Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Only 10 years removed from the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire collab "Spider-Man" in 2002 we get another reboot of the web slinging film franchise.  When I first heard about this new Marc Webb helmed movie "The Amazing Spider-Man" I thought that this film was greenlit about 15 years too soon.  After all, Marc Webb's greatest directing accomplishment to-date (and ONLY other major Hollywood movie) has been the quirky romantic film 500 Days of Summer .  After seeing the new Spider-Man a few days ago I must say that this film is surprisingly well-done with an amazing cast that actually eclipses each of the films in the Raimi trilogy.  Primarily thanks to Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, this Spider-Man really is amazing.

What makes this movie tick is the two leads.  While I did enjoy Maguire's performance as Spider-Man (minus all the Emo-Spidey stuff in the third Raimi film), Andrew Garfield is a much more effective Peter Parker.  He just comes across as a nerdy kid with a quiet confidence that gets magnified once he learns to control his powers.  Where Garfield really excels.  I wasn't a big fan of The Social Network but I could tell that Garfield was a talent when I saw it.  His age may hurt him as the "new" batch of Spider-Man movies progresses, but I feel that he'll be able to achieve more after his franchise run is over than Maguire was able to.

As good as Garfield is in and out of the Spidey suit, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey is a monumental upgrade over the whiny boring Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane in the Raimi movies).  Not only does she look great rocking the knee-high boots and dyed blonde hair, but as we have learned from her earlier films, Emma can act.  She turns in a smart performance as the perfect compliment and love interest to Garfield's Parker.  The producers were able to fill in the rest of the cast with accomplished and talented actors such as Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Dennis Leary and Rhys Ifans.  All of these actors nail their roles and add to the overall effectiveness of the script and Webb's direction.

It's hard to believe that this is only the second movie for Marc Webb.  He and his effects team do a fantastic job of keeping the action "realistic" and the pacing timely.  There are very few slow and boring parts in this film and all of the Spidey actions scenes are carefully thought out.  Webb does an awesome job of featuring several "point-of-view" sequences where the audience gets a first-hand-look at what swinging through New York City must feel like.  Another welcome addition to this reboot is the fact that Parker is now making his own web slinging "goo" rather than having it come organically from his arm (as Raimi's version portrays).  The webs seem more authentic and are used more effectively throughout the movie.

Other reviewers have complained about the lack of an effective villain in this Spider-Man film.  I thought Ifans did a great job as scientist Curt Connors (The Lizard) and the visual effects are expertly handled to make a human to lizard transformation seem somewhat plausible.  It'll be interesting to see where Webb and the franchise producers go from here in selecting the next villain for the series.

Believe it or not, with all due respect to the excellent Avengers film, I actually think this is the best comic book movie of the year (some Caped-Crusader guy might have something to say about that in a few weeks though).  While this is not the most original movie idea out there it's definitely executed with thought and care and doesn't feel rushed at all.  I definitely did not walk into the theater thinking that this new Spider-Man would be better than any of the three Raimi films but it actually is.  I'm back on board the Spider-Man train and look forward to the next Spidey movie with Garfield back in the suit.  A solid 4.5 out of 5 JRs for The Amazing Spider-Man.

NOTE:  I did not see this movie in 3D due to showtime conflicts.  There are several scenes that seem made for a 3D viewing audience and since the movie was indeed shot in 3D, I would recommend paying the few extra bucks to see it that way.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is without a doubt the quirkiest director in Hollywood.  His films have evolved from his 90's debut of Bottle Rocket (launching the careers of Luke and Owen Wilson) to the dysfunctional family opus The Royal Tenenbaums to the outstanding stop-motion animation of Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I have personal mixed feelings on Anderson's work.  I really enjoyed Mr. Fox and Tennenbaums but wasn't as wild about The Life Aquatic and passed on The Darjeeling Limited.

Anderson's latest offering of Moonrise Kingdom is a visually stunning simple story revolving around a group of boy scouts as two love-struck kids attempt to sneak away from society.  The entire world of Moonrise comes across as a living diorama as Anderson consistently uses detailed ornate set design and numerous horizontal tracking shots that make you feel that the entire film was made via a 6th-grade art project.  The true acting stars of this movie are a pair or unknown actors (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman) that decide to mutually sneak away from home and experience the wilderness together as they escape from the overbearing friends and family that dominate their lives.  

Anderson does a great job of assembling an all-star cast of accomplished actors to portray the aforementioned friends and family.  Bill Murray and Francis McDormand play the worrywart parents of Suzy (Hayward),  McDormand is also having a secret affair on the side with the town police chief in a brilliant understated performance by Bruce Willis who ends up befriending Sam (Gilman).  Edward Norton makes a quality debut in the Anderson universe by playing the by-the-book Scout Master Ward.  Anderson's love of the scouting word comes across in this film as he treats the tradition and procedure of the scouts with respect and reverence.  There are several key scenes that showcase the order and life-building skills that a scouting experience can provide for a young boy.

While the story itself is nothing groundbreaking and actually not that interesting at times, the supporting musical score provided by Alexander Desplat and Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh is perfect for the events unfolding on the screen.  A combination of folksy, whimsical songs mixed with a few bombastic classical orchestral compositions helps make the film seem more important and monumental than it really is.  This is the type of soundtrack I feel that I could listen to and fondly look back on the events of the movie.  Desplat and Mothersbaugh do an excellent job in scoring Moonrise Kingdom and end up turning in the best performance of the entire film.

Without a doubt this is the most intricately staged film that Anderson has attempted.  The attention to detail in each and every scene is very impressive.  Both Hayward and Gilman are excellent in their debut roles and are buoyed by an outstanding experienced cast. This is not a perfect film nor is it the most entertaining Anderson movie to-date, but Moonrise Kingdom is an above average slice of entertainment that can probably be viewed on video rather than in the theater.  Considering the film is not showing in many local theaters right now, DVD/Bluray in a couple of months is probably your best bet.  A solid 3.5 out of 5 JRs for an accomplished and typical Wes Anderson movie.  I wish that Anderson would take a step out of his comfort zone and try something a little different and less quirky in his next directorial effort.