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So we all know the story. Timid teen, Peter Parker, while on a school outing, is bitten by a radioactive spider and transformed into the wisecracking, web slinging hero, Spider-Man. Just ten years after the first of Sam Raimi's trilogy was released in theaters (and five years after the third, less loved one was released) Sony has decided to reboot the franchise and give audiences The Amazing Spider-Man. How does this "fresh" new outing stack up?
The story this time around is pretty much the same as the first, the key differences being that now there is an overarching mystery involving Peter's missing (or dead) parents, and Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane has been replaced by Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy. Other than that this movie touches on just about all the same beats that Sam Raimi did back in 2002.
The cast is truly (well, mostly) inspired. Andrew Garfield was a great pick for the titular Peter/Spidey, likewise Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. The special effects this time around are top notch, not nearly as cartoony looking as they were in the Raimi trilogy. I found the web slinging particularly well done. What else? After all the cock-teasing in the first three films, the Lizard was finally on screen, though he's never referred to as such.
And that's about as much praise as I can think to heap upon this film's shoulders. While the cast looks great, they are given very little to work with. Peter this time around is more emo than nerd. Director Marc Webb shows his strength at helming angst driven leads (see his directorial debut, Days of Summer), but this is a superhero film, not a teen drama. Peter skateboards around school, sits with his head down in class, stammers worse than the lovechild of Kristen Stewart and Shia LaBeouf, and never passes up an opportunity to mouth off to authority figures. This isn't the likeable, shy, responsibility burdened Peter Parker of the comics (or even the first movie). This is some dick teenager.
The filmmakers got Emma Stone to look like Gwen Stacy, right down to the skirt and knee high boots. But she never rises above generic love interest #67. Martin Sheen is cast to play one of the most important characters in the Spider-Man mythos, but his story is so thoroughly glossed over that they might as well have cut it out all together. Sally Fields is equally as peripheral as Aunt May. Rhys Ifans plays Curt Conners aka The Lizard, and besides being the film's villain there isn't anything to say about him. And Dennis Leary... poor, underused Dennis Leary...
I'm not a fan of the Raimi Spider-Man films but this movie actually made me miss those. Campy as they were, it cannot be denied that they were fun. This movie feels so joyless and corporate. It's Spider-Man for heaven's sake. Where's the whimsy? Where's the fun? The film is so brooding and miserable, yet features a giant talking lizard-man and a kid swinging around in bright blue and red tights. They can cast Jamie Foxx in their movie if they want, but unless Sony announces that they've replaced Marc Webb with a better director (and get rid of screenwriter James Vanderbilt while your at it Sony) they can count me out for the sequel.
To quote Rotten Tomatoes, Contagion is, "tense, tightly plotted, and bolstered by a stellar cast," but after walking out of the theater I can't help but wonder if the critics watched the same movie I did.
Contagion's plot is that a mysterious virus has appeared and is threatening the gobal population. We follow several members of the CDC, including Lawrence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and Marion Cotillard, a zealous blogger played by Jude Law, and an everyman played by Matt Damon. While the CDC is trying to find the origin of the plague as well as a means to stop its spread and cure it, Jude Law is attempting to make the CDC look like they're only in it for themselves and the pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile Matt Damon is stuck in the middle to view the chaos that ensues as a result of the panic in the streets.
I'm going to get the positives out of the way first. The film is acted well enough. It's well paced and sets the appropriate tone for its subject matter. The idea that a virus can appear from seemingly nowhere and start killing millions within a few short months is terrifying stuff. I would hate to turn on the news and hear reports that any random encounter in the street could potentially get me fatally ill. It's also cool to see a realistic depiction of how the world health organizations would handle such an outbreak.
Unfortunately that is all the movie has going for it. The cons are a little more numerous. It's hard to know where to start. The cast is A-list but none of them are properly characterized. A good few of them are even pointless to the plot (I'm looking at you Marion Cotillard). Characters pop up out of nowhere to try and add some human drama to the story but mostly its just irritating because they are just another distraction from the main focus of the story.
Spoiler Alerts! Why should I care that Gwyneth Paltrow was cheating on Matt Damon before the virus took her when the movie never shows us what their relationship was like? Why is Matt Damon immune and why don't they try to use his blood to find a cure? Wait, he has a daughter from a previous marriage? Lawrence Fishburne is engaged to Sanaa Lathan? How come we never hear about her before she suddenly appears on screen? Why is Marion Cotillard in this film since her character disappeared for a large portion of it only to randomly appear once more and run off to never be seen/heard from again?
I could go on and on. This script feels like a first draft that somehow got the OK to be filmed before any edits or rewrites. A drama is only compelling when you know who the characters are. Why should I care about these people when I don't know what any of them are motivated by? The movie also goes on for half an hour longer than it needed to.
