Scary Movie Review: Werewolf By Night (2022)


Title: Werewolf By Night
Release Date: October 7, 2022
Director: Michael Giacchino
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I felt a pang of nostalgia when Werewolf By Night was preceded by a “TV Special” title card reminiscent of the bygone days of TV movies and miniseries that were a big deal in the era before streaming. The movie itself is filmed in black & white and pays homage to the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, although the black & white also covers up a higher level of gore than would’ve made it onscreen back in the day.  At 55 minutes long, Werewolf By Night is incredible efficient at setting up the premise, the character’s backstories, and the action set pieces so that the lead characters even have time for long conversations.  The creators of the often overlong MCU movies can learn something from this.

The story relates to the powerful weapon known as the Bloodstone.  After the death of its owner, Ulysses Bloodstone, his widow Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris) invites five monster hunters to compete in a hunt with the winner/survivor inheriting the Bloodstone and all its powers.  Among the hunters are Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) and Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) who is Ulysses’ estranged daughter and Verussa’s stepdaughter.

Not surprisingly, among the characters at Bloodstone Manor on the night of the hunt is a werewolf!  The hunt leads to some interesting alliances and some clever twists. I really had no idea about Werewolf By Night, so I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but it is all very good.  And I just love Ted (Carey Jones).

Rating: ***1/2

 

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TV Review: She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022)


Title: She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
Release Date: August 18 – October 13, 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner: Jessica Gao
Episodes: 9
Production Company:  Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Up-and-coming Los Angeles lawyer Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) is traveling with her cousin Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) when a car crash causes her to be exposed to Bruce’s blood and thus acquire Hulk powers.  Turns out that Jennifer is much better at controlling her Hulk powers than Bruce but has no interest in being a superhero.  But her powers are revealed in the most public way possible, and she ends up having to work for a law firm defending super-powered beings while in her She-Hulk form.

This show ends up being something we haven’t seen from Marvel and don’t really see much of at all anymore, an episodic sitcom.  And a very funny one at that.  Following the precedent set by the She-Hulk comics, Maslany to comment on the story.  It ends up kind of being a superhero story crossed with Fleabag and Ally McBeal (but in a good way).  This approach is something that could’ve flopped hard but Maslany’s charm and talent win the day.  I’ve heard a lot about her great work on Orphan Black, a show I’ve sadly not yet watched.

In addition to spoofing legal dramas, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law satirizes the dudebro culture of gatekeeping that all too often manifests itself as misogyny against women in superhero media.  The final episode makes fun of the Marvel formula in a very funny way, although I felt a bit cheated that they didn’t offer an alternate resolution.  Apart from that disappointment this was a very clever and entertaining series. Maslany is boosted by strong supporting cast and guest stars, including:

  • Ginger Gonzaga as Nikki Ramos, Jennifer’s paralegal and best friend.
  • Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky / Abomination, the villain from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk (and the first time in a long time Marvel has acknowledged the events of that movie) who has become considerably more chill.
  • Megan Thee Stallion as herself.
  • Benedict Wong as Wong, because everyone loves Wongers!
  • Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock / Daredevil, Jennifer’s fellow lawyer/superhero who comes from New York for a team-up and a hook-up.
  • And the breakout character of the series, Patty Guggenheim as Madisynn King, who turns being a drunk party girl into a superpower.

 

 

 

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Movie Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)


Title: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Release Date: May 6, 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I wasn’t a big fan of Doctor Strange (2016), but Benedict Cumberbatch has done a good job with the character in various other MCU films including Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021).  So I did look forward to this film, especially since it also promised the return of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) after the events of WandaVision.  The multiverse has been a recurring theme of Phase 4 especially in the tv series Loki and What If... and in No Way Home, and this movie leans into the “madness” of its title.

The basic plot involves a young woman named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who has the power to jump between universes although she is not able to control it.  America arrives in the main MCU universe (Earth-616) pursued by a giant demon who is sent after her by someone seeking to take away America’s power, which would kill her.  Doctor Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) agree to help and defend America leading into a heavily action-filled adventure. In another universe, they are aided by Stephen Strange’s ex Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). They also meet a crowd-pleasing team of alternate universe superheroes with actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Patrick Stewart, Hayley Atwell, Lashana Lynch, and Anson Mount reprising their roles from other Marvel properties and John Krasinski making a first appearance as a well-known character.

Director Sam Raimi is best known for his camp horror movies like Evil Dead and brings a horror aesthetic to this film as well.  That means we see our protagonists chased by demons and a blood-soaked villain as well as scenes with a heavily-decayed zombie.  There are a lot of brutal deaths in this movie which make it feel more dangerous than other entries in the MCU and may not be suitable for young children or anyone who is squeamish.

