New Releases for the Week of October 30, 2015


Scout's Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseSCOUT’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

(Paramount) Tye Sheridan, Joey Morgan, Cloris Leachman, David Koechner, Logan Miller, Sarah Dumont, Halston Sage, Niki Koss. Directed by Christopher Landon

The motto of the Boy Scouts is to be prepared, but how does one prepare for the unpreparable? Why, there’s a handbook for it of course. And no doubt, merit badges.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for zombie violence and gore, sexual material, graphic nudity, and language throughout)

The Algerian

(Hannover House) Ben Youcef, Candice Coke, Harry Lennix, Tara Holt. An Algerian travels around the world as part of a sleeper cell, masquerading as a university student. He knows that his enemy is America, but as he begins to develop relationship and even love with various Americans, he becomes conflicted. What is his mission and what is his purpose? Whatever it might be, there will be a bloodbath by the time it ends.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: NR

The Armor of Light

(Fork) Lucy McBath, Rob Schenck. A conservative Evangelical minister meets the mother of Jordan Davis, a teenage shooting victim in Florida whose death focused attention on the controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws. Despite her pro-choice leanings, the two decide to work together to bring about real change in gun laws and more importantly, in attitudes towards guns. Incidentally, NRA members can get free tickets to this movie; go to the website to find out how.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and brief strong language)

Burnt

(Weinstein) Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman. A once-promising chef who suffers a spectacular meltdown having fallen from grace due to his own excesses. Hungering for that elusive third Michelin star, he opens a new restaurant, knowing he’ll have to have the best of the best working for him which includes Helene, a comely sous chef who might bring him the redemption he is seeking – and also that of an unexpected kind.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout)

Dancin’ It’s On

(Medallion) Gary Daniels, Witney Carson, Jordan Clark, Ava Fabian. A beautiful young girl travels from Beverly Hills to Panama Beach for the summer to work at her father’s hotel and falls in love with a handsome young dishwasher. The two have a mutual love for dance and decide to partner up for the Florida State Championships but will have to navigate long odds to achieve their dreams. Did anyone else just throw up a little in their mouths or was it just me?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music/Dance
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some suggestive material)

Freaks of Nature

(Columbia) Mackenzie Davis, Nicholas Braun, Joan Cusack, Denis Leary. In one small town, vampires, zombies and humans have all managed to co-exist – until an alien invasion throws everything into chaos. Now it’s every being for themselves and all of them being chased by aliens. It will take three teens – one human, one zombie and one vampire – to convince the town to unite against the real threat: bad reviews.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use – all involving teens)

Goodnight Mommy

(Radius) Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Hans Escher. After facial reconstructive surgery, the mother of a pair of precocious 10-year-old twins returns home, her face covered with bandages. Soon after, however, the twins begin to suspect that the woman under the bandages isn’t their mother; she acts very differently than the woman who raised them. So they decide to find out who the woman is but most importantly where their real mother is.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content and some nudity)

Our Brand is Crisis

(Adopt) Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy. With Bolivia’s economy teetering on the edge of catastrophe, a presidential election between the incumbent president and an upstart rival, the incumbent trailing in the polls by 30 points (a nearly insurmountable margin) enlists a damaged but brilliant American political strategist to aid him. Unfortunately, the opposition has hired her nemesis whom she has never beaten. With the election taking on global proportions, the price of losing could be intolerable. Based on the real events chronicled in the documentary of the same name.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

Room

(A24) Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy. A woman and her young son escape from a shed where they’ve been held captive for the son’s entire life. The woman returns to a woman she doesn’t understand anymore and the son to a world he’s never known. Both damaged, they rely on each other as much or more outside the single room that was their entire world than they did in it.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language)

Truth

(Sony Classics) Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elizabeth Moss. When respected CBS news anchor Dan Rather broadcast a story regarding then-President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, he was doing his job. Instead, it turns out that the story was factually inaccurate, putting one of the most prestigious news organization’s reputation in tatters and nearly bringing it down. The CBS network is refusing to air ads for this film, incidentally as you might expect.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and a brief nude photo)

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2


Spider-Man goes electric.

Spider-Man goes electric.

