Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where Did The Magic Spider Go?

     In this round of DVD reviews we cover one film I liked A LOT more than most critics, one I was a little less enthusiastic about than many critics, and a Lebanese picture I just sort of have to smile and shrug at.  Let's begin...

  The Amazing Spider-Man - When I first heard about this reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, I thought that it was too soon to relaunch.  However, I am very pleasantly surprised to report that director Marc Webb has done much the same thing for the super-hero flick that he did for the rom-com in 500 Days of Summer. Namely, he has injected a "genre film" with characters whose individuality and humanity far exceed the sort of stereotypical "stock" two-dimensional non-personalities that far too often populate such movies.
     Sole credit certainly cannot be given to the director, however, as the screenplay (from Spider-Man veteran Alvin Sargent, Harry Potter series mainstay Steve Kloves, and James Vanderbilt who wrote Zodiac) is thoughtful, witty, and provides clear, believable motivation for the characters at all times.  This allows the cast to really act instead of merely reciting lines and emoting on cue.  The difference really shows.
     I think that there are four reasons that this film failed to REALLY catch on.  First, it could not top Avengers or the conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy in either expectations or prestige.  Second, I think that many people felt there was no need for a re-boot this soon and didn't allow the film to change their minds.  Third, the special effects are a little bit weak.  Finally, the film is much less action oriented than most super-flicks.  Only the third reason lessened my enjoyment at all.
     I CANNOT end this post without talking about how great this cast is.  Andrew Garfield's version of Peter Parker is by far my favorite.  Unlike Batman, who is almost a different person than Bruce Wayne, Peter and Spider-Man are the same complicated, but fully integrated personality.  He is the geek, the daredevil, the angst and guilt ridden teen, the hero with the weight of the world (or at least New York City) on his shoulders, and the insufferable smart ass.  Garfield does an exquisite job of juggling these elements as Peter brings some under control while growing into others.  His screen chemistry with Emma Stone is also fantastic.  I totally bought their love story, which figures in a little more heavily than is typical in a comic book adaptation.  Stone is fantastic as Gwen Stacy, you totally get why a guy like Peter would go for her.
     The supporting cast is also great.  Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Denis Leary as Captain Stacy both flourish in the limited screen time that they are given.  Rhys Ivans is very good as The Lizard without stealing the picture from the hero.  Sally Field, however, makes Aunt May a far more compelling character than I have ever previously found her to be, and is the real stand out among the secondary characters.
     I highly recommend this film.  I expect great things to follow with this franchise as long as they are not forced to diverge from the path they have chosen to make the films more commercial.  Give it a chance, you'll thank me....4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Magic Mike - I love it when I get to NOT go gaga all over films that people expect me to adore because I'm gay.  I am happy to report that in this way I found Magic Mike, which I enjoyed but consider over-rated,  was quite satisfying.  I know the movie is supposed to be so much more DEEP than people expect because it shines a light on how dehumanizing a life in the sex industry can be for MEN as well as women.  I take issue twice.  One, no shit it's just as dehumanizing for men over time.  Did people not actually know this?  Number two, once upon a time I had several friends who made their living in that business and their life experiences make Magic Mike look as sanitized as a Disney film does when compared to Grimm's Fairy Tales.
     Casting that aside, its not a badly made, written, or acted film, just one that I found to be a little light.  Alex Pettyfer and especially Channing Tatum are impressive in the lead roles.  Matthew McConaughey is having a great year, and he is pretty great in this film.  Would I pick it as one of the year's top five Supporting Actor turns...probably not.
     Still, the film is quite watchable, especially if you DO like naked men.  If they make you uncomfortable, you will probably be able to live with yourself if you skip it.  3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Where Do We Go Now - This entry from Lebanon in LAST year's foreign film race was received pretty well on the festival circuit, but failed to secure a nomination.  It is the second feature by writer/director/producer/star Nadine Labaki, in which she tells the story of a village (half Christian and half Muslim) whose women have decided will remain peaceful regardless of the fighting that rages around it.
     There is a lot to be admired in the thematic intent of this film.  Voices from this part of the world that advocate for religious tolerance and acceptance should definitely be encouraged.  I do feel, however, that Ms. Labaki is still growing as a film maker.  The film relies too much upon sex humor that may have raised eyebrows in Lebanon, but seems amusingly tame by the standards of the world as a whole.  Still, the picture does bear a certain charm and shines a small light on a corner of the world whose cinema is only just beginning to flourish.  3 of 5 stars.

Related Posts:  Merchandisers Assemble! (Avengers review), The Dark Knight Transcends, Nov/Dec Oscar Buzz and Predictions: Noisy Techs (Sound Editing and Sound Mixing), Finishing Touch Techs (Editing and Visual Effects), Sept Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Supporting Performances

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