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

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. BanksReleased: December 20, 2013. Directed by: John Lee Hancock. Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Annie Rose Buckley. Runtime: 125 min.

Many might fear that a biography film made by Disney might feel too Disney, like the way they handle their sports films – a bit cheesy but still entertaining. (It’s great that director John Lee Hancock didn’t make this as cheesy as he did with “The Rookie.”) With “Saving Mr. Banks,” it never feels like that. This follows the behind  the scenes story of how P.L. Travers’ (portrayed by Emma Thompson) novel “Mary Poppins” was adapted into a film by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). She reflects on her difficult childhood while speaking her mind about everything she doesn’t like, much to the writers’, and especially Walt Disney’s dismay.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is an entertaining bio pic featuring some fantastic performances. It also gives Travers’ “Mary Poppins” a lot of layers that I hadn’t previously known, and it makes me want to rewatch it, because I haven’t seen it for a long time. Emma Thompson portrays Travers, an uptight but funny character. She is a realistic thinker who believes children should be prepared for the hardships of life; it makes the viewer question what might have traumatized her. It gets shown throughout in flashback form, but more on that in a bit.

She’s a delicate character who should lighten up a bit, but is very well portrayed by Thompson. I find it interesting how it’s hard for Travers to give up rights to Mary Poppins, because she wants the characters in the film to be portrayed well. It’s more difficult to share something when you care so deeply for it. One more thing on Thompson’s performance: I enjoy that she gets to play the authour of “Mary Poppins”, while she had previously portrayed Nanny McPhee in “Nanny McPhee” and its sequel “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang,” and McPhee is also a magical nanny – so it’s a similar character to Poppins. She also wrote the screenplays for those two films, so that’s kinda cool. (The first “Nanny McPhee” is the only one worth seeing.)

Travers reflects upon her childhood throughout the film. Little Pamela (a.k.a. Ginty) is portrayed by Annie Rose Buckley, who’s really good. It seems child actresses are much more consistently better than child actors, if you ask me. She is moved to a new town in Australia with her family where her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) has a great imagination and he teaches Ginty to dream big, but he can be a bit too irresponsible with everything else – especially in the workplace; but he’s a good father figure because he’d do anything for his daughter. Farrell’s performance is memorable, especially when occurences happen that he doesn’t have much control over. Ruth Wilson portrays the mother, but she doesn’t have much to do throughout. Pam’s little sister is cute, but there isn’t much of a relationship expressed between the two of them.

Flashbacks in films don’t bother me, but in this film – it makes the plot a complicated in scenes for a bio pic, because of all of its symbolism and all of the parallels that are drawn. This is also more profound than one’s average bio pic, so that makes up for it. It’s thought-provoking because there are themes of forgiveness and the fact that when someone suffers, there are other people in the world going through a similar type of suffering. It teaches to not live in the past, as well. But however Travers has grown up, it’s made her very stubborn. Walt Disney does his best to put up with that. Tom Hanks is quite charming as Disney, a character who doesn’t want to fall back on his promise to his daughters to bring Poppins to the big screen.

He’ll probably still receive the Oscar nomination for his work in “Captain Phillips,” however, because that character showed a bit more emotional range. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman (who play the Sherman brothers who work on the music and lyrics), and Bradley Whitford (as co-scripter Don DeGradi) play supporting roles in the writing department. Their singing and dancing is entertaining. There’s one scene where they sing a song, while Colin Farrell rhythmically says a speech, and it skips between the two time periods. It’s very cool. Paul Giamatti also gets a role as Travers’ driver, and he gets some layers a bit later on in the film, in heartwarming ways. Suffice to say, it’s quite the cast and an enjoyable film. It’s a good thing I liked this, too, because I’d like the cool poster on my wall.

Score83/100

12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a SlaveReleased: November 8, 2013. Directed by: Steve McQueen. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch. Runtime: 134 min.

Imagine you’re at home enjoying your life as a free black man in upstate New York. Your beautiful wife and kids go away for two weekends, and when two men approach you with an opportunity to make some money, why not say no? One couldn’t predict that by saying yes to making a paycheck, they would then be drugged and sold into slavery. That’s exactly what happens to Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a real person sold into slavery in 1841.

The premise is part of what makes “12 Years a Slave” such a powerful film. In any case, anyone being uprooted from their life is a terrifying reality, even today. Back then, it seems that many were a bit more clever than staging a home invasion. Solomon is backstabbed by business parters he trusted, portrayed by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam. This film might just be the one to open people’s eyes as to why the black people of today are so protective of their rights.

