Hero Go Home Presents… Spider-Man 2: Roses and Reflections

So I’m starting a new Youtube series. I know that my previous tentative attempts at videos have been less than stellar. Part of that was my insistence on putting myself in front of the camera, trying to shoot and light myself without help, trying to ad-lib my way through videos with only minimal notes, with the end result being drab off-center visuals, odd camera artifacts, and a meandering pace.

This new series is an attempt to fix all of that. I’m not on camera, so the videos are fully scripted and move a good clip. Also, I’m doing a ton of editing on these to keep them more engaging. It’s a lot of work, but I think the result is worth it. The first video dropped today, and my plan is to come out with them weekly on Fridays for as long as I can keep up the pace and come up with interesting content. I have the first three weeks of videos already finished (and starting with the third, you’re going to see a big jump in quality, from SD to HD), and I have ideas for at least three more.

I may go back and redo some of the old Video Vault extras to punch them up and bring them in line with the new higher standard. Part of the reason I’m doing this is to get back to producing new content for this website, and part of it, frankly, is to add editing to the skillset I can use on my day job. Win-win.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video, and check back for more to come. You can find the first week’s video here.

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Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 2, Part 3

Wrapping up our three-part look back at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, released in 2004 from Sony/Columbia Pictures. When I do these recaps, I tend to rewatch certain scenes a lot as I search for a good frame to capture, and I’m finding that I appreciate the screenplay to this film more and more as I go through it. I mentioned a few times in my coverage of the first Spider-Man that I found myself cringing at much of David Koepp’s dialogue.  The screenplay to the second film is credited to Alvin Sargent, and there’s much, much less that I cringe at. A few eye-rolling moments (for a lead character who’s supposed to be smart and sensitive, Peter is a horrible communicator), but only one or two absolute cringes.

So when we left off, Mary Jane was giving Peter one last chance to make up his mind and prove he either did or didn’t love her (the motivations are kind of all over the place in this moment) by kissing her. But just as her lips are approaching his, this happens…

SpiderMan2SneakAttack

It’s a sneak attack by Dr. Octopus, just one more thing that doesn’t make sense here if you spend more than a second thinking about it. Because if you remember, the reason Doc Ock is after Peter is to find the location of Spider-Man to deliver to Harry Osborn in exchange for the tritium fuel he needs to complete his experimental fusion reactor. Ock’s plan for this, as we learn in a few moments, is to use a kidnapped Mary Jane as leverage to force Peter Parker to get Spider-Man to come out of hiding. And we will find out later that neither Ock nor Harry suspect that Peter actually is Spider-Man.

So why is Ock’s opening gambit throwing a car that would kill both Peter and Mary Jane if Peter weren’t able to magically use his powers to save them during that instant of stress?

Oh well, it makes for an exciting opening to the movie’s final act. Ock knocks Peter into a wall and carries MJ away. Peter bursts out of the pile of debris covering him, seething with rage, and discovers he no longer needs his glasses (there’s a nicely subtle detail here where the sound mutes slightly when we’re looking at the blurred world through his glasses and becomes brighter and clearer when we’re not).

J. Jonah Jameson, meanwhile, is mourning over the loss of Spider-Man now that Doc Ock has kidnapped his son’s fiancee, at least until Spider-Man steals his costume back from where it’s displayed on JJJ’s wall. Now in full costume, Spider-Man webslings out to his rendezvous with Ock, where they start their grudge match on a clock tower.

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The fight is fast and furious, with Spider-Man’s speed, agility and webs against Ock’s greater strength and multiple limbs attacking from all directions. Their fight carries them down onto an elevated train, and suddenly they’re in Chicago, not that I care.

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One thing the movie seems absolutely fearless about, reflecting the growing confidence in digital effects in general, is using digital doubles in full view, long takes in bright sunlight. Both of Spider-Man’s set-piece battles with Ock, as well as Ock’s abduction of Mary Jane, happen in broad daylight. The digital doubles are fairly obvious, but better than the first film, and the kineticism and emotional stakes of the scenes are such I never really dwell on the moments where the fakery is most obvious.

Doc Ock pushes the train to full throttle then breaks off the handle, leaving Spider-Man to figure out how to stop the train. And oh, there’s a familiar face…

SpiderMan2Lamarr

That black dude on the right is Phil LaMarr, mostly known for his voice-acting work in cartoons. He was the voice of Samurai Jack, for instance, and more relevant for us here, he was the voice of Green Lantern and Static, among others, in the Justice League and Static Shock TV series, as well as numerous voices in the animated Futurama, Star Wars, and Marvel universes. And he doesn’t get a single line here.

Peter uses a LOT of webs to slow down and eventually stop the train, saving everyone on board, but the strain causes him to pass out. And then something cool happens.

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Yeah, I know the Messiah imagery is used a lot…

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But there’s something a lot more complicated than that going on here. Those other images are all about the pose reminding us that these men sacrificed their lives for others. But in Spider-Man’s case, he’s being gently borne aloft by a crowd, many of them not even supporting him, but just reaching out to touch him worshipfully, like the woman with the issue of blood in the Gospel story.

But it goes beyond even that. Because he didn’t just save them; they’re saving him. If they hadn’t brought him inside the train, he would have fallen to his death in Lake Michigan, er, the Hudson River. True to the Spider-Man mythos, and what sets Spider-Man apart from Superman, is that, while he may be a sort of god, he is a particularly human and fallible and even sometimes frail one. And it chokes me up to see how gentle they are with him here.

Two kids come up and give him back his mask…

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And something about the way these two kids, obviously amateurs, are featured made me think they were connected to the production somehow, like maybe they were Raimi’s kids or something. Off to IMDB, where we discover that nope, they’re not Raimi’s kids, but Tobey Maguire’s half-brothers. Nailed it. One of the other train passengers is the daughter of visual effects designer John Dykstra, one of the men instrumental in ushering in the modern era of visual effects with the original Star Wars.

The crowd tries to intervene when Dr. Octopus comes for Spider-Man, but Peter waves them off and surrenders. So it is that Spider-Man is delivered, unconscious and bound in freaking barbed wire, to Harry Osborn.

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Harry, of course, wants to see Spider-Man’s face before killing him and is shocked to discover it’s Peter. Harry drops the knife and stumbles back, shocked. Peter busts out of the wire and tries to learn MJ’s location. Harry mentions the tritium–which Peter realizes means the deaths of millions–before accusing Peter of killing his father. I love that Peter doesn’t even try to deny it (even though it’s technically not true), but just replies, “There are bigger things happening here than me and you.” Because that is absolutely true, and there are some people you can’t even waste time trying to talk sense into.

Which leads us to the final confrontation at Doc Ock’s ramshackle waterfront warehouse headquarters. Doctor Octopus gloats to Mary Jane that no one can stop him now that Spider-Man’s dead, and of course, as soon as he turns his back to start his fusion machine, Spider-Man shows up to free MJ.

Only those damn tentacles see everything, so Ock immediately attacks. As he and Spider-Man fight their last furious battle, the miniature sun goes out of control and threatens to kill MJ.

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So Spider-Man breaks off the fight to save her, giving Doc Ock the opening needed to lay Spider-Man out for the last time. But before Ock can land his killing blow, Spider-Man blocks it with a thick bundle of electric cables…

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Shocking the bad Doctor into helplessness. Spider-Man pulls the plug on the reactor like he did last time, but this reaction is bigger and is now self-sustaining. Spider-Man can’t stop it.

But Dr. Octavius is once again in his right mind. Peter pulls off his mask and asks Octavius how to stop the reaction. Both Octavius and Mary Jane are pretty surprised to learn it’s Peter under the mask.

Octavius reasserts control over his tentacles and, while Peter carries Mary Jane to safety, uses them to pull down the pilings underneath the reactor and drop the miniature sun into the river, where it cannot keep burning. And of course, he dies a sort of hero in the process.

SpiderMan2OctaviusAgain

It shows great confidence in their digital double to use a close-up of it for this shot of Octavius sinking to the bottom of the bay. Of course, because he’s dead, he doesn’t have to emote, which is usually the real giveaway.

Peter deposits Mary Jane in a huge web he spins over a shipyard, where he and Mary Jane talk about their relationship and the fact that Peter can’t put Mary Jane into danger like that again. And it would be a much better scene if it weren’t so obvious that the “web” is translucent goop over metal cables.

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MJ goes back to John Jameson and Peter prepares to live a life alone. Meanwhile, Harry hears his father’s voice, follows it to a mirror, where he sees his father’s image and smashes it, revealing…

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Well, looks like we know what villain will be featured in the sequel, huh? But wait, there’s a bit more to go…

Namely, Mary Jane’s wedding to John Jameson. The bridesmaids are in black dresses, which is a bit ominous, and with good reason, because MJ ditches it. John looks miserable and kind of pissed, which could be more fertile ground for a sequel, since John Jameson assumed a couple of different villain personas to fight Spider-Man over the years. But he apparently wasn’t really serious about marrying MJ anyway, because her dress is not at all made for running. He could have caught her if he wanted to, is what I’m saying. But he doesn’t even try, which is how she ends up here…

SpiderMan2WeddingDress

And after Peter totally Spider-Man-splained everything to her. Women.

MJ says that she’s prepared to take the risks of being Spider-Man’s girlfriend because she loves Peter so much. And when their passionate kiss is interrupted by distant sirens, she just says, “Go get ’em, tiger.”

So Peter swings out in a final tracking shot that isn’t nearly as cool as the one that closed out the first film, but as soon as he’s gone, MJ’s supportive smile turns to this.

SpiderMan2Pensive

Everybody’s still at the church, probably. You might be able to get back in time to have the wedding after all. Just saying.

And that’s it for Spider-Man 2, a sequel that improves in almost every way upon the original. Twelve years later, it sometimes feels a little bloated and overlong. Several thematic points get pounded in a little too heavily, and the entire “Peter loses his powers” subplot feels a little unnecessary, which is odd, because the emotional justification for that plot is what the ENTIRE MOVIE IS ABOUT. But it feels as if they could have found something short of psychosomatic powerlessness to justify Peter taking some time off to get his head straight.

But it has enough great things going for it–a better script, good performances, better special effects–that it’s still a great watch today.

Oh, and BTW, I mentioned last time that I would talk about another piece of foreshadowing in the John Jameson gala scene. That turned into a small piece of a video I have put together that I will be publishing to Youtube on Friday, hopefully the first of a new, improved series of Hero Go Home Presents… videos. I’m currently working on a second one, and I have more ideas in the pipeline. I hope you like them.

