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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Lawless (2012)

LawlessLawless

Release Date: August 29, 2012

Director: John Hillcoat

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce

Runtime: 116 min

Tagline: When the law became corrupt, outlaws became heroes.

Lawless is probably the most fun you’ll have not understanding half the words that come out of the actors’ mouths. They don’t exactly master Southern accents; especially, Tom Hardy. The guy’s a fantastic actor, but he’s no Christian Bale in mastering any kind-of American accent. The actors are fantastic in their roles, but you might have to put on the subtitles when the Bondurant’s are on-screen. And that’s almost the whole time. The ensemble cast is one of the more memorable of 2012; composed of Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain (she gets nude!), Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, and a very small role from the always-fantastic Gary Oldman.

The story follows a bootlegging gang (the Bondurant family) who get threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits. It’s a slow story at that, but it’s gruesomely violent and one heck of a gangster feature. It’s set in the fascinating Prohibition era in Franklin County, Virginia, and it’s essentially a story of standing up for oneself. Especially for the youngest Bondurant, Jack (LaBeouf), whose innocence is heavily contrasted by the incredibly tough Howard (Clarke) and the brain and brawn, Forrest (Hardy). They’re not the type to give away a cent of their profits, and it’s usually entertaining to watch the violent brawls and how they defend what’s right. If you like Prohibition era gangster movies, Guy Pearce playing a major nance, shoot-outs, great ensemble casts but a fairly forgettable story, and well-developed characters; check this out. Prepare to use subtitles whenever Tom Hardy speaks.

74/100

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines

Release Date: March 29, 2013

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

Runtime: 140 min

When one thinks of an epic, they might think Titanic, Braveheart or maybe Avatar. Even though this doesn’t have huge sinking boats, large wars or stunning visual effects; this truly deserves to be called an epic.

Derek Cianfrance (of Blue Valentine fame) brings us an small-town epic called The Place Beyond the Pines; a thought-provoking and realistic tale of generational feuds, fathers and sons, and corruption. It’s set in the small town of Schenectady, New York, that follows two families over a period of fifteen years. It’s essentially a trilogy of tales, going from chapter to chapter.

Glanton is a stunt motorcycle rider who, after finding out he has a son named Jason, begins to rob banks as a way to provide for his son and his lover, Romina (Eva Mendes). He does with the assistance of his employer, an auto repair shop owner Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), and his superior motorcycle riding skills. His motivation for this is easy to understand as he wants to provide his son and he sees this as the best way fit. He’s a guy who has his priorities in order, even if it implies reckless behaviour and breaking the law time and time again.

Cross’s motivations are harder to comprehend. He’s an ambitious young cop who wants to make his way up in the police force in as little time as possible, as he’s following in his father’s footsteps. The corruption of the police force itself poses enticing decisions for the young rookie.

The strong third act is difficult to discuss without giving too much away, but there are a few things that can be said. It’s admirably carried by young, up and coming stars Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Cohen plays a character that is an irritating kind-of Eminem-esque wannabe  but he is portrayed adequately and his character is essential to the film.

The third tale explores the idea of legacies and how one split-second decision can send incidental shockwaves through generations. It also explores fatherly influences in a beautiful way; which is a theme that is also highlighted with Glanton and Cross, where Cross has a father figure, and Glanton is the opposite. Corruption and personal gain is best explored in the middle act involving Bradley Cooper’s haunted character. Finally, the bond between fathers and sons and the lengths they’d go to in order to protect their young is very well explored. One of the most prominent themes is, though, is there are (usually) consequences for your actions, admirably said in the movie’s most memorable quote, “If you ride like lightning; you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

The epic crime drama shifts focus a lot, and since it is a trilogy of intertwining stories, it really feels like it could end at any point. In this way, it might work better as a book – but the narrative feels fresh. It’s still one of the lengthy film’s main faults, that the film feels like it’s just coming around the bend to its climax. Thankfully, the ambiguous and hopeful ending at the place beyond the pines is more than pleasing. Some of the characters’ motivations can be also hard to comprehend, but despite the movie’s faults, it’s engaging and it packs a mighty, emotional one-two punch.