(2014) Superhero (Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Jamie Foxx, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Marton Csokas, B.J. Novak, Michael Massee, Louis Cancelmi, Felicity Jones, Max Charles, Sarah Gordon, Jorge Vega, Bill Heck, Helen Stern, Kari Coleman. Directed by Marc Webb

It is inevitable that when a superhero shows up, eventually a super-villain will as well. With great power comes great responsibility but also comes great angst and great greed as well.

Despite Peter Parker’s (Garfield) a.k.a. Spider-Man promise to stay away from Gwen Stacy (Stone), daughter of the police captain (Leary) who died in the first ASM film, the feelings between the two are so strong that they can’t stay away from each other, at least until Peter starts seeing disapproving visions of her dear old dad and the guilt forces him to break up with her. Or she gets tired of all the on-again, off-again stuff and tells him to take a hike.

Peter is also haunted by the death of his parents, dad Richard (Scott) who once worked for the evil Oscorp empire, and mom (Davidtz) whom Peter remembers only fragments of. He finally confronts his Aunt May (Field) about them. May, who sometimes comes off as too saintly in both the comic and the first film trilogy, actually acts with a completely understandable anger – wasn’t she there for him? Wasn’t her love enough?

He’s also busy taking care of things in New York City, including taking down a crazed Russian mobster who will eventually come to be known as the Rhino (Giamatti). His best friend Harry Osborne (DeHaan) returns to town as his diseased and despotic father Norman (Cooper) lays dying, leaving Harry to pick up the pieces, take over Oscorp and fend off the scheming Donald Menken (Feore) who has an agenda of his own. Harry also discovers that he may soon share his father’s fate and only the blood of a certain Spider-Man might contain the clue that can cure him.

On top of that there’s a new super-villain in town. Mild mannered Max Dillon (Foxx) who develops a man-crush on Spidey after he saves him from being hit by a bus has a terrifying accident as he is shocked by high power lines and falls into a tank full of genetically altered electric eels which leave him badly burned but with the ability to shoot electric charges from his hands and eventually turn into living electric current.

Max, now going by the name Electro, has felt ignored and marginalized all his life. He is tired of being invisible (which ironically becomes one of his superpowers) and now that he can cause so much carnage feels vindicated that people can “see” him now and his freakish appearance is a small price to pay. He also feels betrayed by Spider-Man, his buddy who forgot his name.

All this leads to a pair of climactic battles as betrayals lead to rage which leads to a tragic confrontation that will alter Spider-Man’s life forever. Which is essentially how the second installment in any superhero franchise tends to go.

The second film in the Sam Raimi Spider-trilogy turned out to be one of the best superhero movies ever. This one, sadly, falls more into the category of the third Raimi movie which was sunk by too many supervillains and not enough memorable characters mainly because the film doesn’t get to develop them too much other than Foxx’s Electro and even he doesn’t get a whole lot of background.

What does get some background is the romance between Gwen and Peter which is a double-edged sword. Some of the most natural sequences in the movie involve those two and the banter between the two of them reflects the real-life romance that has developed between Stone and Garfield, eerily reflecting the real-life romance between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst that developed in the first Spider-trilogy. However, spending as much time on the romance as Webb does tends to mess with the momentum of the film, creating awkward breaks between action sequences and a sense that Webb is trying to make a movie that is all things to all audiences. Columbia execs have a history of becoming too involved in the Spider-Man films and I get a sense that studio interference may have occurred here as well.

Webb shows some deft touch with the action sequences and his vision of Electro is nothing short of amazing, worthy of a high-profile superhero franchise such as this one. One sequence in which Electro disappears into an ordinary electric outlet to go and wreak havoc is so well done that it looks as if it could have actually happened. That’s excellent effects in my book.

The character of Gwen Stacy doesn’t work as well for me. Stone described her as the “brains” of the operation which is a bit of a departure from the comic book in which the nerdy Peter, one of the first true science geeks, was capable of being the strategist but it is Gwen who comes to his rescue time after time by figuring out solutions to problems Spider-Man is having and incredibly, as an intern at Oscorp in biochemistry for whatever reason has learned how to work the electric grid of New York City which Oscorp runs. That part doesn’t ring true at all and took me right out of the film. I don’t mind smart women in movies but make her realistically clever please.

