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

A Town Called Panic (Panique au village)


A Town Called Panic

Cowboy and Indians, Cats and Dogs…it’s all the same.

(2009) Animated Feature (Zeitgeist) Starring the voices of Stephane Aubier, Jeanne Balibar, Veronique Dumont, Bruce Ellison, Christelle Mahy, Vincent Patar, Franco Piscopo, Benoit Poelvoorde, Eric Muller. Directed by Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar

 

When you were a kid (at least if you’re my age or so), you probably spent hours, as I did, in your room playing with your plastic toys, assigning to them personalities and creating entire worlds for them to explore. You would move them around, create dialogue for them and sometimes build sets for them out of other toys, cardboard, shoeboxes, whatever you can find. Some of those playtimes were far more imaginative than anything you’d see on the Saturday morning cartoons.

The Belgian creators of A Town Called Panic realized this and decided to create a Saturday morning cartoon with the same imagination and low budget that they had as kids. Using only plastic toy figures and stop motion animation, they created a television series that was actually a series of five-minute vignettes strung out into half hour television shows. Now, they’re trying their hand at a feature film and it’s alternately charming and strange.

Cowboy (Aubier), Indian (Ellison) and Horse (Patar) live together in the small town where Panic is not just the name, it’s the attitude. Their neighbors are Steven (Poelvoorde) the Farmer and his wife Janine (Dumont) who makes her husband gigantic pieces of toast for breakfast. Horse has a thing for Madame Longree (Balibar), the equine music teacher in town.

With Horse’s birthday around the corner, Cowboy and Indian decide to build him a barbecue. They order 50 bricks over the Internet but due to a computer snafu, that order of 50 bricks becomes 50 million. Cowboy and Indian try to hide their error but the bricks eventually wind up destroying their house. Fortunately, they have enough bricks to rebuild.

But someone keeps stealing their bricks; pointy-headed creatures from the bottom of the sea who arrive through a hole in the ground. Horse, Indian and Cowboy head after them and wind up on a wacky trek to the North Pole (where they are attacked by mad scientists in a mechanical giant Penguin). In the meantime, the shy Horse has to keep giving excuses to Madam Longree why he has missed yet another music lesson.

Even the description here doesn’t do the movie justice; it’s like Gumby on acid. You’d think that a movie as zany as the one I’ve described would move at light speed but that’s not it at all; in fact, one of the main knocks against the movie that I’ve seen is that the pacing is too slow, even for a movie that is only 75 minutes long. Still, there is that out there humor that seems to appeal to Europeans more than all but a select American audience; it’s a bit sad that Americans can’t find the charm and humor as easily in a stop motion film of toys being manipulated as they do in a CGI film of toys being manipulated (i.e. Toy Story).

WHY RENT THIS: Wacky and surreal, will most likely appeal to adults more than children.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes goes over the top with it’s out of left field.

FAMILY VALUES: Very surreal which might be a bit much for kids but certainly acceptable in terms of violence, sexuality, language and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A Town Called Panic was the first stop-motion animated feature to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is the winning entry of a fan video competition.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $196,176 on an unreported production budget; chances are this wasn’t profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Toy Story

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinski

Splice


Splice

Adrien Brody has a thing for exotic chicks.

(2009) Science Fiction Horror (Warner Brothers) Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett, Abigail Chu, Jonathan Payne.  Directed by Vincenzo Natali

If man is able to create life, what separates men from God? Perhaps that would be hubris, one of man’s great sins but if one is like God, would then there be hubris naturally?

Clive Nicoli (Brody) and Elsa Kast (Polley) are both genetic engineers working for Nucleic Exchange Research and Development (N.E.R.D. – hahaha) as well as a romantic couple. At work they are trying to splice together the DNA of different animals to create unique new species for medical use. When they manage to create a female version of the new creature, the two become eager to add human DNA to an animal DNA in order to revolutionize both science and medicine but their employers, concerned about the P.R. implications of that kind of research, forbid it.

Instead, as all good mad scientists will, the two decide to carry on their research in secret and are able to successfully splice human DNA with animal DNA. They all the resulting organism Dren (Nerd spelled backwards) since Elsa refuses to refer to it as a specimen. She is in fact developing an almost maternal attitude towards the creature, which we eventually learn has Elsa’s DNA within it. The creature begins to learn and grow at an astonishing rate, maturing from child Dren (Chu) to young woman Dren (Chaneac) in weeks. After Dren attacks a lab technician who happens to be Clive’s brother Gavin (McGibon) Clive and Elsa decide to move their creation to the farm that belonged to Elsa’s late mother.

There things go from bad to worse. Dren is continuing to evolve, adding a lethal stinger and wings into her arsenal. She also has shown a tendency towards petulant violence, as well as signs of sexual awakening – and her sexual obsession is turned towards Clive. In the meantime, the previous experiment has ended in catastrophe as the two genetically spliced beings turn on each other in a violent fight that ends in both of the creatures tearing each other apart in front of a shocked audience. Have the two scientists created something beautiful – or a monster?

Director Natali is best known for The Cube (1997), one of the smartest science fiction films of the last decade. This one is no less intelligent, asking questions about scientific hubris and the process of creation as well as the morality of science as we stand on the cusp of human cloning and stem cell research.

He has a couple of fine actors to work with as well. Polley is a tremendously underrated actress who shines here as she usually does. She gives Elsa a certain amount of humanity and although Elsa has a dark past that eventually comes to light (and explains much of her actions), this is a character that could easily have been off-putting. Instead, Polley gives us a rooting interest in her.

One of the irritants of the film is that Clive’s actions become somewhat spineless as the film goes on; that isn’t Brody’s doing, but nonetheless he gives a decent enough performance. Brody always gives his characters a certain amount of intelligence, and while he hasn’t yet gotten a role equal to the part he played in The Pianist (for which he became the youngest Best Actor Oscar winner ever) he still insures a quality performance just about every time out.

Some are going to note the similarities between this film and Species and that has to be acknowledged. However, this movie takes it much further with graphic sexual elements that might disturb some. There is a bit of violence as well, but not as gory as your typical horror film.

The Dren creature is interesting, a cross between a human, a bat and a scorpion. This isn’t necessarily going to haunt to dreams, but the movie might well get under your skin. It asks some tough, provocative questions for which there are few easy answers. Even though the last reel is a bit of a disappointment (with an ending that sets up a potential sequel), the movie is still pretty solid throughout. Maybe it is a bit too smart for its own good; the American movie-going public is not particularly forgiving of movies that might make them think.

WHY RENT THIS: Much smarter than the average sci-fi or horror film. Polley and Brody give impressive performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few too many similarities to Species. Ludicrous final act.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some very strong sexuality and nudity, some violence and language and some disturbing themes and images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are references to classic Hollywood duos throughout the film. The two spliced organisms shown at the film’s beginning are named Fred and Ginger in reference to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. A vodka bottle in the lab is labeled to have specimens named Bogie and Bacall, named for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Finally, the main characters are named in honor of Colin Clive (who played Dr. Frankenstein) and Elsa Lanchester (who played the Bride) from Bride of Frankenstein.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.9M on a $30M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore