New This Week
Spider-Man: Far from Home picks up where Avengers: Endgame leaves off, so it would be a good idea to see that megahit, or at least be aware of the events it chronicles, before you see the latest film showcasing Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man.
Of the many Marvel and DC superheroes out there, Spider-Man is the only one that remains true to his origins. Superman and Batman and their Justice League friends have long since gotten much darker than the characters that thrilled audiences of the 1970s and 80s in Superman and Batman films that brought them renewed popularity. With the death of Iron Man and retirement of Captain America, Spider-Man is the only longstanding Marvel character of any depth that is still fun to be around.
The first major live iteration of the reluctant superhero who was bitten by a radioactive spider while in high school was the 1977-1979 TV series The Amazing Spider-Man starring Nicholas Hammond, then best known as Friedrich in the 1965 Oscar winner The Sound of Music. Jettisoning the comic book’s concentration on supervillains for Spider-Man to battle, the TV series put him up against real life villains which made the character and situations more plausible. CBS canceled the series despite its popularity to focus on just one of its several shows about superheroes, The Incredible Hulk. Hammond went back to semi-obscurity. Still active on screen, his most recent role was as Sam Wanamaker in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.
Spider-Man resurfaced on the big screen in three films in the early 2000s beginning with 2002’s Spider-Man starring the affable Tobey Maguire (Wonder Boys). He was brought back by Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) in two films beginning with 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man. The problem with the Garfield versions was that they were retreads of the Maguire films rather than new adventures taking over where the Maguire versions left off.
The current iteration of the character is played by the charismatic Tom Holland, who may be the best Spider-Man of them all. The actor made his stage debut as Billy’s best friend in Billy Elliot the Musical, then graduated to the starring role and three months after leaving the show landed his star-making film debut in 2012’s The Impossible all but stealing the film from Naomi Watts. He made his first appearance as Spider-Man in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War in which the character was introduced as a protégé of Iron Man, becoming the focus of events in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. Spider-Man: Far from Home is the second film in which his character holds center-stage.
One of the themes of last year’s Oscar-winning animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was that several characters exist in parallel universes. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Quentin AKA Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far from Home is introduced as such a character.
Spider-Man: Far from Home splits the action between computer generated effects and live-action sequences involving Holland, Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson and others and the foibles of high school student Parker and his friends Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, and others. It handles the balance quite nicely.
Spider-Man: Far from Home is available on Blu-ray, 4K Blu-ray and standard DVD.
The Criterion Collection has released a Blu-ray upgrade of Bill Forsyth’s beguiling 1983 film Local Hero remastered in 2K.
Although the film received no Oscar nominations, it was honored as one of the year’s top ten films by the National Board of Review and writer-director Forsyth received awards for his screenplay from both the New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics. He won the BAFTA for Best Director. The film, about an American oil company that sends one of its executives to scope out a Scottish fishing village it wants to take over, was nominated for seven BAFTA awards including Best Film and Supporting Actor, Burt Lancaster as the eccentric head of the oil company.
Peter Riegert stars as the oil executive given the mission, Peter Capaldi as the local representative of the company, and Denis Lawson as the town’s mayor and accountant as well as the local innkeeper. The cinematography by Chris Menges (The Killing Fields, The Mission) is as extraordinary as anything in the two films for which he won his Oscars. Like Riegert, Capaldi, and Lancaster’s characters, you won’t want to leave the village once you get there.
Extras include a new on-camera interview with the writer-director.
Criterion has also released a 4K Blu-ray upgrade of John Waters’ 1981 film Polyester, the director’s first mainstream movie which was, like his earlier works, still a union-free production in which Tab Hunter was the only union actor. The actor was fined his entire salary by the Screen Actors Guild for his participation in it. He played the love interest of Divine, the famed drag queen channeling Elizabeth Taylor as a suburban housewife. The film was shown in Odorama, a gimmick in which numbers would flash on the screen in the places in which audience members were supposed to scratch the corresponding number on their scratch-and-sniff cards to get the full whiff. The Bu-ray contains a sniff-and-scratch card for those inclined to sniff along.
The film is pure, but amiable trash. It made Divine a mainstream star and resurrected Tab Hunter’s career. Extras include a new on-camera interview with Waters that is in some ways more fun than the film itself.
Criterion is usually the last word in home video releases, but occasionally another company surpasses them when releasing a new version of one of their previous releases. Such is the case with Kino Lorber’s U.S. release of the 4K Studio Canal restoration of Alain Resnais’ 1961 masterwork Last Year in Marienbad.
First released in the U.K. by Studio Canal a year ago, this is a vast improvement over the Blu-ray and DVD released by Criterion ten years ago. The haunting film by the director of Hiroshima Mon Amour has never looked more splendid. The black-and-white production design, costume design, and shimmering cinematography by Alain Robbe-Grillet (Belle de Jour) beguile as brilliantly as ever. The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet still teases, daring you to figure it all out but not being quite able to do so. The performances, led by the mysterious Delphine Seyrig (The Day of the Jackal), remain as enigmatic as ever.
The extras include an interview with Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum), a visual essay, as well as making-of and remembrance-of documentaries.
This week’s new releases include Toy Story 4 and Midsommar.