Be here next Monday for (if all goes well) Part 1 of Spider-Man 3.

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Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 2, Part 2

Continuing our look back at Sony/Columbia’s 2004 sequel, Spider-Man 2.

So last time, Dr. Otto Octavius’s fusion reaction experiment had created a miniature sun that killed his wife and nearly killed him and a bunch of other observers, including Harry Osborn and Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man. As we left off, a team of doctors were getting ready to use a power saw to cut off the mechanical tentacles Octavius had been using to control the reaction, which are now fused to his body.

As the saw nears the tentacle apparatus, the tentacles start to move on their own (Octavius previously said they were controlled by their own artificial intelligence, which he consciously overrides by means of a special inhibitor chip) and attack the doctors. And in case you forgot that Sam Raimi got his start as a horror director, pioneering a unique kind of horror that fused shocking violence with fast, almost cartoonish action, here are some reminders.

Some signature Raimi stuff here, including a wild tracking shot from a tentacle’s POV and a shout-out to the chainsaw from the Evil Dead films. That last shot is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by John Landis, director of (among other things) An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

Those tentacles, BTW, are one of the movie’s biggest triumphs. The tentacles in the comic were simple cylinders with rudimentary fingers at the ends. The ones in the film have complex segmented shapes, and are animated with terrifying weight and power. When Octavius stumbles out of the hospital (after coming to surrounded by dead bodies and giving one of the less silly “Noooo!” screams of modern cinema), the tentacles walk with him, helping him support their weight. When he stumbles into the path of a taxi, the lower tentacles brace on the ground, allowing the upper tentacles to pick up the car and fling it away without Octavius’s real legs being broken by the weight. It’s never talked about, but it’s a telling detail that lets us buy in to their reality.

Oh, and remember that inhibitor chip I mentioned? The one that lets him control them instead of them controlling him? It got destroyed when he was zapped in the fusion experiment, so the tentacles are voices in his head driving him slightly mad.

He decides, with their encouragement, that he has to rebuild the fusion reactor, but bigger, so he can get it right this time. But to do that, he needs money.

You know what has money? A bank. Which is where Peter goes with Aunt May to try to refinance the loan on her house. Where they talk to smarmy bank clerk Jeff Winger.

Wow, first former Talk Soup host Hal Sparks, and now host of The Soup (the retooled show that Talk Soup morphed into), Joel McHale. Sam Raimi must have watched a lot of E!

So Aunt May gets turned down for the loan, just as Dr. Octavius (whom J. Jonah Jameson has decided to dub Doctor Octopus or Doc Ock for short) begins to rob the same bank. Peter runs away, leaving Aunt May alone and helpless, but returns moments later as Spider-Man, beginning our first big action showpiece, over 45 minutes into a 2-hour film. And it’s really good, with Ock throwing bags of heavy gold coins at Spider-Man, who dodges from wall-to-wall, but whose powers fail him at unexpected moments. The fight carries them outside, where Ock grabs Aunt May to use as a human shield against the cops, then he and Spider-Man fight their way up a building. The action is fast and furious and fun.

I love the way Aunt May whispers a scandalized “Shame on you” when Doc Ock pulls a particularly unsporting move on Peter. A couple of other notable things about the battle: there’s this guy…

(Our obligatory Stan Lee cameo) who pulls a woman with rather prominent cleavage out of the way of falling debris. And I only mention the cleavage because there’s a particular focus on busty women in this sequence.

This was also during that brief period where bare midriffs were in fashion, you’ll notice. Spider-Man saves Aunt May and carries her to safety as Doc Ock gets away with bags of money. And as Spider-Man swings away, there is a flock of young women who run up begging him to take them with him. Man, there are so many women after Peter in this movie, and he doesn’t notice any of them, he’s so blinded by MJ.

Peter next goes to a high society party, assigned to take photographs by Jonah because the science museum is honoring his son, John Jameson the astronaut.

And there are a couple of really subtle things going on in this shot. One is in the upper left that I’ll get back to eventually, but the other is a bit of quick foreshadowing for people who missed the trailers that spoiled what the movie is about to reveal. Because among the people here to honor Jonah’s son, the astronaut, is the girl standing next to Peter on the far right of the frame, and we’ve seen her before. She was previously seen putting on make-up next to Mary Jane in the dressing room before The Importance of Being Earnest, chattering with her like a best friend. And given that MJ has said she has a new boyfriend, could it be…?

Yes, it be.

Everything is going wrong for Peter at once in this party sequence, which is like a smaller, but more intense version of the opening 15 minutes. Jonah is blustery and semi-abusive. Mary Jane is fed up with him, casually dismissive when Peter tries his desperation gambit reciting “The Song of Hiawatha” to her. Harry has moved from resentment at Peter for his relationship with Spider-Man to outright drunken fury, slapping Peter in the face multiple times in front of the assembled party-goers. And in a running gag, Peter can’t even get a bite to eat, because every time he reaches for a canape or a drink, someone else grabs it just before he can (the one time he does manage to snag a glass, it’s empty).