Garfield however continues to impress as both Parker and Spider-Man. In the latter role he has the fluid movements that make him look just non-human enough to be different. In the former role, he isn’t quite as brooding as he was in the first film (until near the end) but he certainly shows the inner conflicts that come from wanting to do the right thing but knowing that doing so could potentially put those he loves in danger. Some critics have groused about the smartaleck wisecracking that Spider-Man does, but that is part of the comic book personality of the character and is Parker’s way of coping with his own self-doubt.

This isn’t the sequel I was hoping for. I’m a big fan of Webb and I like the way Garfield plays both Peter and Spider-Man. I was hoping after the unnecessary second origin movie in ten years for the character that they might take Garfield’s strong performance in the title role and build on it. To some extent they do but their ambitions exceed the realistic here and they wind up making a movie that is a bit of a mess. It’s still plenty entertaining and has all the thrills, action and emotions that you need to make a great summer blockbuster, but they also failed to learn from Raimi’s mistakes. It’s worth seeing for the action, for Garfield and for some of the emotional sequences but the movie is nonetheless very flawed.

REASONS TO GO: The Electro sequences are amazing. Some emotional high points.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many characters and subplots. The flow of the film doesn’t quite work. Logical issues.

FAMILY VALUES:  A good deal of superhero violence and peril, plus a brief scene that may be disturbing for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first Spider-Man movie to film in New York City where the series is set – it is also the largest production to date to film in the state of New York.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/17/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 53/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Words and Pictures

Draft Day


Jennifer Garner looks on as Kevin Costner practices his bemused expression.

Jennifer Garner looks on as Kevin Costner practices his bemused expression.

(2014) Sports Drama (Summit) Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella, Denis Leary, Chadwick Boseman, Sean Combs, Ellen Burstyn, Terry Crews, Arian Foster, Chi McBride, Griffin Newman, Josh Pence, Tom Welling, Sam Elliott, Wallace Langham, Kevin Dunn, Rosanna Arquette, Jim Brown, Patrick St. Esprit, Margot Danis, Jennifer McMahan. Directed by Ivan Reitman

Football isn’t just a sport in the United States; it’s virtually a religion. Fans hang on every little bit of minutiae, from coaching strategies to fantasy leagues to postgame analysis. The NFL Draft has become something of a spectacle in its own right.

Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns who are coming off a disappointing season with a suspect quarterback (Welling) and a new Coach (Leary) hired away from the Dallas Cowboys, has a lot on his mind on the new Draft day. His boss, Browns owner Anthony Molina (Langella), is disturbed by the diminishing returns of his football club and needs Weaver to make a splash at this year’s draft – or else. His girlfriend Ali (Garner) who also happens to be his salary cap specialist, announces that she’s pregnant. His dad, a former Browns coach who Sonny himself had to fire, passed away a week earlier.

He’s been vacillating between two choices in the number seven position; linebacker Vontae Mack (Boseman) from Ohio State who really wants to be a Brown and has the advantage of being a star on the local college team, and running back Ray Jennings (Foster) who is the son of Earl Jennings (Crews), a Cleveland Browns legend. Jennings the younger has the disadvantage of having a recent arrest on his resume.

Then the Seattle Seahawks come calling and they’re interested in dealing. They have the number one pick in the draft overall and there is a can’t-miss quarterback, Bo Callahan (Pence) from the University of Wisconsin up for grabs. If the Browns are willing to give them their next three first round picks, they can get themselves a quarterback being touted as a legitimate franchise player. Knowing that this is the kind of move that can save his job, Weaver pulls the trigger. This pleases his boss but not his coach who has an innate suspicion of rookie quarterbacks, nor his current quarterback who has worked hard since his injury to get into the best shape of his life.

Something about the deal doesn’t feel quite right to Sonny. Why would Seattle want to pass on a sure thing? Unless there’s something that gave them cold feet…and nobody has found anything about Callahan that doesn’t look like he’s going to be a future Hall of Famer. Sonny needs to find out what’s what and maybe do some wheeling and dealing and in the meantime the clock is ticking as the Draft approaches.

The movie was made with the blessing and full co-operation of the NFL with commissioner Roger Goodell making a cameo as himself and the real team names and logos used, not to mention cameos by ESPN analysts and sportscasters. That’s meant to give the film a sheen of legitimacy and it’s quite effective.

Costner’s career resurrection continues as he utilizes his laidback personality and bemused smile to good effect. He’s perfect for this kind of role; canny, a little bit flustered, good-hearted and trying to do the right thing. In years past Costner would have played the athlete so this is a very natural move for him.

Leary, a stand-up comic who has done a lot of dramatic roles on the small screen, does really well here as the arrogant ex-Cowboys coach, constantly flashing his championship ring to remind people that he’s a winner. His back and forth with Costner is among the movie’s high points.

The problem here is that there is too much going on. I could have done with less soap opera and more expose of how things really work in an NFL club’s front office. I suspect a lot of football fans will agree with me on that point. While the plot ends up fairly predictable, I did appreciate the idea of the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the screens. Also a note to Reitman – overuse of graphics and fancy camera dissolves can get pretty distracting. Otherwise this is solid and entertaining spring fare guaranteed to make football fans long for the fall.

REASONS TO GO: Costner is solid as ever and has some terrific scenes with Leary.

REASONS TO STAY: Predictable. Graphics get to be somewhat intrusive.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some foul language and sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sunny Weaver Jr. was originally meant to be the GM of the Buffalo Bills but the team was changed when the producers found that it would be much cheaper to film in Ohio.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/21/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Major League

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Joe

New Releases for the Week of April 11, 2013


Rio 2RIO 2

(20th Century Fox/Blue Sky) Starring the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Andy Garcia, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Leslie Mann, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan. Directed by Carlos Saldanha

Blu and Jewel have begun a family, but they are keenly aware that they are the last of their kind. Now word comes that some of their species have been spotted in the wilds of the Amazon – and they know that they have to make that journey to find what family they may have left. When the rumors turn out to be true, Blu will come face to face with the two most fearsome adversaries a bird could possibly face; Nigel the macaw-napping villain from the first film, and even more terrifying – his father-in-law.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, videos and B-Roll videos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Draft Day

(Summit) Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella, Denis Leary. The embattled general manager of the woeful Cleveland Browns has the golden ticket – the first choice in the upcoming NFL draft. For the owner, it’s an opportunity to make a splash that will get fans into the seats. For the head coach, it’s a means of putting together the team he wants to coach. For the general manager, it’s one last shot at redemption.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, B-Roll video, a featurette and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Sports Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and sexual references)

Jesus People

(Freestyle Releasing) Mindy Sterling, Octavia Spencer, Joel McCray, Wendy McLendon-Covey.A pastor believing he doesn’t have much time to live forms a Christian rock band in order to spread his gospel more thoroughly. But when the talent-challenged band finds themselves with a hit single, their already fragile unity begins to dissolve.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and terror)

Oculus

(Relativity) Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Brenton Thwaites. A young boy and girl’s parents are brutally murdered and the boy is charged and convicted with the crime. Ten years later, he is released from prison and just wants to put the whole thing behind him. His sister however is bound and determined to prove that what was really responsible was a malevolent haunted mirror that can make you see things that aren’t there – and be blind to those things that are.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language)

The Raid 2

(Sony Classics) Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra. After Rama, the survivor of the pitched battle inside the stronghold of a drug gang in Jakarta, returns home, he finds that his ordeal is far from over. Higher-ups in the criminal food chain want to see him and his family made an example of. In order to protect them, he must go deep undercover in the most dangerous criminal gang in the world. The first raid will be child’s play compared to this.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language)

Ice Age: Continental Drift


 

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Scrat is only a little bit obsessed.

(2012) Animated Feature (20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Peter Dinklage, Seann William Scott, Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari, Jennifer Lopez, Drake, Keke Palmer, Heather Morris, Joy Behar, Nicki Minaj, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Nick Frost, JB Smoove, Chris Wedge. Directed by Steve Martino and Michael Thumeier

 

There isn’t much we wouldn’t do for our families. We’d put our lives on the line to defend them. We’d do things that we don’t like doing to make things work. We’d go as far as we had to just to get together with them. Even though we fight like cats and dogs sometimes, when it comes down to it, our families are everything.

Manny the Mastodon (Romano) thinks so too. After everything he’s been through, his wife Ellie (Latifah) is the apple of his eye. His daughter Peaches (Palmer) is now a teenager (we saw her getting born in the last Ice Age movie) and like most teenagers, she’s terribly concerned with hanging out with the right crowd. She has her eye on Ethan (Drake), the dreamboat who has his own little entourage, although her BFF Louis (Gad), a kind of mole, is far nicer and cares about her as a mastodon…er, person.

Scrat (Wedge) the obsessive squirrel has tried to plant his acorn right in the center of things. Unfortunately, his determination has led to the cataclysmic break-up of the super-continent into the seven continents we know today. That action has inadvertently separated Manny from his family although fortunately Diego (Leary) the saber-toothed tiger is with him as is Sid the Sloth (Leguizamo) and his feisty but not altogether there Granny (Sykes).

They are floating about the sea on an ice floe when they run into Captain Gutt (Dinklage), an orangutan pirate who is also the self-styled ruler of the sea. His right hand woman is Shira (Lopez) who may just be a more ruthless cat than Diego, although you know the two are going to fall for each other. You know it.

Meanwhile, back at home the continental upheaval is taking its toll as Ellie is trying to lead the others to safety while Peaches alternately worries for her dad (who she had words with just before things went south) and still trying to fit in with the cool clique, while Louis frets. Will Manny ever see his family again?

The first Ice Age movies were pretty good and I enjoyed the camaraderie between the main trio of Manny, Diego and Sid. With each passing film more characters have been added into the mix and the films have been getting on the bloated side. As with the third film in the series, there seems to be less fun in the mix. You get the sense that this is just a paycheck for everyone involved, from the studio head on down to the animators and the voice talent. Sykes dos make a welcome addition, although her character is an insulting steroetype for the elderly which is disheartening. Still, she has some of the funniest moments in the film.

One thing it does have going for it is the 3D. I think it’s fair to say that the entire film revolves around 3 so that if you see it in 2D, you miss quite a bit. I don’t often recommend the upcharge but it is worth it here. However, don’t expect much logic or sense. As Sid says to Granny, “We fought dinosaurs. It didn’t make sense, but it sure was exciting.” Although I’d have to question the exciting part. Still, this is a feature length cartoon, not a lesson in history, zoology or geology.

As always, my favorite segments are the ones involving Scrat the Squirrel. This time, an awful lot of them already have appeared in the short films that Scrat has starred in which is a further sign that this franchise is running out of gas. I think it’s fair to say that I got a sense that I’ve seen it all before throughout the film, but in the case of Scrat I literally have.

There’s enough here to keep the small kids happy (and there were plenty of them even at the later showing that I attended which in itself is pretty sad – parents who keep their kids up to see a movie past their bedtime should have their heads examined) but the parents who go with them are going to be counting the minutes until the movie is over – and at a running time of well over an hour and a half, that’s a lot of minutes.

REASONS TO GO: The Scrat sequences are always entertaining. Smaller children will love it (although kids 3rd grade and older might turn their noses up at it as being for little kids).

REASONS TO STAY: Really, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is a little bit rude (although not much) – and some of the cartoon violence might upset the very little.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Captain Gutt was supposed to have been voiced by Jeremy Renner, but his busy schedule precluded it so Peter Dinklage was cast instead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The reviews are pretty negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ice Age: The Meltdown

SCRAT LOVERS: While much of the footage with Scrat was shown initially in the short Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up that accompanied Rio, there are plenty of new scenes that highlight the obsessive squirrel.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Oxford Murders

The Amazing Spider-Man


 

The Amazing Spider-Man

There’s just no way to look dignified in this costume and in this pose.

