music friday: fillmore auditorium, july 19, 1967
annihilation (alex garland, 2018)

what i watched

The War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953). Eleven years before Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a surprisingly good version of Defoe's classic, Byron Haskin directed The War of the Worlds. If Crusoe was good, The War of the Worlds was even better, drawing on another literary icon, H.G. Wells. This was only the first of many filmed adaptations of the Wells novel, including a 1988 TV series that was a sequel to this movie, and the Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise movie from 2005 that I did not like. The most famous version of the story was Orson Welles', as an episode of his radio show The Mercury Theatre on the Air in 1938. Welles went down in history for that radio show ... the 1953 version isn't quite as iconic, but it was well-received in its day (winning an Oscar for Special Effects) and was influential not only on subsequent remakes but on many space-travel films. In 2011, it was added to the National Film Registry. Why does it work so well? The acting is understated, the effects belie the relatively low budget, and the story is hard to beat: Martians attack the Earth. There's the "Red Scare" connection, if that's how you like your 50s sci-fi. And the gradual takeover of Earth is frightening in its all-encompassing nature. The film, a recent restoration, looked great on TCM. Here is an example taken from the restored version:

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts, 2017). We watched this in preparation for next week's Retired Cinema ... it's my wife's turn to pick, and she has chosen Spider-Man: Far from Home, which is the sequel to this one. It is impossible to keep track of all the variants of Spider-Man in the 21st century. There was the disappointing Sam Raimi trilogy with Tobey Maguire (disappointing because I am a fan of Raimi, but didn't think his Spider-Man movies were up to the level of films like Evil Dead II and Drag Me to Hell). There were the re-boots with Andrew Garfield (a quick turnaround ... only five years separated the Maguires from the Garfields). Then Sony, who had the rights to the character, cut a deal with Marvel/Disney so Spider-Man could finally be integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man then appeared in Captain America: Civil War, Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, leading up to Far from Home. (Did you follow all of that?) Not to mention last year's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is not connected to the previous films, and which won an Oscar. All of these films were box-office smashes. Homecoming has a few things that distinguish it. Tom Holland is the youngest actor of the century to play Peter Parker. Parker/Spidey is a fairly enjoyable character. I don't know ... I liked it more than I did the Raimis, although that may just be my lowered expectations. Bonus points for the supporting cast, which includes Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Bokeem Woodbine, Tyne Daly, Hannibal Buress, Martin Starr, and the voice of Jennifer Connelly.

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