And the absolute topper is when John Jameson, the hero everyone is here to worship, announces his engagement to Mary Jane. Peter can’t say anything but just has to do his job quietly and snap pictures at Jonah’s orders. And to make matters worse, Peter’s powers fail him completely a second time, causing him to fall something like 20 stories into a puddle of filthy water in an alley.

Peter visits a doctor to see what’s wrong, but the doctor says it’s probably psychosomatic. Peter describes his “friend’s dream” about being Spider-Man, trying to climb walls but failing. The doctor says maybe the dreams are telling him he doesn’t need to climb the walls in the first place.

So Peter has a sort-of dream sequence where he talks to Uncle Ben’s ghost. Uncle Ben wants him to stay the course, do the right thing even if it’s hard. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. But Peter decides to give it up.

Which is how we get another hammered-home point, this time in a triple homage to The Amazing Spider-Man #50, a story titled “Spider-Man No More!” featuring this panel.

Not only do we see an echo of this image onscreen as Peter ditches his costume in a garbage can…

But prior to that, Peter tells the ghost of Uncle Ben, “I am Spider-Man no more.” And once a garbageman brings the discarded costume to Jonah, the Daily Bugle publishes a cover story with that same headline, “Spider-Man No More.”

Meanwhile, Peter’s living the good life. He’s going to school, getting good grades, eating hot dogs, and when cop cars go by with sirens screaming, he doesn’t have to drop everything run off after them. He’s happy.

He even manages to see Mary Jane’s play, where she playing opposite a familiar face.

Her scene partner is played by Reed Diamond, well-known to genre audiences for recurring roles on TV series like Dollhouse, Wayward Pines, Minority Report and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Meanwhile, as when I earlier referred to The Importance of Being Earnest as being a little too on the nose, at literally the moment MJ spots Peter in the audience, she is reciting the line, “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.” Wow. It’s like Oscar Wilde wrote the play about Spider-Man.

After the play, Peter tries to convince MJ to give him another shot, but she’s having none of it. I have given Kirsten Dunst plenty of shit for her portrayal of Mary Jane in the previous film, but she plays MJ’s exasperation and drama fatigue pretty well here. She does these mouth shrugs that make her look a little like Sally Field. But her attitude does seem to soften toward Peter a bit.

So anyway, as JJJ publicizes Spider-Man’s disappearance, we see the two sides of Peter’s dilemma. On the one hand, complete strangers are flirting with him, making us think he could move on from Mary Jane and find happiness.

On the other, immediately after this moment, he sees someone being mugged and crying out for help, and he resolutely turns away, although his conscience is obviously bothering him.

Later, Peter gets finally gets the courage to tell Aunt May about his role in Uncle Ben’s death, and Aunt May pulls away from him and leaves him alone without a word. One thing I really like about this film even more than the first one is that Aunt May is no saint. She gets angry, she gets hurt, she even tries lying to the loan officer at the bank (but she’s a terrible liar). She good, but she’s human, and Rosemary Harris (I will keep saying this) is so good in the role.

Meanwhile, Doc Ock has finally finished building his new fusion reactor, but he still needs the rare tritium fuel it requires. So he goes to see Harry Osborn, who demands that Octavius bring him Spider-Man in exchange. And of course, the way to find Spider-Man is through his sort-of official photographer, Peter Parker. “Don’t hurt Peter!” Harry yells, a little too late.

That same night (maybe), Peter is noting the headlines about increased crime when he sees an apartment building on fire with a kid trapped inside, so he rushes in to rescue her. It’s not as easy as the rescue in the first movie when he had his powers, though. In fact, the little girl has to help rescue him at one point.

Even so, he succeeds in saving her, although someone else dies. He can’t save everyone.

The next day, the landlord’s daughter, Ursula (Mageina Tovah), offers him cake with a side of lovestruck staring. And she’s also rocking the bare midriff look.

It feels like there was meant to be more of a scene here, but it abruptly cuts off when she gives Peter a message from Aunt May, which causes him to rush out to see her. She’s moving. Also, she forgives Peter and misses Spider-Man. She gives a moving speech about the value of heroes, and it almost seems for a moment there that she realizes Peter is Spider-Man, but it’s left ambiguous.

Peter then decides to try believing in himself to turn his powers back on. Alas, it doesn’t work. He ends up falling into another alley and hurting himself.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane and John Jameson are filling out wedding invitations, and John brings up Peter, which prompts MJ to try out the inverted kiss on him.

The kiss just doesn’t have the same spark she had with Spider-Man, although it does bring up a point. At the end of the first movie, Mary Jane seemed to have the realization, after kissing Peter, that he and Spider-Man had the same lips or something. Like she had maybe figured out his secret. But it’s never brought up in this movie.

But that may partly be because, just when Mary Jane seems to be about to bring up the possible connection when she meets with Peter at a deli, he decides to shut her down again. He says he can’t be with her because he doesn’t love her, and she demands he kiss her to prove it.

Will his lips say “yes” even though his mouth says “no?” Be here next week for our final installment.

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Super Movie Monday – Spider-Man 2, Part 1

Yes, I know, it’s been forever since I did one of these, and even longer since I covered the first Spider-Man movie. But I’m going to try to do this again; let’s see if this leads me to resume duties on the website in general.

