Here we have a series of web-slinging classics that offered no trigger warnings for those of us who suffer from arachnophobia. Unless, of course, the title counts as a warning.
“Spider-Man” (Sam Raimi, 2002) One of the first truly successful harbingers of the Superhero Era that we’re improbably still going through. (Technically, the second, after Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.”) Raimi loves slapstick even when it ruins a mood, but his visual wit compensates for a heavy-handed David Koepp script that rewards-and-punishes comic book fans by putting them again through every trite beat of the Stan Lee / Steve Ditko origin story with little variation. MVPs: J. K. Simmons as cigar-chomping J. Jonah Jameson, and Willem Dafoe as the rictus-faced Green Goblin. Of course, the all-time winners of the “Best Upside-Down-in-the-Rain Kiss” are Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.
The CGI in “Spider-Man 2,” from 2004, has not aged gracefully, but that doesn’t matter because all of the best moments are human. The flick does rely on call backs to the instantly iconic scenes of the original (upside-down kisses! Spidey as volunteer firefighter!) But it matches / improves the first with a goofy, innocent energy that is kept throughout. The fights with the well-armed Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) are fun and effective. Michael Chabon somehow contributed to script, most likely in some extraneous lines about T.S. Eliot being more complex than advanced physics. (At the time they were 5 and 5, now I feel like they’re 4 and 4)
“Spider-Man 3” is unquestionable the lesser of the original trilogy. Still enjoyable, but its separate threads take too long to weave themselves together. The non-Neil-Gaiman Sandman story-line could have been excised to the movie’s improvement. Mary Jane’s Broadway career shouldn’t be more emotionally interesting than the Green Goblin’s revenge. (3)
“Howl” (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010) It’s appalling that someone had to pretend in court that “angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night” wasn’t a terrific accumulation of words. James Franco may be replicating Allen Ginsberg’s mannerisms just fine. It’s young Ginsberg, before Tibet and fame. That doesn’t mean that Allen Ginsberg’s mannerisms at that period were engaging. The performance is so restrained as to be uninspired. But the court case doesn’t feel as urgent as it could have felt, and the animation that accompanies the poems doesn’t always rise up to the lyrical potential. (3)
“The Mystery of the Blue Train” (Agatha Christie). The Blue Train is not the Orient Express. It is one of the few Poirots that can be easily guessed, for instance, and this train runs through the Riviera, carrying a dead girl. Also, French swindlers and stolen jewels. This time around, Hercule Poirot’s sounding board is Katherine Grey, from St. Mary Mead, like Miss Marple. This was Christie’s own least liked, weak novel written before and after her “disappearance” period. (3)
“Cover Her Face” ( P. D. James) Inspector Adam Dalglieh’s debut. James’ whodunits have relative psychological depth, and excel from a literary angle. However, she’s a damned Tory classist, and some of the snobbish British viewpoints annoy me: the victim is a “peccant delinquent”- a lower class woman who had the temerity to have pre-marital sex and become a single mother. (Still 5)
“Atypical.” Pretending that autism is just a personality quirk is insulting to autistic people. By this show’s standard, autistic just means awkward at reading social cues. So, everybody at some point? The rest of the show is fine; I might change my mind with more viewings. (3)
“The Carmichael Show” (Brilliant but Cancelled but now with Netflix you can Always Watch Its 3 Seasons so It’s Fine) I love almost everything about this old-skool sitcom except Jerrod Carmichael’s acting. He’s limited in the ways Jerry Seinfeld was. But his show managed to tackle modern political conflicts within today’s middle class African-American family in a TV set-up that has felt creaky to audiences for 20 years, and it does so vibrantly. It’s funny! (4)
“Tickle Fight.” The new stand-up by Craig Ferguson, who has a dashing beard and is not all talking about Trump. (4)
“Judd Apatow: The Return.” Judd Apatow’s stand-up is not top-tier, (he’s been away from the game too long) but it’s pleasant enough. He probably doesn’t need to name-drop as much as he does, and he definitely shouldn’t brag so much about how he married Leslie Mann. “You won’t believe this love-conquers-all story! Even a normal-looking millionaire can marry a second-tier actress!” Judd Apatow dating Beyonce? Ok, then I would be intrigued. (4)