Film Review: Baby Driver (dir by Edgar Wright)


Baby Driver, the new film from director Edgar Wright, is awesome!

That’s the succinct way of putting it and, if you really want to fully enjoy this film, I suggest that you stop reading this review now. There’s no way that a review cannot, to a certain extent, spoil a movie.  Baby Driver is a kinetic blend of action, comedy, romance, and music and it is a movie that you should see without any preconceived notions and expectations.  It’s a movie that earns the right to surprise you with just how good and entertaining it is.  It’s a movie that you should experience fresh.

So, go see the movie.  Seriously, go right now.  GET OUT OF HERE AND SEE THE MOVIE!  This review will still be waiting for you when you get back.  Who knows?  Maybe, while you’re watching the movie, I’ll actually correct some of the typos.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, go away.  I’ll wait for you to return.

la dee da la dee da…

Okay, did you see the movie?  It’s really great, isn’t it?

As a result of the childhood car accident that killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been left with a permanent case of tinnitus.  He uses music to drown out the constant ringing in his ears.  There’s almost never a time that Baby isn’t listening to his ipod.  When we first see Baby, he’s sitting behind the wheel of a car, singing along with Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion.  The second time that we see him, he’s getting coffee while listening to Harlem Shuffle.  In a delirious homage to Singin’ In The Rain (and in a scene that puts the opening traffic jam of La La Land to shame), Baby literally dances across the streets of Los Angeles.  For Baby, every day is a musical.

Of course, Baby doesn’t just use music to block out the ringing.  He also uses the music (and an ever-present pair of sunglasses) to keep the world out.  He rarely speaks or even makes eye contact and, as long as he’s listening to his ipod, he has an excuse not to interact.  He doesn’t have to explain the small scars around his eyes or how he makes his money.  The few times that he does speak to people, it’s to record their voices, which he then turns into music.  Music and the driving are the only two ways this orphan can express his feelings.

When the movie begins, Baby appears to be close to only two men.  One is his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones).  Baby lives with Joseph, in an apartment where Baby regularly stashes thousands of dollars.  Joseph always watches in disapproval as Baby hides the money under the floorboards.  Joseph signs at Baby that he deserves better than the life he’s leading.  Baby always signs back that he’s only a few jobs away from being done.

Baby’s other father figure is Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Doc is a rich and connected man.  At times, he seems to sincerely care about Baby but there are other times when Doc is just as quick to threaten to kill him and everyone that he loves.  Doc plans bank robberies for a living.  Doc may change associates from robbery to robbery but one thing always remains consistent.  Baby is always his driver because Baby is the best.  As Doc explains it, the first time he saw Baby, he was stealing Doc’s Mercedes.  Baby drives for Doc as a way of paying off his debt to the older man but you still believe Baby’s sincerity when he tells Doc, “We’re a team.”  (One the film’s best throw-away jokes is the line where Doc reveals that he knows where Baby got the idea to say that.)

Things start to change for Baby when he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress who appears to love music just as much he does.  For Baby and Debora, it’s love at first sight but Doc has one more job that he needs Baby for.  It’s their most dangerous job yet and, making thing even more complicated, are the three people who Doc has recruited to work with Baby.  Buddy (Jon Hamm) is a former wall street banker who is eager to prove what a badass he is.  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) is his wife, who enjoys talking about how many of their former partners have died.  And finally, there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx), a complete and total psycho who brags about never telling a single story that doesn’t end with someone getting killed.

Baby Driver is a propulsive blast of pure adrenaline, perhaps the closest that we will ever get to a genuine pulp musical.  The action scenes left me literally breathless.  I saw the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and, before the film started, there was a clip of Edgar Wright listing his favorite car chases.  He listed all of the usual suspects, Bullitt, The French Connection, Mad Max: Thunder Road.  The chases scenes in Baby Driver can proudly be listed next to all of those scenes.  This is genuinely exciting crime film, featuring wonderfully over-the-top turns from Foxx, Hamm, and especially Spacey.

But you know what?  Baby Driver may be a great action film but what makes it special is that it’s also a film with a heart.  Rather bravely, Edgar Wright has not only made an action musical but he’s also mixed in a very sincere and unabashedly sentimental love story.  You never doubt for a second that Baby would give up everything — music, driving, even his life — for Debora.  The scenes between Baby and Debora are almost deliriously romantic.  Ansel Elgort and Lily James both share a very likable and very real chemistry.  You want things to work out for Debora and Baby.  You feel like they belong together and, when it looks like either Baby or Debora might be in danger, you worry for both of them.  As exciting as the film’s action sequences were, it was the ending that brought tears to my eyes and that was almost totally due to the performances of Elgort and James.