(2012) Superhero (Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka, C. Thomas Howell, Jake  Ryan Keiffer, Kari Coleman, Stan Lee, Tom Waite. Directed by Marc Webb

 

Most of us have something missing in our lives. Whether it be something emotional – a feeling of being loved or needed – or something physical, like one’s parents or a new Ferrari, we all have something we lack and would do quite literally anything to get back.

Peter Parker (Garfield) is by all accounts a fairly normal kid, but a little on the dark side; his parents left him with his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Fields) one rainy night after their house was broken into. They were later killed in a plane crash according to newspaper accounts. He misses them and yearns to know why they left but they are shadows and smoke to him. Peter is a science nerd with a good deal of brilliance inherited from his geneticist father (Scott). He has goo-goo eyes for Gwen Stacy (Stone), the beautiful blonde daughter of Capt. George Stacy (Leary) of the NYPD. However, she seems to have the attention of Flash Thompson (Zylka), a jock who loves to pick on Peter.

When Peter finds an old briefcase that belonged to his father, he discovers some papers in a hidden compartment containing something called a decay rate algorithm. He also discovers that his father worked at Oscorp, a large biogen firm in Midtown Manhattan, along with Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), a one-armed scientist who is trying research combining animal DNA with human to transfer the traits of that animal (in Connors’ case, the regenerative power of reptiles) to the human. While nosing about the lab on his own, Peter finds a room where mutant spiders spin a biocable of incredible tensile strength and adhesive qualities. While in there, he picks up a hitchhiker who bites him and burrows into his skin. He also discovers that Gwen is Dr. Connors’ intern.

Within hours Peter develops these odd powers – the ability to stick to smooth surfaces, extreme strength and the ability to sense danger moments before it occurs. He finally meets Dr. Connors, introducing himself as the son of his former colleague. He also draws up the algorithm, having committed it to memory. The two begin working together to figure out the right formula to create a regenerative solution.

In the meantime Peter uses his new powers to humiliate Flash, who had beaten the snot out of him earlier. Ben is forced to switch shifts in order to deal with his nephew, admonishing him to pick up his aunt at work since he now had to work a later shift. Unfortunately, Peter is late coming home, having forgotten his responsibilities while working with Dr. Connors. He and Ben get into an argument with Peter storming out into the night. Ben goes out after him but this ends up in tragedy.

Peter decides to go looking for the author of his pain and winds up donning a luchador-like mask and spandex suit to conceal his identity, leaving those criminals tied up in a web of the biocable which he has developed a shooter for. He also begins to develop a romantic relationship with Gwen.

Unfortunately, under pressure from the powers that be at Oscorp to begin human testing on the formula, Dr. Connors injects himself with the formula. It works all too well, not only regenerating his arm but turning him into a 9-foot tall lizard, with tail and scales and murderous rage, yet combined with the good Doctor’s intelligence and cunning. Peter finds himself needing to stop the Lizard, whom he partially created but the cops are after him, the Lizard has a sinister agenda and is out to keep Peter Parker from stopping him and trying to hide his identity from his girlfriend’s dad who wants to put him in jail. And I thought chem finals were bad.

Webb, who previously directed the incredible (500) Days of Summer, is saddled with a kind of a double whammy. Not only does he have to measure up against Sam Raimi’s filmed trilogy whose numbers helped usher in the Marvel film renaissance but also against the comic books that Raimi did so well in translating to the screen.

For some odd reason the studio decided to reboot the series with another origin tale – because it’s been ten years since the first one so I’m sure nobody remembers it by now. *snerkle* That’s sarcasm, in case you were wondering.

Garfield is a find. Most will remember him from The Social Network but he has established himself here as a leading man for the next 20 years. He is charismatic, brooding, likable and able to do serious and funny, a rare trait. It is not often when opportunities to take the next step in your career evolution come along and Garfield makes the most of his. This is in every sense a star-making performance.

Stone has been on a winning streak of late but she is curiously flat here. Her Gwen Stacy lacks the spunk and fire of her previous performances and while far from a typical damsel in distress role, she doesn’t show much of the personality I know she has. I think a little less courtesy and a lot more personality would have only benefitted the film.