So the first Spider-Man film, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, was a smash hit, despite a number of flaws including cringe-worthy moments and plot beats lifted directly from previous superhero films. Despite its problems, it got the spirit of Spider-Man exactly right, that combination of thrilling action and soap-operatic melodrama bound together by the main character’s earnest appeal.

The sequel was, at least for a while, acknowledged by many as the best comic book adaptation/superhero film ever. More than ten years later, does it still hold up?

Let’s see.

Right off the bat, a technical note: the DVD starts with disclaimers about the commentaries not necessarily reflecting the views of Sony/Columbia in three languages. What the hell is in those commentaries that has them so worried?

The opening titles set the tone beautifully, retelling the story of the first movie quickly and economically through a series of gorgeous paintings by comics legend Alex Ross.

Compare the painting to the original scene from the first movie.

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Ross’s paintings convey the essence of the sequences in question while also heightening the imagery in very comic-bookish ways (check out the increased foreshortening and the muscle definition on the painted version of the scene above), which I think helps the paintings convey the emotional impact of the scenes better than a simple frame-capture would.

Then the story opens with a close-up of Mary Jane’s face on a billboard. Wow, she’s like a super-successful fashion model! When did this happen?

Thus begins the opening sequence depicting a day in the life of Peter Parker, and man, is it a mixed bag. First, Peter is confronted with a crisis at work: pizzas must be delivered in 7.5 minutes or Peter will be out of a job. His boss has a “29 minutes or it’s free” guarantee, you see, so if Peter is late, not only does the boss have to eat the cost of the pizzas, but he loses a valuable customer, which I call bullshit on. The only reason to order eight pizzas from a pizza place 45 blocks away in mid-town Manhattan is to guarantee your pizzas will be free. This is a customer you can afford to lose.

Eventually, Peter decides (with two minutes to go) that he will make better time by changing into Spider-Man. He runs into an alley, changes clothes, and web-slings his way uptown, pausing to save a couple of kids from being run over by a truck, which is fine, but then the bit at the other end doesn’t make any sense.

We see the lobby of the law firm where he’s delivering the pizzas, and Peter Parker comes out of a broom closet in full view of the receptionist (played by TV’s Bones, Emily Deschanel).

It’s bad enough that he spends over 30 seconds fighting with the mops and brooms with seemingly no sense of urgency about meeting the deadline. But more to the point, wouldn’t the receptionist be kind of suspicious at seeing Spider-Man go into a broom closet and Peter come out? Do broom closets in New York commonly have windows? And how did Peter get back into his civilian clothes (including a down vest over a windbreaker) when we clearly saw that he was not carrying them with him when he was in costume?

You know, who cares, because Peter missed the deadline and he’s fired. He’s also fired from his position at the Daily Bugle, because he’s trying to sell artsy pictures of Central Park instead of the Spider-Man action shots that J. Jonah Jameson demands. But Peter has a Spider-Man shot in his back pocket that Jonah buys for not quite as much as Peter already owes the Bugle, so Peter is un-fired, but still behind on the day. And once again, the movie criminally underutilizes Elizabeth Banks as Betty Brant, Jonah’s secretary.

After a brief interlude with the soon-to-never-be-the-Lizard Dr. Curt Connors, where we learn that Peter is failing his classes and planning to do a paper on Dr. Otto Octavius, Peter visits his Aunt May (with the obligatory shot of the Olds Delta 88 Raimi uses in every film he directs), where she has a surprise birthday party waiting with Harry Osborne and Mary Jane.

Holy crap, all this is happening on his birthday? Seriously, Movie?

Anyway, Mary Jane is obviously still into Peter after he dumped her at the end of the first film. Harry Osborne even says, “She’s waiting for ya, Pete.” Which isn’t technically true, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Meanwhile, Harry has obvious hatred for Spider-Man, who Harry believes killed his father.

I’m not really a fan of James Franco, but he pulls off some interesting work in these films. He has to play on so many levels. He loves Pete, but also resents him because of his closeness to Spider-Man. He tries to appear self-confident, but is constantly trying to compensate for his own insecurity. Unlike Peter, who tries to make up for his own failings by working harder, Harry tries to buy respect with his family fortune, and always ends up even more disappointed and angry when it doesn’t work.

After the party, Peter notices that Aunt May has received an eviction notice. Peter worrying about Aunt May being able to pay her bills was a staple of the Lee/Ditko and Lee/Romita comics, and Rosemary Harris is great here, especially when she fiercely insists that Peter accept $20 as a birthday gift, because she can’t bear his pity.

Peter takes the trash outside and runs into Mary Jane, in a neat echo of a similar scene from the first movie. But it turns weird, when first she tries to get him to admit he loves her, then she says she’s got a new boyfriend that may be serious (putting the lie to Harry’s “waiting for ya” comment), then Peter impulsively promises to see the play she’s starring in. Because that fashion model thing was just for one billboard or something? The movie never makes clear exactly how her career works.

Peter finally goes back home to end this crapstain of a day, only to have his birthday money confiscated by his bullying landlord, Mr. Ditkovich (a nod to Steve Ditko, the original Spider-Man artist), because Peter is behind on the rent for his shoebox of an apartment.

And I’ve described this first fifteen minutes in such minute detail because these scenes are trying to do so many things at once: introduce new viewers to Peter and his world, catch up returning viewers on what has happened in that world since the first film ended, introduce us to all the major characters (save one) and spell out Peter’s relationships with them. But it also pounds on one theme over and over in every single scene: no matter how cool Peter’s superpowers are, they’re kinda’ fucking up his life. Okay, Movie, I get it! Jeez!

So the next day or so, Peter goes to visit Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), the science genius he plans to write a paper on. Turns out, Octavius’s nuclear fusion research is funded by OsCorp, so Harry gets to play big man benefactor by making Octavius take the meeting, and for once, Peter can’t refuse. Octavius is clearly unhappy to have this interruption forced on him, but he recognizes Peter’s name as Dr. Connors’s student and next thing you know, he’s acting like Peter’s life coach, not just talking science, but introducing Peter to his wife and having him stay for dinner.

Peter is worried that the fusion reaction might run out of control, but Octavius dismisses his concerns and is much more interested in telling Peter how to get girls. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie where the villain is introduced as such a genuinely nice and interesting guy, unless the movie was going for a surprise third-act reveal, in which we learn the villain was just pretending all along. That’s not the case here.

Anyway, Octavius tells Peter, “If you want to get a woman to fall in love with you, feed her poetry.” And just like that, Peter’s in a laundromat reading “The Song of Hiawatha” and discovering that his Spider-Costume has turned the rest of his laundry pink. Because Peter’s been Spider-Man for over two years now, but this is apparently the first time he has washed his outfit. Also, why is he reading poetry? Mary Jane has already fallen in love with him; the only reason they are not together now is by his choice. And it’s not as if he lacks other options for companionship. Betty Brant, the secretary at the Bugle, seems to have a soft spot for him, and Mr. Ditkovich’s daughter has an obvious head-over-heels crush on him. And she’s pretty cute in a bug-eyed, sweaty way.

I know that people sometimes do things for emotional reasons that don’t make logical sense, but I really don’t get where Peter’s going with this. But I do know where Peter’s going next, and that’s to MJ’s play. She’s starring in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, because nothing’s too on-the-nose for a Sam Raimi joint.

Peter puts on a suit, gets on his scooter and heads for the play, which, fittingly enough for a work by Oscar Wilde, is apparently being performed in England.

They have obviously flipped the footage in order to toy with the screen direction, which is a subject for a formal film theory study that I have neither the time nor expertise to really indulge in now. Suffice to say that his trip to the theater is interrupted by a high-speed chase involving two crooks in a huge black Lincoln convertible. In what is our first real action sequence of the movie (not counting the very brief web-slinging heroics in the pizza delivery scene), Peter uses his webs as weapons and takes the thieves’ car after they destroy his scooter.

Alas, despite his promises to the contrary, he arrives late to the theater and is refused entry by a very familiar-looking usher (Bruce Campbell playing a different cameo character than he played in the first film).

Peter waits outside for MJ to come out after the play is over, but she ends up in the arms of another dude in front of a sign that says, “J. Frazier is especially effective!“, a shout-out to special effects director John Frazier. (another sign says “Wil Madoc Rees is a perfect Bon Vivant,” a shout-out to production illustrator Wil Madoc Rees).

Rather than say hello or confront them, however, Peter follows passing police cars apparently on their way to another crisis, when this happens…

Webbus Interruptus. Peter falls what looks like a couple hundred feet to smash some conduits on a roof. Even worse, Peter seems to have lost his other powers, too: his strength, his agility, his ability to cling to walls. Everything except his ability to soak up incredible amounts of damage. He ends up having to make an embarrassing ride down in an elevator in full costume (unlike the pizza delivery adventure, his civvies don’t appear to have made the trip with him this time), awkwardly sharing the ride with snarky Hal Sparks (former host of Talk Soup).

Peter tries to apologize to MJ the next day, but ends up confessing his secret identity to an empty line when he doesn’t have enough change to keep the payphone connection open. You know, in case the first 15 minutes hadn’t pounded the “Spider-Man is ruining Peter’s life” drum hard enough yet.

And now, over 30 minutes in, it’s finally time for the throat-clearing to stop and the actual plot to begin. Dr. Octavius is going to attempt his first fusion reaction, and of course, he’s going to do it live in front of an audience of press and big-wigs in his wide-open, completely unshielded lab/apartment. But don’t worry, nothing can go wrong because he is a scientist. The special apparatus he’s going to use to keep the reaction from going out of control?

This, baby.

A set of special cybernetic tentacles which allow him to, I don’t know, moderate the reaction or something. They are controlled by a special artificial intelligence program that connects directly to his central nervous system, and there’s a special chip that makes sure he stays in control of the arms and not vice-versa.

So he starts the reaction with the help of his wife and his assistant, played by Daniel Dae Kim from Lost.

And it is a complete success, at least long enough for Octavius to whisper, “The power of the sun in the palm of my hand,” which isn’t megalomaniacal or anything. And faster than you can say “hubris,” it all goes wrong. The reaction goes out of control. The apartment is destroyed. Harry futilely yells, “I’m in charge here! It’s my money!” which the miniature sun is apparently completely unimpressed by, because it nearly kills him before Spider-Man saves his life. Mrs. Octavius is killed by a flying shard of glass, which distracts Octavius long enough to get him zapped by his own creation.

Spider-Man manages to shut it down, but the experiment is a failure, Octavius is critically injured, and Harry’s position as heir to his father’s company is in jeopardy. Harry, of course, blames Spider-Man.

At the hospital, doctors prepare to cut the mechanical arms off of Octavius as a first step toward repairing his spinal damage. But as they start the saw, what is that tell-tale reflection in the doctor’s goggles?

See you next time for part 2.

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Superhero Workout — Final Report

So I just finished the final workout of the 12-week Superhero Workout 2.0 program by John Romaniello and Matt McGorry. The 12 weeks officially ends tomorrow, but since I’ve abandoned the eating program pretty much entirely for the final phase, I can say with certainty that the program is now over.

The results?

Not dramatic. You could call it a qualified success, in that I stuck with the program for the entire 12 weeks and I did get some positive comments on how I looked. One person I was meeting for the first time complimented my muscle tone, and a couple of people remarked that I was looking better.

However, you could also call it a qualified failure, in that, though I stuck with it and show some small visible improvements as well as some minor gains in strength and endurance, the results are not as dramatic as I’d hoped. At the end of 12 weeks, I weigh almost exactly the same as when I started, with only a minor improvement in my body fat percentage.

And while any improvement is not to scoffed at, the fact remains that for the amount of money I put out for this–not only for the program itself, but for the recommended supplements and additional equipment (two 5o lb. weight plates cost around $100, y’all)–I wanted much more dramatic results than I had achieved in the past designing my own workout. And that didn’t happen, for many reasons that I outlined in previous reports.

The workouts themselves are complicated. The promised video demonstrations of all the moves do not live up to the promise; many, many moves are not included, while some move you never do are (perhaps as a result of the change from 1.0 to 2.0 without the videos being updated at the same time). The nutritional program is only included as supplemental material for an extra charge and is hard to follow. It gives macronutrient gram counts for every meal, which seems simple, but just try to design one meal with, say, 44g protein/26g carb/0 g fat and another meal with 44g protein/26g carb/21g fat. It’s not easy.

So if you have seen the Superhero Workout advertised online somewhere and are thinking about giving it a try, my advice, given with much regret (because I really would like to recommend it), is to save your money.

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Superhero Workout Progress Report – Week 9

Yes, it has been a while since I’ve posted an update video (and this one is being posted a week late).

Here are a few update photos as well. Slow progress in gaining muscle combined with some fat gain makes for unimpressive photos.

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Scary Movie Monday – Fiend Without a Face

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Hey, we’re back with some more scary movies for Halloween. I actually started to recap this particular film last year, but ended up not finishing, so I held it over for this year. Today we’ll be featuring 1958’s Fiend Without a Face, directed by Arthur Crabtree for Amalgamated Productions. Like Amalgamated’s later First Man into Space, Fiend was filmed in England while ostensibly taking place in North America. And like First Man into Space, it stars Marshall Thompson as a military man facing off against alien horror.

The film opens at a U.S. Interceptor Command Experimental Air Station in Manitoba, Canada, apparently a Cold War DEW Line site. A guard patrolling outside the base hears mysterious noises and a scream. He runs to the sound to find a dead man on the ground. CREDITS!

Now we are introduced to Major Jeff Cummings (Thompson), who is wrestling with two problems simultaneously. One is a mysterious power fade that happens every time they fire up their big atomic-powered experimental radar (theoretically powerful enough to cover the entire Arctic region with one installation), and the other is the dead guy they just found snooping around outside the base, Jacques Griselle.

Barbara Griselle, Major Cummings, and Colonel Butler

Griselle’s sister Barbara (Kim Parker) refuses to have an autopsy performed, which seems suspicious, since the dead man was carrying a notebook recording the base’s take-offs and landings. According to Barbara (and confirmed by the dead man’s notes), their cows were turning out bad milk, and Griselle was trying to get evidence that it was the jets flying overhead that caused it. Major Cummings drives Barbara home and they share an instant bond.

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Later, they perform another test of their experimental radar, but within minutes, the power begins to fade on them. Cummings calls to the control room of the nuclear reactor and calls for more power. They have an argument over removing control rods (a nicely realistic touch), but even with the power boosted, the results are no better, almost as if the power were being drained off by something else. The experiment is called off and the planes ordered to return. Not long after, a farmer and his wife are killed by a mysterious invisible force. An autopsy on the farmer reveals his brain and spinal cord are missing, sucked out through two small holes at the base of the skull.

Major Cummings is ordered to interview the townspeople for unusual events. He takes the opportunity to beeline straight to Barbara Griselle’s place, where he catches her coming out of the shower so the movie can get in a little obligatory cheesecake for the one-sheet.

While she gets dressed, he finds a manuscript titled “The Principles of Thought Control” by R.E. Walgate. Barbara explains that she works for the retired professor, transcribing his tapes and compiling his notes. The major flirts with her until they are interrupted by town constable Howard Gibbons, who is suspicious of goings on at the base and jealously protective of Barbara. Cummings and Howard have a scuffle, which Barbara breaks up and sends the major on his way.

