The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2Released: May 2, 2014. Directed by: Marc Webb. Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx. Runtime: 142 min.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proves you can only have as many as three villains in a film to have the narrative still remain coherent. The tightly packed narrative makes the film have minor pacing issues – but this is still a heck of a lot of fun and a great follow-up to a solid introduction. It’s at least not Spider-Man 3 all over again, because at least we’re spared from unlikable stretches with the main character – but a difference is Garfield will still be mildly tolerable. I think Marc Webb is too smart to do that all over again.

The film finds Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) in his most personal battle yet. He’s still trying to find out why his parents had to leave, which is a good mystery that fits well into the narrative but packs it tighter. He sees Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Stone) father everywhere he goes, unable to shake his promise he made to stay away from Gwen to keep her out of danger. The super villain of this film is a cool villain called Electro (Jamie Foxx). His battles become more personal when Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) comes back into town after the death of his father. Peter comes to realize that a lot of things that happen in his life and that affect him enemy-wise revolve around one thing: Oscorp.

A personal battle for the characters on-screen, this is also more painful and personal for audience members, more-so fans of the franchise. The urgency audience members will feel for some character’s safety adds intensity to the film. The narrative does well with foreshadowing. Peter’s love for Gwen gives him a layer of vulnerability; you’d think he’d protect her better as Spider-Man by disguising his voice like Batman does. Andrew Garfield plays to his strengths as his character, and he gets a lot more laughs than the last film – losing himself in a Marvel-like and comedic atmosphere. (This is one of Marvel’s funnier films.) His chemistry with Emma Stone is just so easy to love. It’s a great and natural chemistry that makes you tell that the characters work better when they’re in each other’s lives. They’re allowed to play to their emotional strengths as actors, as well; Stone notably in a lovely graduation speech which is very inspiring. Sally Field also has a great scene where she shows her strengths as a dramatic actress.

One part that interests me about the plot is that Parker’s involvement with the Daily Bugle is played down; only mentioned as an income for Peter, and he only e-mails J. Jonah Jameson and never actually goes into the Bugle. I think it’s smart that Webb doesn’t cast a Jameson, because J.K. Simmons is such a great actor to portray the character. Since Peter only e-mails Jameson, which is an arc that makes sense in the digital age, it saves probably saves five minutes that would have just added to the already lengthy 142 minutes that doesn’t need anything more. I don’t like that Spider-Man is so controversial in this film; a lot of people think he should just let the cops do their jobs. He saves a lot more people than the cops ever could; and I think the controversy aspect would be better suited for the titular hero in Kick-Ass. I think the R-rated crime fighting would be a more realistic subject to criticism inside the film.

Anyway, Spidey learns the hard way that he shouldn’t save everyone by saving Max Dillon (Foxx), who later becomes Electro in a freak accident, which is the origins story based more on the one from the classic Marvel universe. I think Max’s motivations are very human, as well – he’s a mild-mannered, insecure guy who wants some attention and to be needed. Foxx gives a cool performance as Electro, with some awesome electric vocal styles. Hans Zimmer also has a lot of fun with the score, making voices in Electro’s head an electric song in its own – most notably during a critical introduction of the villain. He delivers yet another great score, but we rarely expect anything less from him.

Dane DeHaan is great as Harry Osborn. His arc in this reboot is different than the one in the original trilogy – and his human motivation of his own survival is easy to understand and well-written. DeHaan is magnetic as the character, funny at times and chilling at the end; where he receives a make-up job which makes this a physically demanding role. I’ve really liked him as an actor ever since 2012’s Chronicle, particularly his his apex predator monologue. Chris Cooper is disappointingly under-utilized as Norman Osborn, where we only see him in one measly scene on his death bed.

