The Amazing Spider-Man 2

 

In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Andrew Garfield seems incredibly comfortable in the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Also, his version of Peter Parker enjoys being Spider-Man more than did Tobey McGuire’s. The Spidey angst here is more about his relationship with Gwen.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 pivots back and forth between Peter’s romance with Gwen (Emma Stone) and Spider-Man’s efforts to save the world from evil. Will the couple stay apart? Can they resist the attraction? And will Spider-Man be able to contain bad guys who bring new terror to the screen?

As usual, something catastrophic happens to turn a normal person into a creature bent on doing bad things. This time it’s nerdy Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who, thanks to powerful electrical current, becomes Electro.

Honestly, I didn’t care for Electro as a villain. His powers seemed poorly defined though almost limitless. Jamie Foxx, as usual, is great but the character lacks qualities that would make him more memorable.

Harry Osborn (Dean DeHaan) is heir to the Oscorp organization and is about to segue into his Green Goblin identity. Like Foxx, DeHaan is a talented actor. But the evolution of the Green Goblin is less than satisfying.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 launches with Spider-Man trying to rein in a terrorist in a truck, Aleksei (Paul Giamatti), while also trying to make his way to a graduation ceremony where Gwen will be speaking. Giamatti’s character looks and acts like a refugee from The Road Warrior and the role fails to take advantage of Giamatti’s acting prowess.

Sally Field returns as Aunt May and, although she’s still pretty at age 67, in one shot her neck looks just awful. (Pardon my being catty.)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has action galore. The sequences with Spidey using his web spinning to move rapidly through a cityscape are, to me, more enjoyable than the scenes showing Spider-Man trying to neutralize the villains.

Director Mark Webb delivers one of my favorite shots of the year in this film. It shows Gwen falling, in very slow motion. The contrast from the high energy pace of the rest of the movie is stark.

This is not a must-see film unless you feel a personal need to catch all the tent-pole movies this spring-summer in order to keep tabs on the super heroes. TAS-M2 delivers all the movie stuff that goes well with popcorn, and it entertains, but it has shortcomings that cause it to fall short of greatness.

 

 

 

 

Saving Mr. Banks

How could Saving Mr. Banks be anything but a home run? The story of a beloved movie musical, featuring a beloved actor portraying a beloved entertainment icon would appear to be a slam dunk, no? Oh, and most of the movie is set in a place that almost all Americans of a certain age have visited or fantasized about visiting.

Sorry to report that Saving Mr. Banks is not a good as one might have expected. The making of Mary Poppins with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, set at Disneyland is a tedious story that could have benefited from a more streamlined script. The movie brings some big fun but also is overloaded with the dour disposition of author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). Walt’s best efforts to charm Travers into letting him make Mary Poppins into a Disney movie are met with strong opposition.

A movie that initially promises light-hearted fun adds in an overly long backstory that reveals why Travers is the way she is. Not that the fun stuff isn’t fun—much of it is. The songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) provide many of the film’s highlights. Travers seems to be slowly warming to the efforts of everybody on the Disney team, including her driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti), only to bolt back to London without agreeing to sell the rights to her beloved book Mary Poppins.

The back story, featuring Colin Farrell as her alcoholic father, is set in century-ago Australia. The flashbacks show us the real life inspiration for Mary Poppins, amid circumstances that are definitely not light-hearted.

Eventually, Disney travels to London in a final effort to close the deal. In the climax of Saving Mr. Banks, Disney tries to relate to Travers on a more personal basis. It’s a touching scene and audience tears will be shed.

We know going in, of course, that the film Mary Poppins was made. It was made the way Walt and his team wanted it made. Saving Mr. Banks serves as an excellent promotional tool for the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins. SMB adds to the legend of Walt Disney and is likely to increase awareness of Walt among younger generations. (There’s plenty of longtime love for the man among boomers.)

Saving Mr. Banks will likely earn Emma Thompson a best actress nomination. She’s great in a mostly unsympathetic role. And, because the industry loves movies about movies, don’t be surprised to see SMB get a best picture nod. Just don’t go to your theater expecting movie magic. It’s a solid film, but it could’ve been much better.

Cosmopolis

I almost walked out of this movie. Now, I want a copy of the script.

“Cosmopolis” is a writer’s movie. It’s a commentary on modern life (sex, violence, morals). Robert Pattinson plays Erik Packer, a currency trader who thinks he has everything figured out. David Cronenberg is the writer (who adapted his script from the novel). He is also the director.

Much of the movie is set in a slow-moving, eerily silent limo. Characters pop in and out. Packer gets out of the limo to eat and tryst. Eventually he reaches his destination—a barber shop—and moves on to a climactic encounter with a man named Benno, played by Paul Giamatti. (The exact relationship between Erik and Benno is unclear. If one is looking for symbolism, one might take him to be Erik’s conscience.)

“Cosmopolis” is filled with scriptwriter sound bites. Like: “Life is too contemporary,” “We die everyday,” “Time is a corporate asset now” and “Violence needs a verdict; it needs a purpose.” While some are effective and memorable, others are throwaways.

Pattinson, who is onscreen throughout the movie, doe not overact, thankfully. He brings an appropriate nonchalance to this strange role He also brings his “Twilight” fame which will guarantee a few ticket sales.

This is not an easy movie to watch. It has the tempo of an old radio drama with many long speeches. Those “Twilight” fans may take a pass though when word gets out that this is a challenging, tedious movie.

How tedious? Well, critic Roger Ebert, in his review of “Cosmopolis,” wrote: “You couldn’t pay me to see it again.” I won’t go that far—I believe that any movie with Giamatti in the cast is worth checking out—but I’d prefer to read the script before watching the movie again.

Rock of Ages

You will walk out of the theater humming this movie’s songs. Because you already know them all!

All musicals are at least a little a bit cheesy. Some are just more flagrant about it. “Rock of Ages” brings on plenty of cheese and has fun with it. The music is better than anticipated and script is funnier than expected.

The story, set in 1987, has all the rock’n’roll cliché themes. Girl meets boy: Julianne Hough plays Sherrie who comes to LA to be a star. She meets Drew, played by Diego Boneta. Rock is the devil’s work: Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a Tipper Gore type who wants to rid the city of rock. Rock is here to stay: Alec Baldwin is a club owner, fighting to keep his place open. You’re never too old to rock’n’roll: Tom Cruise is Stacee Jaxx, an Axl Rose type who may or may not be over the hill.

The big question people are asking: Can Tom Cruise sing? Well, yes. His versions will never replace the originals heard on St. Louis classic rock radio, but they get the job done.

Supporting cast members include Russell Brand as a club employee and Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter who interviews Stacee Jaxx and gets up close and very personal with him. Singer Mary J. Blige adds authenticity to the cast and, presumably, a bit of African-American audience appeal. Paul Giamatti is particularly sleazy as Stacee Jaxx’s manager.

“Rock of Ages” has a good balance of hard-rockin’ songs (“Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), soft-rockin’ songs (“Waiting For a Girl Like You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling”) and medium-rockin’ songs (“Don’t Stop Believin’,” “We Built This City”).

This is a fun movie. Music, dancing, laughs, romance, sex—they’re all there. It’ll rock you. Like a hurricane. (Also on the soundtrack!)