Playing Catch Up With The Films of 2017: Valerian and the City Of A Thousand Planets (dir by Luc Besson)


Valerian and the City Of A Thousand Planets is another film, much like The Dark Tower and this year’s Transformers movie, that I watched in a state of total and thorough confusion.

More than once, I asked myself, “What the Hell’s going on?  Who are those people?  Why are they blowing stuff up?  Why are they shooting at each other?  Who’s fighting who?  Wait, is he a good guy or a bad guy?  Is Valerian human or alien?  WHAT’S GOING ON!?”

But I have to admit that it really didn’t bother me that Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets is an almost totally incoherent movie.  After all, Valerian is a Luc Besson film and Besson has always been a supreme stylist above all else.  That’s not to say that there’s nothing going on underneath the glossy visuals of a Besson film.  It’s just to say that Besson is one of the rare directors where the subtext is usually less interesting than what’s happening on the surface.

Take Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  It takes place in the far future, on Alpha.  Alpha used to be the International Space Station but now it’s become a floating city where the inhabitants of a thousand different planets mix and socialize.  It’s a very cosmopolitan city, one where the only disturbance comes from obnoxious human tourists who are all either extremely British or extremely American.  Now, you could argue that Besson is making the argument that Alpha is meant to represent France but, if you spend too much time doing that, you’re going to miss just how amazingly Alpha has been visualized.  It’s not just that everyone in the movie says that Alpha is home to a million different creatures.  It’s that when the film travels to Alpha, you take one look at the screen and you believe it.

The film’s plot … well, this is where it gets difficult. It gets off to a truly brilliant beginning, with an intergalactic summit that takes place while David Bowie’s Space Oddity plays in the background.  After that, the film’s visuals were so amazing that I have to admit that I was usually too busy taking it all in to pay much attention to what was actually going on.  Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are members of the special police force that has been created to protect Alpha and apparently the rest of the universe as well.  Valerian has strange dreams about a primitive race of people who live on a beach.  Laureline frets about Valerian’s recent proposal of marriage.  They’ve both been assigned to track down a creature, the last of its species, that is currently being sold in a black market.  It all links back to some secrets concerning their superior (Clive Owen) and a plot involving intergalactic refugees.

And, obviously, if you’re someone who insists on finding political subtext in every movie that you watch, there’s a lot to be found in Valerian‘s story about space refugees and government cover-ups.  But, honestly, none of that is as interesting as the effort that Besson has put into making his flamboyant universe come to life.  Valerian may be narratively incoherent but visually, it come close to proving Lucio Fulci’s theory of “absolute film.”  The plot is less important than the film’s visuals and how you, as the viewer, reacts to those visuals.  Even Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne seem to have been cast less for any acting ability they may have and more because the boyishly rugged DeHaan and the achingly pretty Delevingne both compliment the film’s visual scheme.  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is cinematic pop art.

Film Review: Devil’s Knot (dir by Atom Egoyan)


After having spent close to a year hearing only negative things about it, I finally watched Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot last night.  On the basis of what a lot of critics had said about the film, I have to admit that I was mostly watching it to see if I needed to include it on my upcoming list of the 16 worst films of 2014.

But you know what?

Devil’s Knot really isn’t a bad film.  It’s just an extremely unnecessary one.

Devil’s Knot opens with a title card that reads, “Based on a true story.”  Honestly, the title card could have just as easily read, “Based on a true story and if you doubt it, there’s four other movies you can watch.”  The trial, conviction, and subsequent imprisonment of the West Memphis Three is perhaps the most famous miscarriage of justice in recent history precisely because so many documentaries have been made about it.  Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost Part Three are two of the most disturbing true crime documentaries ever made.

(As for Paradise Last Part Two, it displays a stunning lack of self-awareness as it attempts to prove the guilt of John Mark Byers by using many of the same techniques that were used to convict the West Memphis Three.  The less said about it, the better.)

The story is so well-known that I almost feel like retelling it would be like taking the time to inform you that George Washington was our first president.  But here goes — in 1993, 3 eight year-old boys were murdered in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas.  Three teenagers were arrested for the crime and, on the flimsiest of evidence, were convicted.  As is seen in the documentaries, their conviction had more to do with community hysteria and paranoia than anything else.  The supposed leader of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, was accused of being a Satanist.  Why?  Mostly because he wore black clothing.

Eventually — and largely as a result of the documentaries made about the case — the West Memphis Three would be freed from prison.  (However, their convictions would still legally stand, meaning that their exoneration would be limited to the court of public opinion.)  Devil’s Knot, however, doesn’t deal with any of that, beyond a lengthy scroll of “this is what happened after the movie” information that rolls up the screen after the final scene.  Instead, Devil’s Knot deals with the first trial of the West Memphis Three and the small town atmosphere of fear and hysteria that led to them being convicted in the first place.

And — though the film is surprisingly conventional when you consider the reputation of director Atom Egoyan — it’s all fairly well-done.  As a former resident of and frequent visitor to Arkansas, I was happy to see that Egoyan didn’t indulge in as many stereotypes as I feared he would.  (One need only watch the self-important Northern activists in Paradise Lost Two to see the attitude that I feared Egoyan would bring to the project.)  Reese Witherspoon is perfectly cast as the mother of one of the murdered boys.  Kevin Durand is properly intimidating at John Mark Byers.  Even Colin Firth manages to make for a convincing Arkansan.

