German Expressionism & Marvel Superheroes: How I spent my Sunday

I saw two movies on the big screen Sunday, and they couldn’t have been more different. First, at BAMPFA, a late silent noir from Germany. Second, at the United Artists Berkeley 7, a new animated take on Spider-Man.

I have to say that Spider-Man was the better movie.

Asphalt at the BAMPFA

Alas, Louise Brooks wasn’t the only actress playing femme fatales in 1929 German cinema, and that’s a shame. Else Heller, who really isn’t all that bad, feels second rate by comparison. Asphault starts as one of those city symphony movies that were so popular in the late silent era, but it soon goes into noir territory.

A rookie cop (Albert Steinrück) must bring a beautiful thief (Heller) to the station, but he’s no match for her seductive ways. In fact, his unprofessional behavior goes from idiotic to unbelievable. Heller is reasonably fun to watch as the sexy criminal, but the story calls for her to turn good, which makes her far less interesting.

I give the film a B.

This was part of the series Fritz Lang & German Expressionism, even though Asphault was barely expressionistic, and was directed not by Lang but by Joe May. By the way, May got out of Germany in 1933 and had a modest career in Hollywood. Heller, sadly, died young in 1930.

The DCP was good but not exceptional. The problems – scratches, washed-out images, and so on – were all of a photochemical nature.

There was no live music for this silent movie, but the recorded music, presumably on the DCP, was excellent.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The United Artists Berkeley must have been a beautiful theater when it had only a single screen. The lobby is still beautiful and well-kept.

But it is now cut up into seven auditoriums that range from modestly big to hole-in-the-wall. The sense of opulence disappears as soon as you walk into one of these theaters.

On the other hand, the movie was great.

I think this animated feature is the most enjoyable and entertaining superhero movie I’ve ever seen, even though Peter Parker dies in the first act (not really a spoiler). But have no fear. There’s another Peter Parker, older with a pot belly. There are several other Spider people from different dimensions popping up, as well.

But the main Spider-Man here is Miles, a black kid from Brooklyn who must learn how to use his accidentally-given powers. He’s awkward, funny, and just entering adolescence. And the last thing he wants to do is fight supervillains.

The filmmakers created a visual style that makes the movie look like a comic book, down to the little colored dots. It’s played mostly for laughs, with just enough pathos and suspense. Sit through the closing credits for some of the biggest laughs.

I give this one an A.

I did not see it in 3D, but I wish I had.

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