parents disappointing children–Douglas and Lilly, Rudd and his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), not to mention the villain (Hannah John-Kamen), who’s got her own father issues. But if the film never acknowledges it’s a theme, is it really a theme? The screenplay (by five screenwriters) never worries about it and director Reed really doesn’t narrative echoes. It’s not his thing. His thing is humor and pacing and the film excels at both of them.

Because, even with those five writers–including Rudd–it’s not like there’s much depth to characterizations. Walton Goggins is one of the villains and he’s basically doing a really broad caricature of Walton Goggins being in a Marvel movie as a Southern tech-gangster. Randall Park plays a goofy FBI agent who Rudd keeps on one-upping and it’s even broader. Michael Peña excels with similiar treatment; he’s always played for obvious laughs and Peña plays through, fully, successfully embracing it. Goggins and Park act obviously to the joke. Not Peña.

None of the leads have much heavy lifting either. Rudd and Lilly are so adorable–and find each other so utterly adorable–it’s hard not to enjoy every minute they spend together. Douglas is one note, but the script doesn’t really ask for much more. Pfeiffer does more in her two scenes than Douglas does in the entire film. And she doesn’t even do a lot.

Meanwhile, Larry Fishburne–as one of the many people Douglas screwed over in the past–is able to bring some gravitas to his part. He takes it seriously, even when no one asks him to do so.

But none of it really matters because everyone’s really likable, including villain John-Kamen (far less Goggins, who’s nowhere near as funny as he needs to be to warrant so much plot import), and Ant-Man and the Wasp is full of delightful special effects action sequences. Whether it’s when Lilly is shrinking down and growing big to kick ass in fight scenes, flying all over the place, throwing people all over, or when it’s Rudd growing big instead of shrinking down and using a flatbed truck as a scooter. Reed and the screenwriters know where to find every laugh, every smile–it doesn’t hurt Rudd and daughter Fortson have such cute scenes. Opening on Lilly, making the movie about her missing mother, her lost childhood, it almost seems like it’s a movie about daughters. Oh, right, John-Kamen too. But it’s not. It’s about being cute and funny. It’s never even heartwarming when it’s not cute. There’s not much depth to it.

And, for a movie without much depth, it’s an awesome time. The special effects sequences alone–it isn’t just the fight scenes with awesome shrinking and growing effects, it’s sight gags and car chases and everything else (not to mention adorable giant ants). The film’s inventive as all hell. Except with John-Kamen’s villain, who’s not just occasionally invisible, but also immaterial. Her powers make narrative sense, Reed doesn’t visualize them as well as the rest.

By the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, you want another one. It’s a delightful, thoroughly competent amusement. Even if Christophe Beck’s score is never as good as it seems to be.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peyton Reed; screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari, based on the comic book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dan Lebental and Craig Wood; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Shepherd Frankel; produced by Kevin Feige and Stephen Broussard; released by Walt Disney Pictures

Starring Paul Rudd (Scott), Evangeline Lilly (Hope), Michael Douglas (Hank), Hannah John-Kamen (Ghost), Laurence Fishburne (Bill), Michael Peña (Luis), Abby Ryder Fortson (Cassie), Walton Goggins (Sonny Burch), Randall Park (Jimmy Woo), T.I. (Dave), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), Judy Greer (Maggie), Bobby Cannavale (Paxton), and Michelle Pfeiffer (Janet).


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