But, ultimately, Devil’s Knot just feels so unnecessary.  It doesn’t bring anything new to the story and there’s ultimately nothing here that you couldn’t have learned from the original Paradise Lost.

Probably the best thing that I can say about Devil’s Knot is that it’s better than Paradise Lost Part Two.

Embracing the Melodrama #58: The Place Beyond The Pines (dir by Derek Cianfrance)


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First released in 2013, the underrated (and, as far as end-of-the-year awards ago, underappreciated) The Place Beyond The Pines is actually three cinematic melodramas in one.  Much like a great novel, this movie is split into multiple pieces with each part telling a different part of a larger story.  It’s an interesting and ambitious concept, the type that we sometimes fear that audiences are no longer capable of appreciating.

The first third of the story centers on Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman who performs at state fairs.  During one such fair in upstate New York, he meets and has a brief affair with Romina (Eva Mendes, giving an excellent performance).  When he returns to New York a year later, Luke discovers that he is now a father.  Luke quits the fair and decides that he wants to be a part of his son’s life but Romina, who is now in a stable relationship with a good man named Kofi (Mahershala Ali), asks him to stay away.  Determined to be part of his son’s life and also looking to win back Romina, Luke stays in town and gets a job working with Robin (the always excellent Ben Mendelsohn).  Robin owns an auto garage and, as he explains to Luke, he also used to be a bank robber.  Soon, with Robin’s help, Luke is robbing banks and sending the money to Romina.

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Luke’s story is probably the strongest in the film.  Ryan Gosling is charismatic as the dangerous yet likable Luke and he and Eva Mendes have a lot of on-screen chemistry.  Ben Mendelsohn brings yet another one of his trademark burned out characters to life and Mahershala Ali is sympathetic as Kofi, a man, who despite being good and responsible, is simply no Ryan Gosling.

The second part of the story deals with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), the cop who chases Luke after one of his bank robberies.  Avery is the politically ambitious son of a former judge (Harris Yulin) and, much like Luke, he also has newborn son.  When Avery is originally hailed as hero for his pursuit of Luke, Avery’s feelings are far more ambivalent.  It gets even more difficult for him when he catches some of his fellow cops (led, of course, by Ray Liotta) stealing the money that Luke sent to Romina.  When Romina rejects Avery’s attempt to return the money to her, Avery is left with little choice but to try to take down the crooked cops himself.  It’s the only way for him to clear his conscience.

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And, finally, in the third part of the story, teenager Jason Cankham (Dane DeHaan) meets and befriends Avery’s son, AJ (Emory Cohen).  What neither one of them realizes is that Jason is Luke’s son.  The interesting thing here is that the two sons have, on the surface at least, turned out to be the exact opposites of their father.  Jason is the good kid while AJ is probably one of the most despicable movie teenagers of all time.  When Jason learns the truth about both of their fathers, he has to decide whether he’s his father’s son or if he is his own human being.

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As you might be able to guess from the above plot description, The Place Beyond the Pines is a big epic of a film and, perhaps not surprisingly, the end results are intriguing if occasionally uneven.  The film starts out so strongly with Ryan Gosling roaring down empty roads on his motorcycle that it’s hard for the rest of the movie to live up to that opening’s promise.  And yet somehow, the film manages to do just that.  Even the parts of the film that didn’t particularly intrigue me — like the whole subplot with the corrupt cops — were saved by the efforts of a perfectly chosen cast.  The third and final part of the film provides the perfect climax, helping us to both understand the legacy of Luke Glanton and Avery Cross but also to understand why both of their stories are important, both as individual tales and as parts of a greater whole.

The Place Beyond The Pines may not be perfect, not in the way that a film like Winter’s Bone is perfect.  However, we should still be glad that films like it are being made.

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Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”


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Seriously, folks, this whole contrarian role I seem to have either stumbled or , if you want to be grandiose about things,  been thrust into? Its actually getting pretty old.  Sure, I can’t do much about how my brain works, but once in awhile, maybe just for a day or so to see what it would be like, I’d love to at least like the same stuff everybody else does, and dislike all the same stuff that the rest of you do, too, just to relieve the tedium of seeing things in a fundamentally different way than everyone else. Mind you, I’n only talking about changing things up as far as my taste in films and other ostensibly “entertaining” media go here, these other perfectly mainstream ideas like “corporations are our friends and we shouldn’t tax them too high,” and “problems like racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are all in this past” — you can keep those, I’m happy to still keep tilting at windmills and telling Mr. and Ms. Middle America that they’re hopelessly deluded if they really believe the Hallmark Card pseudo-reality being sold to them while their pockets are being picked clean by the same rich assholes who then have the nerve to tell them that the real “moochers” are poor folks, or people of color, or single mothers, or any other group still that’s still easy to scapegoat and demonize.