Baby Driver is one of the best films that I’ve seen so far this year.  See it this weekend!  If you’ve already seen it, see it again!  This film deserves to be rewarded.

 

 

A Movie A Day #81: The Great White Hype (1996, directed by Reginald Hudlin)


The Rev. Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson) has a problem.  He is the richest and the best known fight promoter in America but the current (and undefeated) heavyweight champion is just too good.  No one is paying to watch James “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Damon Wayans) fight because Roper always wins.  Sultan has a plan, though.  Before Roper turned professional, he lost a fight to Terry Conklin (Peter Berg).  Conklin has long since retired from boxing and is now a heavy metal, progressive musician.  Sultan convinces Conklin to come out of retirement and face Roper in a rematch.  Since Conklin is white and Roper is black, Sultan stands to make a killing as white boxing fans get swept up in all the hype about Conklin being the latest “great white hope.”

In the days leading up to the fight, crusading journalist Mitchell Kane (Jeff Goldblum) attempts to expose the crooked Sultan before getting seduced into his inner circle.  Meanwhile, boxer Marvin Shabazz (Michael Jace) and his manager, Hassan El Rukk’n (Jamie Foxx), unsuccessfully pursue a match with Roper.  Conklin gets back into shape while Roper eats ice cream and watches Dolemite.

In its attempt to satirize boxing, The Great White Hype runs into a huge problem.  The fight game is already so shady that it is beyond satire.  This was especially true in the 90s, when the The Great White Hype was first released.  (Even more than the famous Larry Holmes/Gerry Cooney title fight, The Great White Hype’s obvious inspiration was the heavily promoted, two-minute fight between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley.)  The Great White Hype is a very busy film but nothing in it can match Oliver McCall’s mental breakdown in the middle of his fight with Lennox Lewis, Andrew Golota twice fighting Riddick Bowe and twice getting disqualified for low blows, or Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear.

The Great White Hype has an only in the 90s supporting cast, featuring everyone from Jon Lovitz to Cheech Marin to, for some reason, Corbin Bernsen.  Damon Wayans is the least convincing heavyweight champion since Tommy Morrison essentially played himself in Rocky V.  The Rev. Sultan was meant to be a take on Don King and Samuel L. Jackson was a good pick for the role but the real Don King is so openly corrupt and flamboyant that he’s almost immune to parody.

When it comes to trying to take down Don King, I think Duke puts it best.

Here Are The Winners of The 2015 Hollywood Film Awards, Whatever The Hell Those Are.


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Oh my God, y’all — the Hollywood Film Awards were held on Sunday and a bunch of potential Oscar contenders were honored!  Which all leads to one very important question:

What the Hell are the Hollywood Film Awards?

As I pondered that question, I realized that I had vague memories of sitting through the Hollywood Film Awards last year.  The ceremony was broadcast on CBS and it was distinguished from other awards shows in that there were no nominees.  Instead, only the winners were announced.  It was so amazingly dull and I can remember watching it and thinking, “Awards season has finally jumped the shark.”

(And this was even before Sasha Stone and Jeff Wells had their annual breakdowns…)

Anyway, the Hollywood Film Awards for 2015 were given out on Sunday and I’m assuming they weren’t televised.  (I was busy watching A Student’s Obsession anyway…)  You can find the winners below.  For the most part, it’s a pretty boring list (and why give out awards in November?) but it does allow us an early glimpse into some of the films and performers that are contending for Oscar gold.

Here’s the list.  Along with a gif of a kitty showing just how excited he is over Awards Season…

YAY! AWARDS! I'M SO EXCITED..I'M SO EXCITING...I'M SO ... SCARED!"

“YAY! AWARDS! I’M SO EXCITED..I’M SO EXCITED… I’M SO … SCARED!”

Career Achievement Award presented to Robert De Niro by David O. Russell.

Producer Award presented to Ridley Scott (“The Martian) by Russell Crowe.

Director Award presented to Tom Hooper (“The Danish Girl”) by Amber Heard.

Actor Award presented to Will Smith (“Concussion”) by Jamie Foxx.

Actress Award presented to Carey Mulligan (“Suffragette”) by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Supporting Actor Award presented to Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”) by Reese Witherspoon.

Supporting Actress Award presented to Jane Fonda (“Youth”) by Laura Dern.

Breakout Actor Award presented to Joel Edgerton (“Black Mass”) by Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson.

Breakout Actress Award presented to Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) by Armie Hammer.

New Hollywood Award presented to Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) by Ryan Gosling.

Ensemble Award presented to “The Hateful Eight” by Quentin Tarantino.

Breakout Ensemble Award presented to “Straight Outta Compton” by Ice Cube.

Comedy Award presented to Amy Schumer (“Trainwreck”) by Selena Gomez.

Breakthrough Director Award presented to Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) by Steve Carell.

Screenwriter Award presented to Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) by Mark Ruffalo.

Blockbuster Award presented to “Furious 7” by Kurt Russell.

Song Award presented to “Furious 7” (“See You Again”) by Vin Diesel.

Animation Award presented to Pete Docter (“Inside Out”) by Amy Poehler.

Cinematography Award presented to Janusz Kaminski (“Bridge of Spies”).

Composer Award presented to Alexandre Desplat (“The Danish Girl,” “Suffragette”).

Documentary Award presented to Asif Kapadia (“Amy”).

Editor Award presented to David Rosenbloom (“Black Mass”).

Visual Effects Award presented to Tim Alexander (“Jurassic World”).

Sound Award presented to Gary Rydstrom (“Bridge of Spies”).

Costume Design Award presented to Sandy Powell (“Cinderella”).

Make-Up and Hair Styling Award presented to Lesley Vanderwalt (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).

Production Design Award presented to Colin Gibson (“Mad Max: Fury Road“).

"Yawn. These awards are boring..."

“Yawn. These awards are predictable and boring.  You disappoint me…”

Shattered Politics #92: White House Down (dir by Roland Emmerich)


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To say that the 2012 film White House Down is stupid is probably unnecessary.  After all, the film was directed by Roland Emmerich and Emmerich specializes in making stupid films.

And, in many ways, White House Down is prototypical Emmerich film, a long and self-important collection of mayhem and heavy-handed pontification.  In the case of this film, liberal President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing for a treaty that will magically bring about world police.  Naturally, a bunch of evil right-wingers (including characters played, somewhat inevitably, by James Woods and Richard Jenkins) don’t want world peace so they hire a bunch of mercenaries who attack the White House.  It’s all a part of a plot to force Sawyer to launch a nuclear attack on Iran because … well, why not?  Fortunately, aspiring secret service agent (and kick-ass combat veteran) John Cale (Channing Tatum) is there to work with the President and save the country.

And, since Emmerich is from the bigger is always better school of filmmaking, many familiar landmarks are blown up and it takes the film well over two hours to tell its simplistic story.  To be honest, if your action movie can’t get the job done in under two hours, then you’re going to have problems.  Once a viewer has spent two hours watching one movie, it’s inevitable that he or she will start to question the film’s logic.  If the film’s clever enough, all lapses and inconsistencies can be forgiving.  If the film is White House Down, it’s a lot less easy to be forgiving.

Of course, from a political point of view, Emmerich tries to have it both ways.  For anti-government types like me, it’s always fun to watch Washington D.C. blow up.  For those on the right, White House Down presents a situation that can only be solved by heroes with guns.  And, of course, Democrats can view White House Down as wish fulfillment, an alternative timeline where Barack Obama actually is as sincere and effective as they wish him to be.

In fact, if anything saves White House Down, it’s the chemistry between Foxx and Tatum.  Wisely, neither one of them appears to be taking the film that seriously and both of them seem to be having a lot of fun blowing things up.  Channing Tatum, in particular, deserves some sort of award.  How many bad films have been made tolerable by Tatum’s willingness to laugh at himself?  I’ve lost count but White House Down definitely benefits from his presence.  He and Foxx make Emmerich’s style of filmmaking as tolerable as it will ever be.

Lisa’s Homestate Reviews: New Mexico and A Million Ways To Die In The West


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My family lived in Carlsbad, New Mexico from January of 1991 to July of 1992.  I was only 5 years old when we arrived and 6 when we left so I really can’t say that I remember that much about Carlsbad, beyond the fact that my mom was always worried about rattlesnakes, I was excited about going to kindergarten and that, when my Dad announced that we were moving to Oklahoma, I cried and cried because, even at that age, I knew that meant I’d never get to see my friends again.

So yeah, some of my memories of New Mexico are a little traumatic.  But are they as traumatic as watching Seth McFarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West, a film that was shot in New Mexico and which is an early front-runner for claiming the title of worst of 2014?

Written by, produced by, directed by, and starring Seth McFarlane, A Million Ways To Die In The West tells the story of a sheep farmer named Albert (played by Seth McFarlane) who basically spends the entire movie whining about how much he hates living in the old west.  His girlfriend leaves him for … well, look, the plot is stupid.  You knew the plot was going to be stupid when you first saw the trailer earlier this year.  You probably even knew the film wasn’t going to be that good.  However, as bad as you might think the film is, it’s nothing compared to how bad the movie actually is.  And the blame pretty much rests with Seth McFarlane.

Seth McFarlane has got cold, dead eyes and a curiously unlined face that, when taken along with his ever-present smirk, tends to make him look like one of those horror movie mannequins that comes to life once the store closes and murders horny teenagers.  I understand that it’s always been a part of McFarlane’s act to present himself as being an asshole with a heart of gold but, for the most part, that works best when you only have to deal with his voice.  The minute that you see his smug face, which is as immobile as his voice is expressive, the heart of gold part disappears.  All your left with is an asshole who insists on telling the same joke over and over again.  As both a comedic writer and director, McFarlane’s technique is to basically beat the audience into submission, dragging jokes out to such an interminable length that you eventually laugh because you simply cannot believe that you’re wasting so much time watching this crap.  Some people have mistaken that technique for genius.  Those people should be forced to watch A Million Ways To Die In The West in much the same way that Malcolm McDowell was forced to watch violent movies in A Clockwork Orange.

(And I write all of that as perhaps the only woman in the world who was not offended by Seth McFarlane singing The Boob Song at the Academy Awards, if just because the joke was clearly meant to be at the expense of McFarlane and the overage frat boys who seem to make up his fan base.)

A Million Ways to Die In The West is full of familiar faces.  Liam Neeson goes totally overboard as the film’s villain.  Neil Patrick Harris, as usual, is fun to watch, or at least he is until he’s forced to take part in one of McFarlane’s trademark endless musical numbers.  Eventually, Harris’s character gets slipped a laxative and it’s just as disgusting as it sounds.  Giovanni Ribisi plays McFarlane’s best friend and his joke is that he’s a Christian (yes, Seth takes on Christianity — what a rebel!) and that his girlfriend (Sarah Silverman, who deserves better) is a prostitute who is willing to have sex with everyone but him.  Amanda Seyfried has the thankless task of playing McFarlane’s girlfriend while Charlize Theron plays the enigmatic woman who teaches Seth how to shoot a gun.  (Theron gives a far better performance than this movie deserves and it was hard not to wish that the entire film had just been about her character.)  There are also several celebrity cameos — Ryan Reynolds, Christopher Lloyd, and even Jamie Foxx show up.

But, ultimately, the entire film is about Seth McFarlane.  He wrote it, he directed it, and he stars in it.  Seth McFarlane dominates this film and that’s the problem.  What might be slightly amusing in a 22-minute cartoon is not going to be funny enough to sustain a nearly two-hour film.  For a rambling and often aimless film like A Million Way To Die In The West to succeed, it needs a star who is both skilled at comedy and likable enough that he’ll be able to anchor the mayhem.  (Seth Rogen, for instance.)  Instead, we’re given a smirking Seth McFarlane and the end result is a film that somehow manages to be both forgettable and a disaster.

Now, you may be wondering how I ended up watching this film.  Well, originally I wasn’t planning on ever seeing it but then I started to read reviews about how terrible it was and I was like, “This is a film that I definitely need to see for myself, so that I can see if the film is actually a misunderstood masterpiece or if it’s a film that I’m going to have to keep in mind when I’m compiling my annual list of the year’s worst films.”  (Plus, when I arrived at the theater, The Fault In Our Stars was sold out.)  But anyway, I sat through it and I forced my sister Erin to watch it with me and I think Erin may be on the verge of finally forgiving me.

Finally, what was more traumatic?  Leaving behind my friends or watching this movie?

Too close to call.

A-MILLION-WAYS-TO-DIE-WEST

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.