Sheen is so reliable; every role he takes is full of compassion and gravitas. He resonates with both as Uncle Ben, although Ben has a bit of a temper on him that was absent from Cliff Robertson’s version from the Raimi films. Fields plays May a little younger than previous editions, but with all of the maternal love and wisdom that she is known for – well, both Fields and Aunt May in this case.

Ifans is a fine actor in his own right but as the villain here he has a tough time. Part of the problem is that he isn’t strictly speaking a villain; he is overzealous, yes, and has a mistake born of hubris that nearly proves fatal, but for the meddling of Spider-Man! That doesn’t really make him a bad bad guy, just a vulnerable one. In fact there really isn’t anything evil here and that might be what stops me from really getting into this version; none of even the most villainous characters is without redeeming qualities. That may work for Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and other artists and writers, but it simply doesn’t work here. Basically Spider-Man is fighting a less powerful Hulk (i.e. Mr. Hyde) whom he doesn’t have the heart to take out.

Still, this is entertaining enough although I still wonder why another origin was necessary. If you want to reboot with a young high school-age Peter Parker, that’s fine (although why cast a 28-year-old man to play a 16-year-old boy?) but why not simply assume we all know that the guy was bitten by a radioactive (or in this case genetically enhanced) spider and move on from there? I understand that Columbia is planning at least three Amazing Spider-Man movies, all of which deal with the missing parents in some fashion as Parker tries to unravel the tangled threads of his past. That’s all good. Rehashing a story unnecessarily costs the movie points and that blame goes directly to the studio heads who thought it was necessary. Otherwise, Webb shows that he can direct a blockbuster as well as a small-budget indie romance and do both with charm, inventiveness and deftness.

REASONS TO GO: Garfield is a terrific Peter Parker. Follows comic book mythology a little more closely.

REASONS TO STAY: Action sequences were moving too fast to follow easily at times. Not quite up to the best moments of the first trilogy.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of comic book violence and action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anne Hathaway was originally cast as Felicia Hardy – a.k.a. the Black Cat –  but her character was eventually written out and she went on to do the similarly natured Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100. The reviews are definitely good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man

STAN LEE LOVERS: Plays an oblivious librarian listening to classical music on the headphones while the Lizard and Spider-Man engage in a raging battle behind him

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The High Cost of Living

New Releases for the Week of July 6, 2012


July 6, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

(Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Embeth Davidtz, C. Thomas Howell. Directed by Marc Webb

Peter Parker, a brilliant but somewhat outcast high school student, was abandoned by his parents as a child, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. When he finds a mysterious briefcase that his father left behind, he’s sent on a journey to Oscorp, the somewhat unbalanced one-armed scientist Curt Connors and a rendezvous with a radioactive spider.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence)

Bol Bachchan

(Fox Star) Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan, Asin Thottumkal, Prachi Desai. A Muslim breaks the lock on a Hindu temple to save a trapped child but through a series of misunderstandings is believed to be a Hindu. In order to preserve the lie, he is forced to tell more and more outrageous tales until he is trapped by his own falsehoods.

See the trailer  here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: PG (for sequences of action violence, thematic elements and brief mild language)

Katy Perry: Part of Me

(Paramount/InSurge) Katy Perry, Glen Ballard, Shannon Woodward, Rachael Markarian. A chronicle of Perry’s California Dreams Tour of 2011, during which her marriage with Russell Brand came to an end. How she coped with that loss, her relationship with her fans and the story of her perseverance in becoming a pop diva is told through interviews and archival footage. There is also, as you can imagine, plenty of concert footage from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: PG (for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking)

Savages

(Universal) Taylor Kitsch, John Travolta, Blair Lively, Salma Hayek. Two Southern California friends share a thriving Marijuana business and a girlfriend. When a particularly vicious Mexican drug cartel moves into their territory and demands that they work with them, the two friends decline, leading to a cycle of escalating violence and high stakes. Oliver Stone directs.

See the trailer and promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout)

To Rome With Love

(Sony Classics) Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg. Woody Allen’s latest takes him to the Eternal City for the first time, following a group of people – some local, others that are visitors – who fall in love, or fall out of love…or get into some pretty odd predicaments because of love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some crude sexual remarks and brief drug references)