Spider-Man travels well

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 13, 2019
Photo by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Tom Holland again plays Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, in "Spider-Man: Far from Home."

Owls Head — Spider-Man: Far from Home (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 129 min.). Thank goodness Disney and Sony worked out an agreement for the next Spider-Man movie and the character’s appearance in the next Marvel film, because, if they had not, we would have been left hanging. This film clearly sets up Spider-Man to replace Iron Man as a central character of the Avengers. Plus, the mid-closing-credits sequence sets up a great cliffhanger that we now will get to see be resolved.

Tom Holland returns as Peter Parker, now 16 and just wanting to leave his Spider-Man suit at home while he travels with schoolmates on a class trip to Europe and tries to build up his courage to tell the girl that he likes (Zendaya as MJ) how he feels about her. While he initially avoids messages from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is not sure why Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, decided Spider-Man would replace him among the Avengers, the newest threat finds Peter and his classmates while they are in Venice, Italy.

The film serves as a clear follow-up to the one-two punch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” While there is lots of good humor in the film – especially early – the main theme is whether Peter can accept himself as the hero Spider-Man not just to his neighborhood, but to the whole world. The big baddie this time is someone who would like that superhero mantle for himself.

The high school aspects are the best humor bits. The students, whose itinerary keeps being changed by Fury, are led by two clueless teachers.  Peter’s rival for MJ’s attention is Brad (Remy Hii). One wrinkle is that Stark leaves Peter special glasses known as EDITH (Even Dead I’m The Hero), which contain a computer link for an augmented reality security, defense and artificial tactical intelligence system, which leads to a humorous scene when Peter tries to use the glasses to get Brad out of the way.

For action, Spider-Man, with the help of newly-arrived from an alternate Earth Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), has to battle Hydron in Venice, Hellfire in Prague and Zephyr in London, three of the four Elementals. These are heavy special effects scenes that actually look quite cool.

While there are many extras, most are very short and not of any depth. Taken together, they last slightly more than an hour, but have to be accessed separately, which is a bit of a pain. Best of the lot are the humorous short film, “Peter’s To-Do List,” which is essentially a deleted sequence (3:22); a behind-the-scenes look at the stunts, most of which Holland does himself (6:19); a closer look at Beck/Mysterio (6:30); and a look at some of the Easter eggs hidden in the film (4:23). The longest two are a look at Parker and his three brothers’ charity efforts (11:44) and five scenes compared with their pre-viz versions (8:20).

The others are a funny gag reel and outtakes (3:35); four deleted and one alternate scene (6:07); dumb travel tips from the two teachers (4:58); Peter having to accept what is thrust upon him (3:42); the five versions of the Spider-Man suit, including the new stealth suit (4:38); the location work (5:14); the working relationship between director Jon Watts and Holland (3:09); the relationship between characters Fury and Maria Hilly (3:29); and a look at Marisa Tomei as Aunt May (3:35). Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Inside Man: Most Wanted (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 105 min.). In this thriller, a gang of robbers, led by Ariella Barash (Roxanne McKee of “Game of Thrones”) takes over the New York City branch of the Federal Reserve to recover some Nazi gold. Because there are hostages, FBI Agent Brynn Stewart (Rhea Seehorn of “Better Call Saul”), an expert in such situations, and NYPD hostage negotiator Remy Darbonne (Aml Ameen of “The Maze Runner”) are assigned to handle the situation.

This is intended as a follow-up to 2006’s “Inside Man,” which starred Denzel Washington as a hostage negotiator and was directed by Spike Lee. Originally, a sequel was slated for 2010, but never was made. This film, made in South Africa, is more of a remake, directed by MJ Bassett (“Solomon Kane,” “Silent Hill: Revelation”). It does reference the heist as being a copycat of a Nazi diamond heist, engineered by referenced character Dalton Russell, a main character in Lee’s earlier film.