At this point you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with reviewing the just-released (“just,” in this case, meaning last week) The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and I can’t say I blame you, so here’s what I’m getting at : received “wisdom” has it that this is just some bog-standard, average-at-best super-hero flick. And the same received “wisdom” has it that the reason this is no great shakes (and you can bet the exact same argument will be trotted out in a couple of weeks in regards to the new X-Men movie) is because it’s not a Marvel Studios product but is, in fact, a Sony/Columbia release under license from Marvel. And I’m sorry, but I smell a serious rat with that fallacious line of “reasoning.”

Let me tell you why : Marvel, and their bosses at Disney,  desperately want the Spider-Man property back “in house” (same goes for X-Men) and have a vested interest in promoting the myth that only they can do it “right.” To that end, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that they’re the ultimate source of this goofy idea that somehow Sony’s Spider-Man lacks the “magic” that they’d bring to the property (and that’s really what Spidey is at this point — a “property” — as opposed to an actual character) and I’d even go so far as to speculate that they’ve contacted their bought-and-paid for media mouthpieces and had off-the-record conversations with them designed to subtly kick up an orchestrated “whisper campaign” against this film.

Shit, as science has proven, always runs downhill, and soon the folks who make their living telling other people what to think have affected the opinions of the legions of unpaid armchair critics (like myself) who in turn affect the opinions of fans and more casual movie-goers, and before you know it, the meme that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 just ain’t all that great has taken firm hold in the public consciousness. Sure, it all looks spontaneous enough, and most of the people playing along with the scheme have no idea that they’re doing, essentially, pro bono work for one monolithic studio conglomerate in their covert “war” against another monolithic studio conglomerate, but there you have it.

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What’s especially despicable about this, though, is how rancid and idiotic “homer”-ism in the “fan” community is so easily manipulated to shady ends, yet seldom if ever turned in a genuinely positive direction. The same “fans” who are actively and openly rooting for Marvel to “get back their baby,” for instance, don’t seem to care too much about the situation of Spidey’s actual creator, Steve Ditko, who is 86 years old and has never seen a dime from any of the flicks his legendary creation appears in — hell, when Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie came out, Ditko was living under, to put it politely, reduced circumstances in a rented apartment above a New York City thrift store. If even a tiny fraction of the amount of energy fans put into campaigning for Marvel Studios were put into campaigning for the dozens, if not hundreds, of creators that Marvel has screwed over, who knows? Maybe the cause of creators’ rights would finally be getting somewhere. Let me be as blunt as possible here : if you care more about Marvel getting back the cinematic rights to Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four than you do about folks like Steve Ditko, Gary Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, or the heirs of Jack Kirby, then you’re either a complete asshole, being played for a sucker, or both. These actual people deserve your support — not the corporate suits who continue to profit off the fruits of others’ imaginations.

To that end, I don’t have any real personal stake in whether or not The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is “not as good as it could/would be with Marvel Studios in charge,” because I could care less about the bottom-line corporate balance sheets of either DisMar or Sony/Columbia. They’re all faceless, greedy bastards in my book. But after watching the film, the rat I smelled grew even more pungent, so I decided to put my little “homer” theory to the test via the modern “miracle” of social networking.

Don’t worry, I didn’t waste too much time on this off-the-cuff experiment, only about 30 minutes or so, but the results were telling. I went onto twitter, looked for the first dozen comments of the “this would be so much better if Marvel did it” variety (they weren’t had to find), and asked the folks making such statements why they thought that. Of the 12 folks I asked, seven never responded, three said variations of the exact same thing (“because it’s theirs and they’d know how to do it right”) and two said they flat-out didn’t know why, “it just would be.”

Not done making a nuisance of myself, I then asked all 12 people again “What’s so ‘wrong’ with this movie in the first place in comparison with Marvel Studios product?” and received only two answers, one of which was “it just is,” and the other being “you can tell just by watching that they don’t get it.”

Excuse me, but — what’s not to get? It’s not like I’m going to try to convince you here that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is necessarily all that great, but for what it is, frankly, it’s just fine, and in fact it’s a damn sight better than the last two Marvel Studios releases, the thoroughly uninspired Captain America : The Winter Soldier and the downright risible Thor : The Dark World, both of which were essentially big-budget TV movies-of-the-week (and overseen by television directors, no less). I’d even go so far as to say it’s quite a bit more enjoyable than Marvel’s most-ballyhooed cinematic endeavors, the incredibly over-rated The Avengers and the obviously-constructed-by-the-numbers Iron Man films.

It’s far from a terrific super-hero movie, mind you, like Christopher Nolan’s  Batman Begins or Richard Donner’s original Superman, but it definitely fits comfortably into the “above average, at any rate” group populated by flicks like The Dark Knight (which is nowhere near as good as  many seem to think, but is still fairly solid) and Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. So I guess my main argument isn’t even necessarily that this is all that much  better than at least the top-tier Marvel Studios flicks, like the first Thor and Captain America : The First Avenger, but that it’s in no way appreciably worse. Given that, then, and taking into consideration how positively homogenized and formulaic Marvel’s “in-house” product has become in the absence of genuinely talented directors like Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnston, there’s absolutely no reason to believe they’d “do a better job of things” if the web-slinger’s rights suddenly fell back into their lap.

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Frankly, some of the criticism being leveled at this flick is just plain absurd on its face, and amazingly hypocritical. I’ve seen folks who gushed over The Avengers claim, with a straight face, that the problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that it “relies too heavily on CGI battle scenes.” And Whedon’s movie didn’t? I’ve seen many self-styled “opinion makers”  who gushed over the the “human”  characterization in Nolan’s Bat-films say that this movie “has too much Peter Parker, not enough Spider-Man.” I’ve seen people who applauded the revisionist origin story given Superman in Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel grouse about how director Marc Webb and his committee of screenwriters are “playing too fast and loose” with Spidey’s backstory here. And,  while I’ll grant you that Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon/Electro character is flat-out absurd in both its human and super-human iterations, and that getting shocked by a big cable and falling into a vat of electric eels is a pretty lame way for a villain to get his powers, it’s worth noting that many of the people poking fun at this have no problem with the idea of a chemically-enhanced “super soldier” being frozen in a block of ice and waking up, without having aged a day, in the Captain America movies, or of the Norse Gods being a real race of inter-dimensional super-beings in the Thor films, and are even willing to swallow the single-most laughable notion in all comic-book flicks, that of a spoiled billionaire rich kid who inherits his daddy’s company and still actually works for a living, as Tony Stark does in the Iron Man series.

There are plenty of folks out there telling you what Webb and company get wrong in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — from the aforementioned Electro stuff to Andrew Garfield’s take on Peter Parker being “unlikable” (news flash — he’s been a self-pitying, self-aborbed, flat-out selfish little prick in the comics from day one) to Sally Field’s Aunt May being “too young” (whatever ,  she does a really nice job)  to Paul Giamatti’s wasted and pointless cameo as the villainous Rhino at the end —let me take just a few minutes to tell you what this movie gets right.

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Dane DeHann is positively creepy as Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin and his origin/descent into villainy is portrayed in a way that actually makes sense. Likewise, even though his screen time is limited, Chris Cooper knocks it out of the park as his vicious, megalomaniacal father, Norman. There’s real chemistry between Garfield’s Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, and the film does a nice job of updating/translating the legendary penultimate Spidey/Gwen story for the silver screen. The CGI effects work is solid and a represents a big step up from the lackluster graphics of Webb’s first Spider-film. The characters are allowed to age at least semi-normally, as evidenced by the fact that Peter, Gwen, and their classmates are  shown graduating high school at the start of the film (and a good thing too, since both actors are, what? Pushing 30?). Webb directs the action sequences that he’s being maligned for with far more aplomb than his more-praised counterparts like Jon Favreau or Joss Whedon, who just show one building after another being smashed to rubble in between those fucking interminable shots of Robert Downey Jr.’s face inside of his Iron Man helmet. And at least this movie gives us warts-and-all human beings at its core with plausible psychological motivations for doing what they do rather than mythological gods, science-whiz playboys, sexy Russian super-spies with no accents, or one-dimensional do-gooders fresh out of suspended animation.

It’s not enough to make The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a truly great super-hero movie, and a forced and tacked-on ending epilogue-ish ending doesn’t help (even if there’s plenty of reason for fans to “ooh”and “aah” when we get a sneak peek at the character designs for the members of the sure-to-pop-up-in-the-next-flick Sinister Six, and hey, isn’t that the Black Cat we get to meet — briefly and in her civilian identity — earlier on, too? Where’s the fan-gasming for that?), but it makes it a heck of a lot more involving than much-more-highly-praised (even if it’s dull and repetitious) fare that just so happens to carry the Marvel Studios logo above its title. And you know what? That’s all it would take for fans to love this one, and is the single, solitary reason why many of them don’t. You might call that loyalty, but I call it bullshit.

 

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (dir. by Marc Webb)


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 One would think The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would be a hit right out of the ballpark. You have a follow up to the highly successful film & one of Marvel’s flagship characters and tons of back story the movie can work with. It’s filmed right in New York – I saw part of the setup at Times Square myself. Perhaps I caught the film at a bad time, or my mindset wasn’t proper, but I had a tough time feeling anything for the film. Perhaps because this is a sequel to a film that rebooted another movie that was only a decade old. Maybe the time has come for Disney/Marvel to knock on Sony’s door and tell them they want their baby back. My only regret is that I didn’t get this review out soon enough to save people from spending money on this. I should have done more.

With Great Power really does come Great Responsibility.

The film picks up some time after the end of the first film and does manage to handle a few story related elements well. Writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek), along with two other writers created a script that connected to the first film. The audience is given some closure when it comes to Peter Parker’s parents and the secrets they were guarding. For long time comic fans, they’ll get a Spider-Man that cracks tons of jokes while taking down the bad guys.

Okay, let’s focus on the good before the bad.

It’s Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s chemistry that keep the moments between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy real. You can tell there’s a good connection between them in any scene they share. You might as well be watching a reality series based on their relationship, really. Additionally, Garfield continues to give Spider-Man all the razor sharp wit he deserves, feeling very much like the comics. Credit also goes out to Sally Field as Aunt May. For a character that is usually in the background, her scenes were the memorable ones – the ones that I’d start a conversation with “Hey, you remember that part when…” Even Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborne was pretty good for the most part, I suppose.

I can’t complain about the way it was shot or the effects that were used. Spider-Man’s swinging is pretty on point, and the in air acrobatics are as cool as they’ve ever were. Some scenes tend to move a little slow – particularly the Gwen / Peter ones – but it helps to establish where they’re going. It’s more or less a necessary evil.

And that’s about it. I don’t really have much else to say on the good elements to this movie. It’s a shame really, because making movies aren’t easy with restrained budgets and producers breathing down your neck to get the product in the theatre.

Now the Bad:

Let’s start with Electro. While I thought the Electro powers were great and all, I had a problem with the reason behind his existence. It’s almost a page taken out of Batman Forever – literally, that was the first movie that came to mind on watching Oscorp technician Max Dillion’s (Jamie Foxx) Spider-Man fandom blossom into jealousy and then hatred. Foxx does what he can with it, and I’ll admit that once he has that Electro-suit on, it’s kind of cool. The argument could be made that because the character meets his hero and is then shunned by him, this causes him to become a villain – as evidenced by the schizophrenia-like voices that accompany Electro’s theme (“He lied to me, They hate me, they’re using me, He’s dead to me.”) during his fights. My reasoning here is that if the character was a fan of Spider-Man, having witnessed him stop all these crimes, wouldn’t it make sense for Spider-Man to try to stop you if you’re inadvertently disturbing the peace? It’s not even like Dillon had a beef with any of the Oscorp workers who may have mistreated him here. I had a serious disconnect with Electro as a character with justifiable motives for his actions. Granted, this is coming from someone who isn’t as familiar with Electro as many who’ve read the comics. It’s altogether possible that he is working within the comic’s defined role, and if that’s the case, many may find it refreshing. It just seemed a little off to me.

DeHaan has similar issues. As Harry Osborn, he’s great. As the Goblin (you’ve been looking at the posters, it’s not exactly a spoiler), I found myself feeling like the only reason he was there was to push a story arc. Imagine someone watching a fight and then suddenly running in and saying “Aha, now you face me!” It was just about the same setup here. The collective theme of the movie seems to be..”You know what? Let’s hate Spider-Man, because we can. We’ll figure out a detailed, legitimate reason later.”

On Paul Giamatti, I would dare to call his appearance a cameo, but it feels tacked on. I thought it would we better to never mention him at all marketing wise and then surprise audiences with where he goes. That’s all I really have to say about him in this.

One other thing was a standout – the music. The music, though a great change from Horner’s Rocketeer sounding score, almost overpowers the film. I was a little shocked to find out that Hans Zimmer worked on it (Along with friends Johnny Marr and Pharrell Williams), but some of the tracks felt phoned in. If you asked me who did the music before showing me the credits, I would have sworn it was maybe Henry Jackman, or maybe Tyler Bates. That isn’t to say that either of them are bad composers, by the way.

Let me put it this way: You could have switched this score out with the one from Despicable Me and I don’t think anyone would have known the difference. I almost put my hands in my face on hearing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” in the middle of a track. Zimmer might as well have just went with his “Point of No Return” score here.

Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was so-so for me. I don’t see myself trying to ever see it again, but depending on what you’re looking for, you may get a different experience from it. I’m hoping that Sony just shelves the Webhead for a while.

Super Bowl Trailer: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 “Enemies Unite”


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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the reboot Sony began with the Spider-Man franchise minus Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. While The Amazing Spider-Man did quite well in the box-office when it came out in 2012 the general consensus with fans and critics alike was that it was just another origins tale that rehashed events from the Peter Parker story that was already well-known to comic book and non-comic book fans alike.

This sequel will now bring in villains and some plot points that fans have been waiting for since the franchise first began in the early 2000’s. We have Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti as the villains Electro and Rhino finally appearing on film with hints that other iconic Spider-Man villains such as the Vulture and the Hobgoblin probably having a cameo. This sudden flood of villains looks to be Sony’s attempt to set-up a Sinister Six film that would be the studio’s way to counter the success of Marvel’s and Disney’s success with The Avengers.

Time will tell if this gamble will end up paying off for Sony and many comic books wish it won’t since there’s a chance it would return Spider-Man to Marvel Studios thus making him available to appear in future films as an Avenger.

Sony went to unprecedented lengths to make sure people knew about the new trailer arriving on Super Bowl Sunday. We had a teaser teasing the trailer for the Super Bowl. Then we had the brief teaser shown during the Super Bowl. Below is the full 3-minute plus trailer that was shown on-line soon after.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set for a May 2, 2014 release date.

The Oscar Season Begins With The Gotham Nominations!


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Can you guess what my favorite time of year is?

If you guessed November, you’re right!  My birthday is on November 9th, our own Dazzling Erin’s birthday is on November 24th, and then Arleigh’s birthday is on November 27th!  November is a big month here at the Shattered Lens.

My second favorite time of year?  October, of course!  How can you go wrong with so much horror?

And then, of course, my third favorite time of year is December because that’s when I get most of my presents.

Along with being my favorite three months of the year, another thing that all three of those months have in common is that they comprise what is known as Oscar Season.  Oscar Season is the period of time when the majority of the Best Picture contenders are released and all of the critic groups give out their awards in the hope of influencing the Academy’s nominations.  I love movies and I love awards so how can I not love Oscar Season?

Well, I’m happy to say that Oscar Season officially began earlier today when the nominations for the 23rd annual Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced.  The Gotham nominations aren’t exactly the best precursor of what’s going to be nominated in January but, nonetheless, they usually manage to include at least a few legitimate contenders.

This year, for example, Oscar front-runner 12 Years A Slave managed to collect the most Gotham nominations.  Personally, I’m just happy to see that my favorite film of 2013, Upstream Color, collected two nominations.

The Gothams will be awarded on December 2nd.

Here are the nominations:

Best Feature

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen, director; Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Bill Pohlad, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Anthony Katagas, producers. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

David Lowery, director; Tony Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, Amy Kaufman, Cassian Elwes, producers (IFC Films)

Before Midnight

Richard Linklater, director; Richard Linklater, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Sara Woodhatch, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)

Inside Llewyn Davis

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, directors; Scott Rudin, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, producers (CBS Films)

Upstream Color

Shane Carruth, director; Shane Carruth, Casey Gooden, Ben LeClair, producers. (erbp)

 

Best Documentary

The Act of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer, director; Signe Byrge, Joshua Oppenheimer, producers (Drafthouse Films)

The Crash Reel

Lucy Walker, director; Julian Cautherly, Lucy Walker, producers (HBO Documentary Films)

First Cousin Once Removed

Alan Berliner, director and producer (HBO Documentary Films)

Let the Fire Burn

Jason Osder, director and producer (Zeitgeist Films)

Our Nixon

Penny Lane, director; Brian L. Frye, Penny Lane, producers (Cinedigm and CNN Films)

 

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Ryan Coogler for Fruitvale Station (The Weinstein Company)

Adam Leon for Gimme the Loot (Sundance Selects)

Alexandre Moors for Blue Caprice (Sundance Selects)

Stacie Passon for Concussion (RADiUS-TWC)

Amy Seimetz for Sun Don’t Shine (Factory 25)

 

Best Actor

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films)

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features)

Robert Redford in All Is Lost (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

Isaiah Washington in Blue Caprice (Sundance Selects)

 

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (Sony Pictures Classics)

Scarlett Johansson in Don Jon (Relativity Media)

Brie Larson in Short Term 12 (Cinedigm)

Amy Seimetz in Upstream Color (erbp)

Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now (A24)

 

Breakthrough Actor

Dane DeHaan in Kill Your Darlings (Sony Pictures Classics)

Kathryn Hahn in Afternoon Delight (The Film Arcade and Cinedigm)

Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station (The Weinstein Company)

Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Robin Weigert in Concussion (RADiUS-TWC)

5-17-13-Upstream-Color

Review: Metallica: Through the Never (dir. by Nimrod Antal)


MetallicaThroughtheNever

“And the road becomes my bride”

Concerts have been a major part of a teenager’s transition into adulthood. Often have we begged our parents to get us tickets to our favorite band’s concert as they toured straight into our hometowns. We’d beg, cajole, promise whatever just to be able to attend that big show that we thought everyone we knew would be attending. Rock concerts have been a huge part of this coming-of-age journey. It’s the show that our parents dreaded (especially the metal shows) and the ones that pulled in the outcasts kids.

We would either outgrow this youthful event because it’s not something that interests us, but most often it’s just because we either do not have the time to attend rock concerts due to work and other adult responsibilities. While we would still go to a concert of our favorite band when time and money affords for it in the end it’s something that’s become more of a past-time to reminisce about.

Metallica: Through the Never is the latest concert film that could change all that. Filmed during Metallica’s latest world tour, the film was directed by Nimrod Antal (Armored, Predators) and turns what could’ve been just your typical concert film into a surreal mixture of excellent concert footage and an apocalyptic narrative involving one of the band’s roadies. The latter felt like an extended music video and the lack of dialogue by the film’s narrative lead in Dane DeHaan does give this part of the film it’s surreal vibe. This part of the film could easily come off as one of Metallica’s music videos. It has mayhem involving nameless rioters battling an equal number of police right up to a nameless, gas-masked horseman who ends up paying particular attention to our beleaguered roadie.

Yet, while this apocalyptic-like narrative makes for a nice sideshow the main reason to see Metallica: Through the Never is the concert footage. While Antal does a good job with the story going outside the concert it’s inside where he shines. Making use of over 20 cameras on cranes, dollies and handhelds, Antal is able to make the concert footage feel like one was actually at the show. He uses every trick in the book from close-ups of each band member to sweeping crane shots that gives a bird’s-eye view of the concert.

It’s this part of the film that may just be one way for those of us who grew up going to concerts but have lost the time to return to such events to finally experience them again. It helps that the 3D used helps give the feel of not just being there but an enhanced experience that one may not find while actually attending the show live. But it doesn’t end in just the visuals.

A concert film can only go so far on how it looks. In the end, if the film doesn’t do a great job capturing the audio of the event then why even bother watching. Metallica: Through the Never doesn’t skimp on the audio assault. It is just exactly what I mean when I say audio assault. The audio in this film brought me back to attending past metal shows from my youth in near-perfect volume and clarity.

Metallica: Through the Never needs to be experienced in as big a screen as possible and if one’s able to see it on IMAX then I recommend they do so, but if that’s not possible then I still say go out and see this unique take on the ubiquitous concert film. It might not be the same as attending a Metallica concert, but it’s the next best thing to actually attending one.

Film Review: Lincoln (dir. by Steven Spielberg)


I am a history nerd.

If you’ve read my previous reviews here on the Shattered Lens, that’s not necessarily a major revelation.  Still, before I talk about Steven Spielberg’s latest film, the sure-to-be Oscar nominated Lincoln, you should know where I’m coming from as a reviewer.  Cinema may be my number one love but history, and especially political history, runs a close second.  To me, there is nothing more fascinating than learning how those in the past both viewed and dealt with the issues that we still face in the present.  Whereas some people take pride in being able to name every player that’s ever played for the Dallas Cowboys, I take pride in the fact that I can not only name every President and Vice President in order but I can also tell you exactly who they had to defeat in order to serve in those offices.

I love history and therefore, it was hard for me not to feel as if Lincoln was a film that was made specifically for me.  Covering the final four months of the life of the 16th president, this film tells the story of Lincoln’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment and to bring an end to the U.S. Civil War.  The film also documents Lincoln’s troubled marriage to the unstable Mary and his son’s decision to enlist in the Union Army.  Even though Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner don’t include any vampires*, there’s still a lot going on in Lincoln and it is to their credit that the film remains compelling despite the fact that everyone already knows how the story is going to end.

Daniel Day-Lewis is getting a lot of critical acclaim for his performance in the title role and, for once, I actually have to agree with the critics.  Abraham Lincoln is one of the most iconic figures in American history.  He is such an icon that, at times, it’s hard to believe that this larger-than-life figure, with his stove-pipe hat and his homely face, was an actual human being who lived and breathed and died like any other human being.  It’s easier to think of him in the same way that Jesus Christ used to be represented in films like Ben-Hur, as an inspiring character who is always standing just a little bit off-camera.  The brilliance of Day-Lewis’s performance is that he makes us believe that this legendary figure could actually exist with all the rest of history’s mortals.  For lack of a better term, Day-Lewis humanizes Lincoln.  His performance contains all the bits of the Lincoln legend: the fatalistic melancholy, the steely resolve, the quick humor, and occasional flashes of self-doubt.  The genius of the performance is the way that it takes all the legendary pieces and arranges them to create a portrait of a very believable man.

Though the film is dominated by Day-Lewis’s lead performance, the film’s supporting cast does a good job at bringing to life the people around Lincoln.  Whenever one film can manage to find roles for Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn, Jared Harris, James Spader, John Hawkes, and Jackie Earle Haley, you’ve got good reason to be optimistic about what you’re about to see.  Probably the film’s showiest supporting role goes to Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the firebrand abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.  Admittedly, Tommy Lee Jones gives a standard Tommy Lee Jones performance here but, especially when paired with Day-Lewis’s more internal acting style, the end result is still fun to watch.  Also giving a good performance is Sally Field, who plays Lincoln’s mentally unstable wife.  Historians have rarely been kind (or fair) to Mary Lincoln but Field makes her into a difficult but sympathetic figure.  Finally, even though the role of Lincoln’s son is not a challenging one, I’m always happy whenever Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows up onscreen.

Ultimately, however, Lincoln is a Steven Spielberg film.  Spielberg is a very good director but he’s also a very safe one.  The same can be said of Lincoln as a film.  The film’s cinematography, art design, and costume design are all brilliantly done and award-worthy but it’s still hard not to occasionally wish that Spielberg would have enough faith in his audience that he wouldn’t feel the need to have John Williams provide constant musical cues to let us know what we are supposed to be feeling about what we’re experiencing.  If you’re looking for hints of moral ambiguity, an unflinching examination of the rivers of blood that flowed on the Civil War battlefield, or for an in-depth portrait of Lincoln’s personal demons (and most historians agree that he had a few), you might want to look elsewhere.  This is not Martin Scorsese’s Lincoln.  This is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  This is a film that is meant to be inspiring (as opposed to thought-provoking) and, for the most part, it succeeds.

I have to admit that I went into Lincoln expecting to be disappointed.  Ever since the film first went into production in 2011, websites like Awards Daily have been hyping this film to death.  Before many of them had even seen the completed film, online critics were announcing that both the film and Daniel Day-Lewis were the clear front-runners for the Oscars in 2013.  As anyone who has read my previous reviews on this site knows, nothing turns me off more than the bandwagon mentality of the critical establishment.  Often times, when a film is embraced as vehemently and as early as Lincoln has been, I feel almost honor-bound to be a hundred times more critical of it than I would be of a film like Step Up Revolution.

However, Lincoln is a rarity.  It’s a film that, for the most part, actually lives up to all the hype.

—-

*I imagine that little joke will cause a lot of confusion to anyone who, ten years in the future, happens to stumble across this review.  To you, future reader who has forgotten all about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I can only apologize.

Review: Chronicle (by Josh Trank)


“Found footage” films have become all the rage of late. Many attribute this to the extreme popularity of the Paranormal Activity films of the last couple years, but I like to think it goes even farther than that. Even before the aforementioned horror series we got the found footage horror of both the Spanish horror series [Rec] and it’s Americanized version with Quarantine. One thing which we haven’t gotten to see use this style of storytelling is the superhero genre which still continues to go strong. Filmmaker Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (Masters of Horror: Deer Woman) solve this lack of superhero/found footage film with their surprisingly well-made Chronicle.

The film begins with one of three high school seniors, the shy and troubled Andrew (played by Dane DeHaan), testing out his new video camera. We learn through this first ten or so minutes of the film that his only friend in school is his own cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and that his plans for the new camera is to videotape everything that goes on through his day at school and at home. We learn much about Andrew during these first minutes of the film. We see that his home life consists of him worrying about his very sick mother and trying to avoid the wrath of his drunken, abusive father. School life is not any much better as he’s bullied by other classmates and seen as a non-entity by the rest outside of his cousin Matt. It is his cousin who invites him to a rave party in one scene which will lead up to the two meeting up with a third high school senior, the very popular Steven (payed by Michael B. Jordan), and their discovery of something strange in deep in the woods.

We never get any full explanation as to the origin of the mysterious object the three teens find underground, but all we know afterwards is how it’s given Andrew, Matt and Steven the ability to move things with their minds. This new found ability is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as all three learn more about their new found powers. Matt figures out that their power is like a muscle and constant use just strengthens and enhances what they’re able to do. All three react to having superpowers as all high school teenagers would when confronted with such a situation: they become giddy boys behaving badly.

They test out their powers on the unsuspecting public at the local mall parking lot and stores. It’s all pretty much harmless, teenage fun until an accident caused by Andrew shows all three the inherent dangers in their new abilities. Matt wants ground rules in how they use their powers with Steven following suit, but Andrew doesn’t understand why the need for them even though he’s remorseful of what he had caused. It’s the beginning of small cracks in the relationship between the three teens that would widen as the film moves into it’s second half with less joy and lighthearted fun and more darkness as one of the three begins to act out on his troubles both at home and in school.

Chronicle could almost be a coming-of-age story in addition to being an origins story that superhero films seem required to do. We see Matt, the cousin, grow from being the wannabe intellectual into someone genuinely caring about what is happening to his introverted cousin Andrew. Steven, the popular football captain and student body president, learns more about Andrew and how he his new friend’s troubled upbringing concerns him enough to try and bring Andrew out from his protective shell and make him more confident about himself. With Andrew we see a teenager who many would feel much sympathy for. He’s the kid who symbolizes the turmoil a growing teen must go through both emotionally and psychologically. Whether it’s rebelling from familial authority or trying to survive the dangerous waters of high school life. We can see ourselves in Andrew’s shoes and his reaction to finally having the ability to fight back against those who have made his life a living hell feed our own fantasies as teenagers to be able to do the same.

All of this would be moot if the film ended up being uninteresting, bland and boring. Fortunately the film doesn’t end up being any of those three. What we get is a fun and thrilling film which takes both the superhero genre and the found footage gimmick and adds some new wrinkles that combines towards a fresh new take on both. Found footage films have the unenviable task of convincing the audience that we’d believe someone would be lugging around a camera all the time and find ways to videotape every moment to create a believable narrative. It’s a leap in logic that will sink or swim these types of films. With Chronicle we see how their new abilities solves this particular dilemma in found footage stories. Being able to move things with one’s mind should make it easy to film yourself without having to hold the camera and instead have it floating and following one around.

The film also does a great job in building up these characters into believable ones with their own back stories and motivations. We’re not left with basic cutouts of what we think teenagers are in films. Max Landis’ screenplay goes a long way in turning these three into real teenagers and their reactions in their new powers were quite believable. How else would teen boys react to finding out they’re now superheroes, but behave badly and use them not for the benefit of others but to have fun.

The film could easily have gone the route of making them want to start helping others (though in Steven’s case he does try to help Andrew become more outgoing through the use of his abilities), but that would’ve felt disingenuous and unrealistic. Even the film’s dialogue seemed to flow naturally without having to resort to witty teen-speak that some writers think teen conversations are full of. It helps that the performances of the three actors playing the three teens came off as well-done. Dane DeHaan as the troubled Andrew comes off looking best of all three with his reactions to his own personal troubles coming off as real and not as some young actor trying too hard to try and impress.

For a found footage film Chronicle does a great job in recreating the look and feel of the three teens superpowers. Whether it’s moving things around with their mind or flying through the sky, the film makes each and every act look like something that could happen for real. The scenes of destruction which encompasses the climactic sequence of the film look very realistic and on the small-budget (when compared to most superhero films) come off as very impressive. The technique of each scene being part of video camera footage (whether they’re handheld HD cameras or smartphone footages) allowed for whatever CGI-effect used to look seemless and not artificial looking.

January and February have always been the dumping ground for films the studios either have little faith in or think don’t deserve the much more lucrative summer blockbuster and holiday season months. Chronicle manages to make its case that this would’ve been one film that could’ve done well playing around with the mega-budgeted blockbusters this summer and hold it’s own. It’s a film that takes a simple premise and creates something not just fun and exciting, but also takes a delve into the psyche of the teenage mind and all the pitfalls and dangers one can find themselves in navigating through it. Chronicle is one of the better films in these early months of the 2012 film season and overall probably one of the better one’s by year’s end.