The film has another talented star as a villain, Paul Giamatti – but his limited role is really just a preview for the next film. I’m patient enough to see more development for him next time around, as he works perfectly as a bridge to the next film. Giamatti sports an over-the-top Russian accent and has a lot of fun as Aleksei Sytsevich. It’s funny that, in the beginning, Marc Webb decides to include two introductory action sequences. One with Peter’s father on a plane action sequence; and then it skips to the present day to a car chase with Giamatti’s Russian terrorist. I liked the performances from the antagonists in this film more than Marvel’s last outing Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think the villain’s motivations are more realistic and easier to understand. Something that also really works for the film is its stunning CGI visual effects, beautifully filmed action sequences and a phenomenal finale in a clock tower. Those memorable scenes, and the film’s humour, make this a ride well worth taking.

Score: 83/100

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August: Osage County (2013)

August Osage CountyReleased: January 10, 2014 (wide release). Directed by: John Wells. Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor. Runtime: 121 min.

When a film starts out with the line “Life is very long,” that’s the first hint that the drama you’re about to watch isn’t going to be the feel-good film of the year. “August: Osage County” is a bleak feature with a prominent theme of the hollow emptiness of modern mid-western life. And hollow it is! The film follows the strong-willed women of the Weston family, who return to their family home in Oklahoma because of a family crisis. This means they have to face the devil woman that raised them.

The synopsis states that there’s a family crisis, and usually, one knows that it’s likely that it’ll either be a funeral or a life-threatening disease; and since Violet (Meryl Streep) already has mouth cancer, it looks like people are going to be dressing in black and are going to pretty upset throughout. The film’s trailer isn’t so subtle about who dies, either. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, I’ll try not to spoil it. This is a film about how family tests you and how it lifts you up but can kick you down, as well. And if you have a mother like Meryl Streep’s character, it’s going to kick you down a lot.

I like films with a focus on characters, and most of these are pretty good – but since there are so many, there’s a limited amount of layers for all of them. But the performances are pretty spectacular, and one of my favourite aspects of the film. Meryl Streep is great as a devil woman named Violet with emotional issues because of all the pills she takes. She’s one of those people who criticizes everything and blames people for things that happen, and make your insecurities known which makes one feel crappy. Because she’s so domineering, and since Streep is such a powerhouse dramatic actress, I think that’s why some people consider her a Leading Actress here, even though I’m nearly convinced she has about the same screen time as Roberts. I’m thankful she’s absent for about 25 minutes of the film because the character’s personality is very irritating. Since her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) is a similar personality, one can tell their mother screwed them up pretty harshly. 

Though, while Violet is critical of everyone, Fae is mostly critical of her son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Violet has three daughters, the main one Barbara is portrayed by Julia Roberts. She’s just great as a character who’s more likeable than her mother, but a bit similar – showing the influence of parental figures. Barbara is trying hard to keep the relationship with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) intact. Violet’s other daughter is Karen (Juliette Lewis) who is a bit of a ditz, but not much smarter than her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s most likeable daughter is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who was the only daughter to stay close to home, which creates tension between the three daughters. Ivy is criticized greatly by her mother because she hasn’t found a man yet. The only characters who actually rarely have rude things to say to each other are Ivy, Little Charles and Mattie Fae’s husband Charles (Chris Cooper).

Everybody’s just fighting constantly and it doesn’t make the experience enjoyable. There are bursts of comedy here and there that keeps the film from being completely boring, so that’s a good aspect. It seems to me that when one thinks family drama, it’s reasonable to expect people smiling and being nice to each other, isn’t it? But that so rarely happens in this slowly-moving picture. The only scenes some might find theirselves enjoying the film is when Julia Roberts launches herself at Meryl Streep because it’s freaking awesome, and there’s a sweet song that Cumberbatch sings at one point. Along with the little bursts of comedy, that’s the only time I really liked this. Its ending is unrewarding and the film is generally depressing. It’s one of those films where you walk out of the theatre and say, “Hey, could you say something kind to me? I’ve hardly heard a nice thing for two hours.” To have that depressed feeling for these two hours is an emotionally exhausting experience.