There’s a lot that I can quibble with about this movie, although it’s a definite improvement over its predecessor.  I especially felt that the chemistry between Strange and Christine was never strong and it makes the “lost love” element of the plot a tough sell.  America feels more like a MacGuffin than a character for much of the film, although she does get a good moment in the denouement.  Despite the multiverse being a recurring theme in the MCU, this movie felt oddly self-contained as it had no connection with previous multiverse stories.  I also felt that Loki and the non-MCU movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did a much better job with the possibilities of the multiverse for storytelling.  Ultimately, I enjoyed this movie as a it was pretty much nonstop action set pieces with a lot of visual flair.

SCROLL PAST THE TRAILER FOR MORE THOUGHTS WITH SPOILERS

Rating: ***

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Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)


Title: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Release Date: April 18, 2014
Director: Marc Webb
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Arad Productions, Inc. | Matt Tolmach Productions
Summary/Review:

While not quite the steep dropoff in quality of Spider-Man 3, this sequel is mediocre compared to its predecessor and for many of the same reasons.  To wit, there are too many antagonists competing for screen time and a lack of focus and pacing to deal with them.  Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has to deal with the arrival of Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) after yet another accident at Oscorp (this one ludicrously involving falling into a tank full of electric eels!). Meanwhile, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) makes his debut in this series and immediately adopts the Green Goblin persona (instead of dragging it out over three movies like James Franco).

Max is more of a sad figure than a threat so there’s not much pleasure derived from seeing Spidey fight with him.  Meanwhile, Harry is so obviously a creepy ass villain that it seems unlikely that Peter would be friends with him.  Gwen (Emma Stone) has a good role in the movie, helping Peter as much as he helps her, but she’s [SPOILER] dead by the end of the movie [/SPOILER] which feels very fridgey to me.  Plus the finale of the film is overwhelmingly hokey.  Why do people in New York in these movies stand around watching superheroes battle supervillains with their small children anyway?

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)


Title: The Amazing Spider-Man
Release Date: June 13, 2012
Director: Marc Webb
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Laura Ziskin Productions | Arad Productions, Inc. | Matt Tolmach Productions
Summary/Review:

Despite only five years passing Spider-Man was rebooted in a new franchise with Andrew Garfield taking over the lead role of Peter Parker.  This move goes even harder into the origin story by including Peter’s parents and a younger Peter in the prelude and flashbacks.  Once again, Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man and the creation of his main antagonist, Dr. Curt Connors/Lizard (Rhys Ifans), happen nearly simultaneously at Oscorp.

Despite the fact that this seems to be way too soon after the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy for a reboot AND the fact that I’m generally not interested in origin stories (AND because the Lizard is a really silly monster), I actually feel that this is a quite good Spider-Man movie.  Garfield brings a more modern feel to Peter without losing the anxious outsider feel of the character.  Luminaries like Martin Sheen and Sally Field bring more gravitas to their roles as Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  And Emma Stone, who I always like, plays a more interesting and capable female lead as Gwen Stacey.

Of the pre-Tom Holland era Spider-films, I’d say that this is the best one alongside Spider-Man 2.

Rating: ***1/2

Comics Review: Star Wars (2020- )


Title:  The Destiny Path
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: November 10, 2020
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Jesús Saiz
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

Star Wars comics picks up from the previous run with stories set after The Empire Strikes Back. If you always assumed that Boba Fett immediately delivered Han Solo frozen in carbonite to Jabba the Hutt, you will also surprised that there were some challenges on his journey.  Also, Luke, Leia, and Lando return to Cloud City (under Imperial control), each looking for something. I kind of felt that unlike the earlier comics series where the stories seemed to be probable adventures of our favorite Rebels between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, that this is more of an attempt to retcon Star Wars.  But we shall see where it goes next.


Title:  Operation Starlight
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: April 6, 2021[
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Ramon Rosanas, Jan Bazaldua
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

The Rebel Alliance is scattered across the galaxy and can’t communicate without being discovered by the Empire.  The solution may be found in an ancient droid and Lando’s henchman Lobot!  The series also introduces and interesting new antagonist in Imperial Commander Ellian Zahra, although I suppose her days are numbered since she never appears in Return of the Jedi. This is another good but not great Star Wars comics collection.


 

Title:  War of the Bounty Hunters
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: December 28, 2021[
Writer(s): Charles Soule
Penciller(s): Ramon Rosanas,
Letterer(s): Clayton Cowles

This Star Wars story kind of feels like something I would’ve come up with my Kenner action figures as a kid.  What if frozen Han Solo is stolen and is involved a big game of keepaway among Boba Fett, the Rebel Alliance, the Hutts, Qi’ra and the Crimson Dawn, and the Imperials lead by Darth Vader himself.  It’s the ultimate ludicrous crossover story, but kind of fun in a way.

Movie Review: Spider-Man 3


Title: Spider-Man 3
Release Date: May 4, 2007
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

Like many blockbuster franchises, Spider-Man 3 reaches the point where they need to raise the stakes while neglecting to make a good movie.  Thus we get a movie with three villains.  First, Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) finally takes on the mantle of his late father and becomes Goblin, Jr., deadset on gaining revenge on Spider-Man.  Next, there’s an alien symbiote that first infects Peter’s Spider-Man suit giving him both increased powers and increased assholery. Later the symbiote attaches itself to Peter’s photographer rival from The Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who becomes Venom.  Finally, an escaped convict with a dark connection to Peter, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) falls into a particle accelerator which turns him into Sandman.

While Peter enjoys a newfound popularity at Spider-Man, his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) struggles personally and professionally.  This leads to tension in their relationship, something that’s exacerbated by the symbiote. The movie also features Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) as a romantic alternative for Peter Parker. There’s so much going in this movie that it feels more like a clip show of a Spider-Man tv show than a cohesive story in its own right.

There are some good parts in this movie.  I especially like the effects of Marko turning into Sandman.  But overall it is meh, and a sad end to the Raimi/Maguire era of Spider-Man.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)


Title: Spider-Man 2
Release Date: June 30, 2004
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

The second installment in superhero franchises tends to be better because they’ve gotten past all the origin story and are able to focus on more of a straightforward story while ratcheting up the stakes.  This is the case with Spider-Man 2 which I think is the best of the trilogy. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is finding that his crime-fighting activity is getting in the way of his college studies, his job, and his struggling relationships with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Harry (James Franco). Soon he finds himself beginning to lose his spider-powers at inopportune times.  While not explicitly stated, it ends up being a good superhero depiction of someone dealing with depression and anxiety.

Meanwhile another scientist at Oscorp, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), experiments on himself with disastrous results. Four mechanical tentacles are embedded in his body take control of him and becomes the mad Doctor Octopus.  Doc Oc is probably one of the best Spider-Man villains and Molina portrays his Jeckyl/Hyde personality well.  There are also some great action sequences including a fight on an elevated train hurtling through the city.

On the downside there is not much for Mary Jane to do besides scream a lot.  There is so much screaming in this film, and lot of sequences (like a failed surgery on Doc Oc) are filmed like a horror movie, perhaps betraying Raimi’s past work on the Evil Dead series. Overall though, this is a solid superhero movie with good pacing and a straightforward plot.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Spider-Man (2002)


TitleSpider-Man
Release Date: May 3, 2002
Director: Sam Raimi
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions
Summary/Review:

Despite having become something of a Marvel Cinematic Universe completionist, it was not that long ago that I was someone who was “not interested in all those superhero movies.”  The turning point was watching The Avengers with my kids in 2015. Anyhow, since Spider-Man: No Way Home featured enjoyable performances by earlier actors who played Spider-Man, I figured it was worth checking out the older films.

This iteration of Spider-Man features the origin story that’s familiar even if you haven’t read any of the comics. On a school trip to the Oscorp labs, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically-modified spider giving him spider-like abilities.  Maguire’s Peter is perhaps overloaded with nerdy signifiers, but I also appreciate that he can be kind of a selfish jerk.  It feels realistic to a teenager who suddenly has “great power” and the responsibility that goes with it.

The villain in this film is scientist/businessman Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), the head of Oscorp, whose experiment with a performance-enhancing chemical drives him insane.  He turns into the giggling Green Goblin riding a hoverboard.  In one of the many coincidences of this movie, Peter is best friends with Osborne’s son Harry (James Franco).  Peter and Harry are also vying for the attention of their classmate Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).

Overall this is an entertaining film with a good balance of action, character development, and heart.  I felt Maguire and Dafoe were the standouts, but the other actors aren’t given much to do.  This is especially true for Dunst whose Mary Jane just seems to need to be rescued over and over in way that was old-fashioned even in 2002.  Although probably true to their depictions in the comics, Peter’s Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) seem comically way too old.  J. K. Simmons is great though as the comically obnoxious and corrupt newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)


Title: Spider-Man: No Way Home
Release Date: December 17, 2021
Director: Jon Watts
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Studios | Pascal Pictures
Summary/Review:

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has been one of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it was with great enthusiasm that I went to see the third Spider-Man movie (although it took me a while to get to theaters!).  Following up on the end of Far From Home where the Rush Limbaugh-like J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) reveals Spider-Man’s identity as Peter Parker to the world. Naturally, the publicity has a negative effect on Peter’s life, but also on his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya), and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Peter asks Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help casting a spell that would cause the world to forget that Spider-Man is Peter Parker.  When the spell goes wrong it draws in villains from other universes including Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church).  Peter, M.J., Ned, and May realize that returning them to their own dimension would cause their deaths, so they work on first curing them of the various maladies that turned them into villains in the first place.

BIG SPOILERS AFTER THE TRAILER

Continue reading “Movie Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)”