A review of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019)

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019) is a fun enough Marvel movie; based on my own enjoyment, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.  It’s got the same qualities as almost all the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — fun, humor and great special effects housed within a remarkably well constructed shared universe.   This mostly standalone adventure is definitely one of the MCU’s campier outings, but I think that most viewers will find it a welcome break after the last two high-stakes, apocalyptic “Avengers” films.  (You may have heard of them.)

It’s also a great film to appeal to comic fans who are younger adults.  The humor usually works, and the characters are nicely relatable.  Peter’s peers and teachers are all engaging enough on their own, and make a good group of supporting characters.  I know most fans have commented how much they like Ned, and I do too — but I think the MCU’s biggest improvement in this part of the mythos is the character of M.J.  She is vastly different from her comic book progenitor, but in good ways.  She’s dry, sardonic and slightly dark, and she’s extremely well played by Zendaya.  I don’t imagine that many fans will agree with me here, but I personally find this character to be a lot more likable and compelling than the MCU’s Peter Parker.

And that brings me to my largest concern about the new “Spider-Man” films.  Their version of Peter is sometimes frustrating.  I don’t think it’s the fault of Tom Holland, who brings a nice amount of energy and personality to the role.  I think it’s the fault of the screenwriters, who have made the character so doltish, boyish and eager-to-please that it’s occasionally annoying.  He sometimes seems more like a middle school student than an advanced high school student.  (Isn’t he supposed to be a senior here?)  The writers seem to want to counter-balance the character’s high intelligence with a humanizing flaw, and they seem to want to contrast young Peter with the older, more seasoned Avengers lineup.  All of that makes perfect sense, but I do think they go a little overboard.

I’m willing to go on record here and say that I prefer Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.”  His trilogy between 2002 and 2007 had more heart, more devotion to heroic archetypes, and greater attention character depth and detail.  (I still think that 2004’s outstanding “Spider-Man 2” is one of the best comic book movies ever made.)  There are advantages, too, to depicting an iconic superhero that doesn’t inhabit a shared universe — you spend more time exploring the character than exploring their context in relation to others.

Still, I’d recommend “Spider-man: Far From Home.”  Like I said, it was a fun movie.

 

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“Delaware Regiment at the Battle of Long Island, 1776” Domenick D’Andrea, 2007

Oil on canvas.

There’s some confusion about the date for this painting; many websites list it as being completed in 1776 — maybe because that date is included in its title.  But Domenick D’Andrea is a contemporary artist living in Connecticut; I believe he painted the piece in 2007.

The Battle of Long Island

A short review of Season 1 of “Black Summer” (2019)

I don’t understand how “Black Summer” can be as good as it is.  It’s produced by The Asylum, the makers of low budget, direct-to-video ripoff films like “Atlantic Rim” (2013) and “Triassic World” (2018).  It’s a prequel to the horror-comedy “Z Nation” (2014-2018) — a show that was so bad I couldn’t make it through its first episode.  Yet “Black Summer” is inexplicably a great, albeit imperfect, TV show.  I’d rate it a 9 out 10.

I might be in the minority here; a lot of people are severely panning this show online.  And I do recognize its weaknesses — there is very little detail in its plot or character development … there is often even very little dialogue at all.  And even I recognized some plot holes.  (I’m typically a little slow on the uptake where these are concerned.)

But this bare-bones zombie story still manages to screen some likable characters, and then put them through a thrilling succession of hyper-kinetic chases and melees.  I was on the edge of my seat, and I consequently didn’t miss the methodical, detailed plotting of shows like “The Walking Dead.”  The season’s finale is crowned by an extended, eye-level, real-time action set-piece that ought to be considered a classic in the  zombie-horror subgenre.  It was mind-blowing. I just can’t dislike a horror property that genuinely scared me.

I could simply be out of step with everyone else; I often have different tastes in zombie fare.  I love Zack Snyder’s 2008 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” which this series reminds me of.  And I also love similar overseas productions like Spain’s “[REC]” films (2007 – 2014) and Britain’s “Dead Set” miniseries (2008), while those amazing entries are hardly known among my friends.  I also cannot understand why many people who love George A. Romero’s and Robert Kirkman’s productions must always compare other films and TV shows unfavorably to them.  We can love both.  Why not?

Hey, if you don’t want to make my word for it, here is what Stephen King tweeted: “No long, fraught discussions. No endless flashbacks, because there’s no back story. No grouchy teens. Dialogue is spare. Much shot with a single handheld camera, very fluid.”

I obviously recommend this.

 

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Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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