Score50/100

American Beauty – A film review by Daniel Prinn

American Beauty

Release Date: October 1, 1999

Director: Sam Mendes

Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch

Runtime: 122 min

Tagline: … look closer.

 American Beauty is a depressing, but beautiful, insightful and profound look at the life of a dysfunctional suburban family; making it one of the greatest films of the 90s and 1999 (It’s hard to pick my favourite for 1999, I mean it was such a great year for films – this, The Sixth SenseFight Club, The Green Mile, etc.).

Lester (Kevin Spacey) and Carolyn Burnham (Annette Bening) have it all: they’re a perfect husband and wife, have perfect jobs, have a perfect family, a perfect home, all in a perfect little suburban neighbourhood; that is, on the outside. On the inside, Lester is a depressed man who reaches a breaking point in that middle-age crisis when he becomes attracted to his daughter’s friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and vows to change his life – in a way to woo the heart of this young woman. All the while, the daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), is trying to find out who she really is, and she is going through those usual adolescent phases. She also strikes up a kind friendship with a shy boy who documents his everyday life, Ricky (Wes Bentley) next door who lives with his headstrong homophobic military father, Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper).

American Beauty is a sophisticated, entertaining and profound analysis of the so-called American dream gone sour.

I really like this one because it has a great sense of realism, because many families try to present themselves as perfect and beautiful, but they are really rotting and extremely dysfunctional in some ways on the inside.

Each of these characters has problems, and most are played quite beautifully. Lester Burnham is very depressed, unmotivated, but often comedic, middle-aged man who learns to change his life around and start to stand up for himself more, and try to be happier with himself despite his utter lack of care for the world. He is also wonderfully and flawlessly played by Kevin Spacey who brings his great dramatic acting and sarcastic comedic delivery to his character. Carolyn Burnham is really the dictator in the Burnham family, when she’s actually home, because she is so dedicated to her career. She’s a needed character but she’s very, very irritating. She’s the most irritating when she just randomly screams to the heavens. It’s cringe-worthy. She is one of my least favourite female characters, ever. She just offers a ridiculous amount of conflict to every single situation. Annette Bening plays a really good bitch. Jane Burnham is a pretty good character. She is trying to find herself in this mixed up world and just doesn’t understand how sometimes the world of high school works. She is played fairly well by Thora Birch. Angela is an okay character. She’s extremely inappropriate and immature, and she struts her little stuff all around town and brags about all of the guys she gets together with. Mena Suvari portrays the character fairly well, not great but not too bad. Ricky Fitts is (played well by Wes Bentley) is a good character. He’s just trying to understand the world, too. He is an interesting character that has a unique view of the world. Colonel Frank Fitts is played very well by Chris Cooper, and he is a very dictatorial and homophobic character that is ultimately very interesting.

While you’re watching it, even if you’re not thoroughly enjoying it, you can tell that it’s a well- made film with a beautiful message and a great story. It is just flawlessly and originally penned by Alan Ball (creator of TV’s True Blood).

There’s one great thing about this film, even if you didn’t like it – you can say, “Hey, my life isn’t all that bad compared to these guys; my life’s gravy if I stood next to these dysfunctional people.” It’s a depressing experience, but in the end it is thought-provoking and it is a pick-me-up because you’ll probably see that your life isn’t all that horrible. Though, don’t run to this film if you’re the happiest you’ve ever been – because a lot of it is really quite poignant, not really feel-good, and often darkly humorous.

American Beauty has it all, a great cast, extremely memorable scenes; it’s sometimes funny and it has a great and sophisticated story. It is well-structured and it takes great turns and has a great narrative by Kevin Spacey when he often adds his insight in voice-over. Looking back, I can hardly think of any flaws. It’s inappropriate and very sexually suggestive, but I can’t take points off for that. While the film may not be for everyone, it is great for those of you who can appreciate it. I think it’s a film everyone should see. You may not like it by the end of it all, but it’s quite worth the check.

100/100