Contagion is an example of a good idea with bad execution. With some rewrites, edits, and the removal of certain characters this movie could have been a really good medical thriller. As it stands however it's just a great concept done poorly. Better luck next time Soderbergh.
It's been a long time coming, but the last "The Avengers" tie-in film has finally been released in the form of "Captain America: The First Avenger."
The story stays fairly true to the iconic character's origins in the pages of Marvel's comic. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a small man w/ a big heart and loads of courage, is chosen by German-American scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) to be the first in what is supposed to be a line of super soldiers to combat the Nazis during World War II. Rogers is transformed and finds himself w/ a body to match his spirit (which is to say really beefed up). It's a good thing too because across the seas the evil Johann Schmidt a.k.a the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is building his own private army to take Hitler's spot as global bad guy.
Evans, to me, makes for a better Cap than Human Torch. He's good at the handsome frat boy thing but not many people are aware that he can be the straight arrow too (I can't wait to see how he and Robert Downey Jr. interact). Hugo Weaving was born to play villains like the Red Skull so I didn't expect him to be bad. The rest of the cast delivered solid performances, w/ some of the better turned in by Sebastian Stan as Bucky, Haley Atwell as Peggy Carter, and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips. I'd have more to say about them but their characters weren't much more than simple archetypes.
With a bit more fine tuning this could have been a stand-alone picture on the same lines as "Iron Man," but there are too many undeveloped plot points. For example, what was Red Skull's plan? I know he was using the power of the cosmic cube to power his weapons, but what exactly was he trying to do? It is never really explained. There were characters from the comics thrown in just to wink at the audience (I'm looking at you Dum Dum Doogan) and the last act confrontation is very ho hum.
I won't be too hard on the script. Considering the last movie scripted by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen Mcfreely was the most recent "Chronicles of Narnia," "Captain America" could have been a lot worse, and this is the kind of story that director Joe Johnston seems comfortable bringing to life (see "The Rocketeer"). It's just too bad the movie is never more than the sum of its parts. It succeeds as a solid action film and tie-in to "The Avengers," but fails to be its own entity. Still, it's worth checking out.
For the most part I've loved every horror/fantasy film Guillermo del Toro has attached his name to, even the ones - like this - that he didn't direct. This film unfortunately just wasn't as good as I was hoping it would be. I can't say I disliked Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, but I definitely left the theater wanting more.
The story follows Sally (Bailee Madison), a bratty little girl who is sent to live w/ her father Alex (Guy Pierce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) because mommy needed a little "me-time." Alex is renovating an old manor in hopes to sell it, because who wouldn't want their own drab mansion complete w/ a foggy garden,wall- mounted animal heads, and a creepy basement w/ paintings of trees handing frightened children to an eager, hungry, and beady-eyed darkness? Soon after hearing terrifying whispers from a bolted furnace in the basement, Sally figures the smart thing to do is open said furnace, releasing hundreds of miniature goblin/tooth fairy/things. Now she has to convince her father and Kim that she's in real danger and not just an annoying child actor, before the creatures eat her teeth, or turn her into one of them, or something, the movie isn't quite sure.
This movie definitely captures the look and feel of a genuinely chilling, Gothic horror story. Its pace never drags once the creatures start whispering, and the cast does well enough w/ the material (though Guy Pierce seemed to be sleepwalking through the finale). The CG is pretty good too and the creatures are truly the stuff of nightmares. Still, the movie cannot overcome its two major flaws; the script by del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins, and the cliches of the genre.
In order for horror films to work, the intelligence of the characters needs to be dialed back, even more so if a child is the focus. Unfortunately you then have a cast you can't sympathize w/ because they're all retarded. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know when I was a kid, no matter how angsty I was, I never jumped at the chance to harken to the beck and call of strangers, least of all ones I can't see because they're LOCKED IN A FURNACE. Still, they had to get out somehow so harken to them Sally does, and now the audience has to endure the typical, "monsters no adult sees frames kid for all the mayhem" hijinks. We also get the typical "man refuses to listen to his own child and the woman he loves" schlock as well. It's all so tired and irritating, and it tends to take you out of the movie.
Then there's the story. I admire Guillermo's attempt to add more depth to the creatures and their origin that we didn't get in the TV movie, but the whole connection to the tooth fairy and the desire for teeth was unnecessary. It is made to appear that teeth are their reason for chasing Sally, but by the end this turns out not to be the case. Then when we find out what they really want it turns out they didn't specifically need her and could have taken anyone. So why all the clamor for teeth? Did these creatures really have to be tooth fairies as well? I don't think so.
In the end Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a passable, if not lackluster, horror film. It is definitely better than the latest "Final" Destination and I'd recommend it to fans of the genre. There are some good scares and relatively new director Troy Nixey brings the best he can out of the cast, but the genre cliches and shaky plot may leave you a bit disappointed.