The large and talented cast carries the movie extremely well. Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan (Am I the only one who thinks he’ll, at least, be an Oscar nominee someday?), Bruce Greenwood and Emory Cohen are among the cast, and they help carry the film and they make one heck of an ensemble. The tatted-up Gosling is by far the best of them all. The movie’s at its most booming and usually the most intense when he’s on-screen. He is most deserving of an Oscar nomination, and his powerful performance will remain one of the year’s most memorable. His character is as great and as mysterious as The Driver in Drive, and his performance is as good, if not better; he better not be overlooked by the Academy this time around. Even when he isn’t on-screen, his impact and legacy is felt. Other than Cooper and Gosling, DeHaan and Mendelsohn are the most notable. The score is also very memorable; with Mike Patton’s “The Snow Angel” playing in the background of some of the movie’s strongest and most emotionally sweeping scenes. Who woulda thunk one tune could be so haunting, but filled with such poignancy?

Gosling’s tale is by the far the strongest act of the three, Cooper’s sandwiched between in terms of quality, and DeHaan’s is the weakest, but saved by a fantastic ending. With an epic and beautiful drama like this, “weak” is used lightly – because it is by no means a bad act. They all just happen to pale in comparison to the act where Glanton is the focus. The intense crime drama is riddled with great performances, impressive writing, amazing emotional moments; and no matter how much the film may shift focus from story to story, all in a very lengthy flick, it all intertwines admirably in the end and Cianfrance never loses sight of his stunning and beautiful vision.

88/100

Chronicle (2012)

ChronicleReleased: February 3, 2012Director: Josh TrankStars: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. JordanRuntime: 84 min.

Whilst attending a party, three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.

Chronicle is a very innovative feature because it combines two of the most popular sub-genres of the 21st century: found-footage and super heroes. This may sound odd to some, but the end product is rather astounding.

When I say super heroes, though, they don’t put on capes or masks and fight evil. They are often the ones who wreak havoc. Most characters, not to an extreme extent. They just fool around when they first start to learn how to control their abilities. I’d tell you some of the stunts they pull, but then I’d be depriving of you of the funniest sequence of the entire feature. When they are starting to fool around, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), the primary character, uses mind power to make a car go off a road and into a river, putting the man in a hospital. The two friends, Steve (Michael B. Jordan) and Andrew’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell), are quite furious and set rules for them to follow. They must not use it against people. Andrew does not understand what they’re fussing about because of this situation, which is the first hint at his sociopathic behaviour.

Andrew is the anti-hero of the feature, and the most developed. The other two are slightly developed, as their pacifistic behaviour is established. Before I get into explaining Andrew, if there were a villain and a hero in this super power feature, it is usually Andrew vs. His father (I’ll explain that situation soon) and to a lesser extent, Andrew vs. Matt. This is because their polar opposite behaviours often clash. Andrew is much more psychopathic than Matt, who is a pacifist by nature.

Andrew is the most developed because the primary focus is on him. While this film is a riveting drama/thriller, it is also a fascinating and disturbing character study. Andrew’s mother is sick, and his father is an alcoholic who beats him every chance he gets. He also doesn’t pass up the chance to make him feel unappreciated wherever he goes. This makes Andrew feel completely neglected, and often diminishes his care for human life, making him very self conscious in a threatening way. The way Andrew thinks will unsettle most, fascinate many, and frustrate some. And I experienced all three of those.

He obviously has friends, but his father’s way of getting into his mind and twisting the way he thinks is often frustrating. But still, necessary for the plot. One thing about this feature is it goes at the speed of Ussain Bolt; it is very rushed. It is still nonetheless gripping and engaging. It would have been nice to see more pranks pulled by the boys before it turned dark, but an extended silliness may have affected the serious undertone. The chemistry created by the trio is more than fine, it seems like they’ve spent everyday together at summer camp since they were tykes. Boys will be boys, right?

In a nutshell: Chronicle is one of the most surprisingly amazing features of 2012. The rushed pace is its main flaw, but it is an awesome experience for the 84 minutes it stays around. It obtains must-see status because of its thoroughly thematic and disturbing content. It is the most must-see found-footage feature of 2012, perhaps of all-time.

Score86/100