It’s an educational feature, and the most powerful film of the year. It’s one of my favourite slavery films as well, at least for educational purposes. I’d give this a rewatch with pleasure, which would also allow me to watch a few scenes again that I didn’t comprehend completely. I prefer Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” but that and this cannot be more different in tone. “Django,” to sum it up in so many words, is an entertaining treat. Another similarity is that both films probably hit the 100-mark with using derogatory statements, mainly the ‘n’ word. Paul Dano might have said it about 40 times it one cruel Southern tune.

John Ridley (director of “All is By My Side” which I didn’t like) adapts Northup’s 1853 novel very well, and director Steve McQueen knows what makes humans tick. This film is the platform for a harrowing odyssey of a man’s bravery and will to survive. Solomon’s drive is his family and he is making sure he does not sink into despair, by keeping their memory alive. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see them again, but he tries to be as cooperative as possible in order to survive – which isn’t very at times, when he cares about fellow slaves. One of his friends is a woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who plays a critical role in the film. He meets her on Edwin Epps’ plantation/farm.

Epps is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, in a haunting villainous performance. Don’t be surprised to get chills from him in a few scenes. Epps is known famously in those parks for breaking his slaves’ spirits, it seems – even if his wife (Sarah Paulson) thinks he could do a better job. He is a malevolent soul, and he makes a previous slave owner of Northup’s (Ford, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) look like a saint – and he already was a very considerate man. Northup meets several characters along his long journey, helping this film have a star-studded cast, even if some big-name actors have about seven minutes of screen time (like Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Garrett Dillahunt – to name some).

There’s one main problem that the film has, it never really allows viewers be aware of what year it is. The only clue is the title. It starts out in 1841, and since there’s a scene at the beginning that shows up again in roughly the third act, we know that we’re caught up – but we still can’t tell what year it is. It doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment severely, but even cues like older make-up for Solomon would assist the film. It would give us an idea of how long he has been slaving for. There are some scenes that feel like they will go on forever, but that is purposeful in one scene to show that slaves cannot interfere when someone is being punished, so to speak. That being said, this has quite a few shocking moments – so it’s not for the faint of heart!

The film’s power is greatly prominent in Ejifor’s performance, as he tries to hang onto his humanity, not give up his hope and not sink into despair. Many slaves give up much faster than Solomon Northup, but he has something to fight for; and that’s what makes this film so inspiring and moving. It also helps it become an unforgettable experience.

Score95/100

The Truman Show (1998) Review

The Truman Show

Release Date: June 5, 1998

Director: Peter Weir

Stars: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris

                                             Runtime: 103 min

Tagline: On the air. Unaware.

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is a friendly and charismatic simpleton. He’s also the star of a reality show that he was born into. The show he’s on is the most popular show in the world, The Truman Show. It’s a 24-hour drama that chronicles his every move. Everyone that he thinks are his friends is really just actors put there for the show; and Truman is the only genuine person in the fictional town of Sea Haven that he calls home.

Once Truman starts to wonder if there’s something going around this town, he really just wants to get out and explore the world. Though, Truman has never been that exploratory after an incident that caused a phobia of water; a childhood experience when he and his father went out to sea and they were attacked by a thunderstorm and his dad fell off the boat and supposedly drowned.

The Truman Show is actually such an original and intriguing plot. The character that is Truman Burbank is so simple too, that you can’t help but sympathize with the guy. He is probably one of the most intriguing characters since Forrest Gump. The film uses the aspects of drama, comedy and fantasy which make such a wonderful blend.

The Truman Show is an interesting and entertaining ride that cannot be missed. It also has great performances from a lot of the cast. The only thing that I did not like about the movie was the fact that Truman’s wife was quite annoying and fake. Granted, in a way it was good that she was extremely fake. I guess the film’s only flaw was that it was a little slow in some areas.

The film is directed wonderfully by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society), written by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), stars Laura Linney as Truman’s wife, Noah Emmerich as Marlon, Natasha McElhone as Truman’s lost love, Lauren; Holland Taylor as Truman’s mother, Ed Harris as the show’s creator, Christof; and Paul Giamatti as a Control Room Director.

This film is an absolute treat, with a magnificent performance by funny man Jim Carrey in a great dramatic role.

As Truman would say, “Good morning, and if I don’t see you; good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.”

90/100