Cummings returns to the base and begins to research Professor Walgate. That night, the invisible creature breaks into the mayor of Winthrop’s house and kills him, which the next day sets off an angry mob patrolling the town with rifles searching for the murderer. Meanwhile, Major Cummings decides to pay a visit to Professor Walgate. Professor Walgate is a kindly old man who knows way more than he should about the atomic radar experiments at the base. As they talk, the professor has a dizzy spell, which prompts Barbara to ask Major Cummings to leave again. Romance is never easy.

As the search party approaches the air base, Howard Gibbons and friend hear the mysterious sounds of the invisible creature. Gibbons disappears. An emergency meeting called by the town council leads to angry accusations about the presence of the experimental air base. People are fearful of radiation and don’t trust the military men’s reassurances. Barbara speaks up in defense of the base, saying that it was the jet noise, not radiation, that has been affecting the milk output, and the cows are adjusting. The meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Gibbons, face disfigured and moaning like a mindless madman (apparently, though it is never explained, they only sucked out half his brain or something).

After the meeting, Cummings tells Barbara that he suspects Professor Walgate has something to do with the mysterious deaths. Cummings investigates the local cemetery. In the mayor’s burial crypt, he finds the coffin open and the Professor’s pipe sitting next to it. Someone closes the crypt door, locking him in. He is rescued by Barbara and a fellow officer just before the air in the crypt runs out. Cummings immediately asks to see Walgate.

Cummings confronts Walgate about his experiments in mind-over-matter and asks if it could be done with the help of atomic power. As the Professor is about to confess something, they hear the sounds of the invisible creature, and the Professor swoons. He manages to tell Cummings to shut down the atomic reactor.

Cummings convinces his commander to do so, but there’s a problem: the control rods necessary to shut down the atomic reaction have all been smashed. There is no way to shut the reactor down without them. They call for an emergency resupply from a base about 4 hours away.

And I know I’ve mentioned it before, but this is pretty awesome. Instead of simply invoking movie science and having some sort of on-off switch in the control room, someone did some actual research on atomic power and included the detail about the control rods, which are used to regulate the power output of a nuclear reactor. So bonus points for verisimilitude here, although they’ll get taken away soon enough. Just wait.

Professor Walgate has recovered and confesses that he knows what is going on. In flashback, he tells how he built a machine to “materialize” his thought waves and make them able to move objects. The machine used power from the atomic station to create invisible beings made of thought energy. But the Professor has since lost control of his creation. The creatures act independently now, drawing energy from the atomic plant (and causing the mysterious power fades) and eating people’s brains. As the professor finishes his confession, the house is surrounded by the creatures, which begin to break into the house.

Meanwhile, the personnel running the atomic plant are killed by the invisible creatures, and the power output increases into the danger zone. The power becomes so great that the creatures become visible, taking the form of brain-heads with spinal-column bodies and nerve tentacles. And antennae, for some reason.

FiendBrain

And now we enter the big climax of the film, which is half-awesome and half-idiotic.

Professor Walgate insists that the only way to stop the creatures is to shut down the atomic plant (which, as we’ve learned earlier, can only be shut down with control rods that still haven’t arrived from the other base). But suddenly, Cummings volunteers to use dynamite to blow up the control room, which will shut down the unshutdownable reactor because plot. The logic here is the same as those movies where guys decide to destroy a computer by shooting the monitor. It wouldn’t actually work, but it looks cool and seriously, we need to start wrapping up this story, guys, so don’t start nitpicking now.

Anyway, Walgate goes out with him in the hope of controlling some of the creatures, but is immediately attacked and killed. The rest of the film cuts back and forth as Cummings fights to get the dynamite set up in the control room while the people back at Walgate’s farmhouse–Barbara, the commander, and a couple of others–fight a desperate battle to survive an onslaught of stop-motion brain creatures, in a brief, but genuinely exciting sequence. Just as Barbara is about to get her brain sucked out, the dynamite explodes and the creatures all melt into disgusting slimy puddles. Cummings and Barbara are reunited and kiss as we fade out.

All in all, it’s not bad, as low-budget 50’s sci-fi goes. A little fan-service here, some creepy stop-motion creatures there, and even a little actual research stuck in there. The film is part of the Criterion Collection and can be viewed on Hulu Plus, if you’re curious.

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Superhero Workout Progress Report – Week 5

Okay, here’s the week 5 video. A little late, but that’s because a crazy schedule has kept me too busy to edit and upload (and I shot it and kinda forgot about it for a couple of days).

The preview on Phase Three. Ouch. And I’m really full.

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Superhero Workout Progress Report – Week 4

Diet is iffy and sleep is awful, but we’ve finished another week of the Superhero Workout.

Since we’re now just about a month in, I’ll also post some progress photos.

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These pics look better than the last set, but much of that is due to more dramatic lighting which brings the muscles into sharper relief. However, you can see some growth in the shoulders and in the lats. In the third picture, you can definitely see the bare beginnings of the V-Taper that I’ve coveted and not been able to achieve in forever. I’m hoping the next set of pics will be even more dramatic, because I’ll be almost through Growth Phase at that point, which is where all the money is made.

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Superhero Workout Progress Report – Week 3

So three weeks down, nine to go. I finished Phase One this week, so I’m into new territory. Phase Two is the tricky one, because there are five different workouts, and four of them will only be done once each. So there’s no way to measure progress by improved performance, only by what you see on the scale and in the mirror. Here’s the vid…

See you in a week.

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