The film moves along well, the leads are good and there is a solid action sequence 70 minutes into the film. The ending does set up the possibility of another Film. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

Doom Annihilation (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 96 min.). Another Universal sequel of sorts, based on the ID Software video game, but this time one that is more boring than anything. It basically is a zombie movie, with an evil alien race converting personnel on the United Aerospace Corp. base on Phobos, the moon of Mars, into eaters of humans. The alien contact has come as the result of efforts by Dr. Malcolm Betruger (Dominic Mafham) to perfect teleportation transit between Phobos and Earth, based on ancient alien technology he has found.

Everything goes to hell – almost literally at some points – just minutes before a relief shipment of UAC soldiers arrive at the base. They are led by Lt. Joan Dark (Amy Manson), but hardly a one of them has any character development, so they just become fodder. Some of the aliens, who speak ancient Sumerian, look like demons and can hurl fireballs. The film is open-ended, so as to set up a sequel, but most viewers will hope it never happens. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 1.5 stars

The Wedding Guest (IFC Films, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 97 min.). The film, written and directed by Michael Winterbottom (“The Killer Inside Me,” “24 Hour Party People”), goes from a road trip to a kidnapping, back to a road trip and turns noir throughout as the relationship of the two people involved evolves.

We first follow Jay Arwan (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire,” the two “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” films) as he flies from London to Lahore, Pakistan, where he rents a car for two weeks and then drives to a rural area, where he buys two guns in a gun shop. He then travels to another city, rents a second car and heads to a town where a wedding is to be held. Jay is constantly changing the name he goes by.

It turns out Jay is there to kidnap the bride (Radhika Apte as Samira), with the twist being that she is part of the plan and Jay has been hired to bring her across the border into India where his employer, and her secret boyfriend (Jim Sarbh as Deepish) awaits. During their journey, complicated by the fact that Deepish is not where he said he would be, we see a subtle shift in Samira, as she goes from victim to willing participant to actually manipulating Jay. In truth, Samira is not interested in her family’s arranged marriage for her nor any traditional role … she wants to experience the world.

There is a travelogue aspect to the film, especially at the beginning, with lots of shots of local people going about their business. Jay and Samira then travel to several other cities and locales in India, including Delhi and Jaipur. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

The Black String (Lionsgate DVD, R, 92 min.). In this psychological thriller, a 20-something man (Frankie Muniz of TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle” as Jonathan Marsh) lives a lonely life, including working at a convenience store and appearing to be frightened all the time. Somewhat goaded by a coworker, one night he responds to a TV escort ad and meets, and has sex with, Dena (Chelsea Edmundson). The next day, he discovers a large rash on his body, which really burns. As Jonathan seeks medical help without much luck, his attempts to find Dena also have little success. Eventually, he comes to believe witchcraft might be involved.

The debut film of director and co-writer Brian Hanson sets up a case that everything might just be in Jonathan’s mind, a result of his paranoia. Before long, the viewer does not know what is real and what is not. There was a bit too much of knife cutting for me and the ending leaves the viewer hanging too much.

The film, which has done well at film festivals, comes with audio commentary by Hanson and producer Charles Bunce; seven deleted scenes and three alternate takes (total 5:31); and a making-of featurette that features an interesting Muniz interview and tells how the script began in 2007 (16:42). Grade: film and extras 2.5 stars

Jezebel (1938, Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray, NR, 104 min.). This Southern Gothic film, which won Bette Davis the second of her Academy Awards (she was nominated for eight Oscars between 1935 and 1945, winning twice), came between the publication of the book and the making of the film “Gone with the Wind” and thus did very well at the box-office. It was directed by William Wyler, future Best Director Oscar winner for “Ben Hur,” and written by Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel and John Huston (“Moby Dick,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “High Sierra” etc.), based on Owen Davis Sr.’s play. The play only lasted 30 performances on Broadway and ironically starred Davis’ rival, Miriam Hopkins.

Davis Plays New Orleans belle Julie Marsden. The film opens in 1852, when society rules were still in place, but Julie likes to flaunt them. Her beau, for at least the second time, is Pres Dillard (Henry Fonda in one of his early films), a banker. Amusingly, one of the rules Julie flaunts is storming into the bank after Pres one time – apparently women never went into banks in those days.

Julie has been using Buck Cantrell (George Brent of “The Rains Came,” “Dark Victory” with Davis) to make Pres jealous and/or bow to her will; however, Cantrell is prone to participate in duels, including one later with Pres’ younger brother (Richard Cromwell of “Baby Face Morgan” as Ted Dillard). The final straw for Pres – and a devastating scene – is when Julie refuses to wear a white dress, as all the unmarried women do, to the Olympus Ball, instead choosing to wear an outrageous red dress. They are scorned by the other couples, and the dress actually ends their relationship. Their resulting quarrel leads to Pres being gone a full year, and when he returns, it is with a wife (Margaret Lindsey as Amy). Meanwhile, there has been an outbreak of Yellow Fever and Julie and her set have retreated to her Halcyon plantation.

Davis is excellent in her often-fiery lead role. The clinging to societal rules will seem strange to young viewers, who also may find troublesome the treatment of African-American slaves as just happy go-lucky employees. There is a dinner discussion about abolitionists, with Pres carrying a more modern outlook, while Buck is old-school.

Fay Bainter, who plays Aunt Belle Massey, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She was also nominated that year for leading actress for her role in “White Banners” and would later be nominated again as supporting actress for “The Children’s Hour” in 1962. “Jezebel” also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Cinematography (Ernest Haller, who would be nominated a total of seven times and win the next year for “Gone with the Wind”) and Best Music Score (Max Steiner, 24 Oscar nominations overall, with three wins).

Extras include a 2006 featurette on the making of the film, “Jezebel: Legend of the South,” which is well done; audio commentary by film historian Jeannine Basinger, also from the 2006 DVD release; the vintage musical short, “Melody Masters: Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra”; “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” cartoon; and the promotional “Rambling ‘Round the Hollywood Studio with the Candid Cameraman.” The featurette points out Wyler’s fondest for long tracking shots, such as the one down a New Orleans street that shows all the workers and sellers along the street. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars

The Letter (1940, Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray, NR, 95 min.). Two years later, star Bette Davis, director William Wyler and composer Max Steiner reassembled to make “The Letter,” in which Davis plays Leslie Crosbie, who must be saved from a murder charge. The setting for this second of three collaborations between Davis and Wyler – the third was to be “The Little Foxes” the next year – is a Singapore rubber plantation. The screenplay is by Howard Koch, based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham, who also wrote “Of Human Bondage,” the film of which made Davis a star six years earlier.

Leslie is clearly guilty; the question is whether it was self-defense. Wyler’s opening long tracking shot moves through the plantation house’s front yard, where workers are sleeping. Then a gunshot disturbs the night, followed by a second and then a burst of four more. We see Leslie shoot and kill Geoffrey Hammond, with the last four shots going into his back after he already is on the ground. She then sends servants to gather her lawyer (James Stephenson as Howard Joyce) and a police investigator (Bruce Lester as John Withers). Robert Crosbie (Herbert Marshall of “Foreign Correspondent,” “The Fly”), Leslie’s husband, also is summoned from his work station.

Leslie claims Hammond made unwanted sexual advances towards her and she shot him to avoid being overpowered. However, three days later, Joyce’s assistant (Victor Sen Yung as Ong Chi Seng) comes up with a copy of a letter that purportedly was an invitation by Leslie for Hammond to visit her the day of the killing, as her husband would be away. In the letter, she even tells Hammond to park down the road. Joyce’s dilemma is that in order to save his client, he must break the law and obtain the letter, paying a $10,000 ransom.

It is another strong performance by Davis, who earned one of the film’s seven Oscar nominations. However, the treatment of Hammond’s Eurasian wife (Gale Sondergaard as Mrs. Hammond) is racially biased. What also sticks out is that Leslie’s jury of her peers is made up of only men. The story turns very melodramatic after the trial. The film’s other Oscar nominations were for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Stephenson), Best Director (Wyler), Best Cinematography (Tony Gaudio), Best Film Editing (Warren Low) and Best Original Score (Steiner). The Oscar, however, eluded all the nominees.

Bonus features include an alternate ending that differs only slightly (9:59) and two Lux Radio Theater audio adaptations of the play: an April 21, 1941 one with Davis, Stephenson and Marshall; and a March 6, 1944 one with Davis and Marshall. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Supergirl: The Complete Fourth Season (DC/Warner Bros., 4 Blu-ray or 5 standard DVDs, NR, 1,015 min.). Much of season four is devoted to the U.S. government trying to deal with its “alien crisis,” but not in the most humane way. However, these aliens are from outer space, not Central and South America as in real life. Much of the anti-alien sentiment, and indeed attacks, are led by Agent Liberty/Ben Lockwood (Sam Witwer). The other major foe of the season is Lex Luthor (a fun performance by Jon Cryer, who played Lenny in “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”). It turns out Lex has shaped Supergirl’s Russian doppelgänger (also played by Melissa Benoist) into a weapon against the United States. Supergirl becomes an outcast when the Russian version of her attacks, pretending to be Supergirl.

Additionally, the DEO has a new commander in Col. Haley (April Parker Jones) and Kara, Supergirl’s human identity, returns to CatCo, where she mentors young reporter Nia Nal (Nicole Maines), who is evolving into a superhero herself with the guidance of Brainiac-5 (Jesse Rath), who has had a more prominent role ever since he replaced Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) on the DEO team.

Fans looking for extras who already have bought “Flash’ season five or “Arrow” season seven will be disappointed, as the only different extras are deleted scenes and a gag reel. Carried over from the other two releases are the three-part “Elseworlds” crossover episodes and its making-of featurette; the look at the DC villains’ motivations; and the best of the DC Comic-Con panels. Grade: season 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Fourth Season (2 Blu-ray discs or 3 standard DVDs, NR, 677 min.). The most wildly entertaining of the DC shows on the CW is “Legends of Tomorrow,” filled with a cast that clearly is having fun together. Added to the mix full-time this season is demon-fighter John Constantine (Matt Ryan, who sadly lost his own “Constantine” series after only one season).

After defeating the demon Mallus by cuddling him to death with a giant stuffed animal named Beebo last season, the Legends are ready to ease off the gas. Sara (Caity Lotz) and her team join Ava Sharpe and the Time Bureau to help clean up the last few remaining anachronisms. The job seems straightforward enough until Constantine arrives to inform them that, in solving one major problem, they have created another, much larger one. When the Legends let time crumble in order to release and defeat Mallus, the barrier between worlds softened. History is now infected with “Fugitives” – magical creatures from myths, fairytales and legends. Having been expelled throughout time by people like Constantine, these Fugitives are now returning to our world in droves. Now the Legends must team up with the demonologist to set history back on track.

Among the problems are a magical entity at the Woodstock music festival; a mother who is accused of being a witch when it really is the doing of a Fairy Godmother; Sara, Ava, Ray and Constantine become counselors at a summer camp; a monster threatens 1951 Tokyo; a 1973 run-in with President Nixon, whom they have to kidnap because he is being compelled to tell the truth; an encounter with author Jane Austin; and the demon Neron. The season also features puppet versions of characters in the show.

Extras include a gag reel (9:35), with some funny bits; 23 deleted scenes (20:13), including a Ray Palmer love scene; Post Production Theater in which members of the post production team fill in for the regular actors where pick-up shots are needed (5:06); and “Legendary Storytelling, with executive producer Phil Klemmer discussing some of the plots, including the visit to 1937 Hollywood and young Ray with the alien (3:16). Grade: season 3.75 stars; extras 2.5 stars

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