Tag Archives: Movies

Amazing, in a one-sided kind of way

Even with the way that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” phones in an attempt at deep characterization with its antagonists (Electro and Harry Osborne), it’s hard for me to see the movie as a failure.   Its being chalked up to that is more about it not being exponentially profitable, rather than its critical reception. But as much as I appreciate a big screen version of Spider-Man so close to the one in the comics, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” just isn’t as cohesive and thematically sound as its predecessor.

What shines through in the sequel is the buoyancy of a character whose life could easily be defined by tragedy. The Andrew Garfield iteration of Spider-Man has that in an extroverted way that’s thrilling to see in a live-action format. And between him and Emma Stone playing Gwen Stacy, they form the movie’s most successful dynamic — one that’s particularly refreshing in the framework of what Spider-Man movies have been, as Gwen is this amazing young woman who would have fallen in love with Peter Parker even if he had never become Spider-Man. It’s hard to the say the same for Mary Jane as written in the first “Spider-Man” film.

There’ve been a few great versions of Peter Parker outside of film (mostly animated), and a hallmark has been that Spider-Man, for all of his joking, is a character who genuinely tries to reason with any villain he can see some good in — or at least this is where some of his more interesting, endearing moments have come into play. Comics can feature a pretty black and white kind of world, and if all there is for Spider-Man to do is web indistinguishable thieves and beat nefariously one-dimensional super villains, that’s just not a solid platform for storytelling that speaks to the human condition.

The scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Spidey saves the life of Max Dillon (the future Electro as played by Jamie Foxx) is a solid attempt at making Spidey likeable, but after Max’s transformation — when Spider-Man is getting through to a pre-rampaging Electro until an overzealous cop sends him reeling — that’s it. Spider-Man doesn’t try to reason with him ever again, which isn’t the case with how he relates to the Lizard (who was the villain in the first film). Of course, Max is (a bit) more of a stranger than Dr. Curt Conners was to Peter, and there’s less of the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic.   But Max all too quickly becomes an embodiment of bitterness, with the reasons for this having been set up as minimally as possible: a balding black man with a comb-over (though that much was supposedly Jamie Foxx’s decision), someone with self-image issues who is obviously partly defined by frequently being ignored and powerless. Harry Osbourne (the movie’s other underdeveloped antagonist) can make an appeal to Max-as-Electro’s humanity, but Spidey can’t? After Max becomes Electro, Gwen is the only character who keeps cares the tiniest bit about who he was before that.

More than in any other Spider-Man movie, this Peter Parker has a chasm between his world and those of his antagonists. As affecting as the Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy storyline is, it would have been even more so if more time had gone into developing both the antagonists and the idea that, as hard as he might try, Spider-Man can’t juggle everything. The movie’s script isn’t deep enough to show him trying.

Even coupled with that, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is still enjoyable thanks to Garfield, Stone and company. There’ve been rumors that Garfield will be replaced in whatever the next Spider-Man would be, and that’d be unfortunate. He’s already done a thoroughly great job with whatever material he was given. And as much as he’s a fan of the comics character, he’s a fan of the idea of Spider-Man, whom he said “maybe … represents the underdog and those marginalized, those who come up against great prejudice…”

(The source of that one quote:  http://collider.com/andrew-garfield-jamie-foxx-interview/ )

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divergence from dreams

If you’re watching the “Divergent” trailers and you replace the word “divergent” with “special,” the appeal of every big YA property is pretty much summed up — though it’s unusual that the metaphor is so thinly veiled. And now that I have your attention(ha!), I can write about something that matters more to me.

Most people have dreams, and while some people never work at actualizing them in any long-term sense, it’s surreal when you see people who do give up on them. I feel cheap for even writing “dreams,” with shows like “The X-Factor” having made that term even glossier than the old Disney trope. Those dreams seem to require some combination of luck and specialness, or lucky specialness. We all have them at some point, but the more realistic kind of dream, in which perseverance and skill can get us to some better way of living, often requires a bit more luck than we’d like to think.

Never mind that some dreams depend on how much you can fit into some template, and that, if you don’t, you have to reconcile with such. It’s hard to time to develop much of anything without some kind of inspiration; it’s a luxury, for sure, and the conditions that are conducive to such are more support than some people have.  I suppose sometimes working at one’s dreams feels like you’re one of those donkeys with a carrot on a stick extended just beyond your reach — except you’re a bit more self-aware.

It’s hard to be self-actualized when the world doesn’t really work with you a whole lot. I once listened to someone talk about the art that people who had (and often were considered) nothing created, in contrast to privileged calls for a need for this or that to properly do anything. The point was clear, but there was no consideration for just how more appreciated the privileged perspective would obviously be on their own venues. And the new venues — they’re often a popularity contest.

It’s unfair that you have to work with a world that often doesn’t work with you, but the gap that you fill as you do so makes for something with a lot more substance/heart. I’m not going to conclude this with some super optimistic bent, because it can be harder to maintain any real sense of heart when you’re not privileged. (And yet, often the privileged just manage a semblance.) All I can do is tip my hat that you keep making the world a better place to be, working at your dreams or not, just by being in it.  I hope that you can keep producing art, though, and that we find ourselves laughing at those “Divergent” commercials and then laughing a little harder when we see that someone else gets how funny they can be.

Get thee behind me, Cupid

R. Pinero art

R. Pinero art

Almost time for Valentine’s Day again, which means it’ll be hard to avoid all the wuv: the schmaltzy stuff of destiny as portrayed in movies like a well-timed “Winter’s Tale.”  In such epic tales of romance, love is the virtuous domain of a dreamer — a handsome dreamer who dares to love a woman in the prime of her beauty!

And you thought there were no noble dreams left.

Truthfully, those of us plugged into most cultures have been influenced to have a similar dream, with the same flimsy sensibilities.  Cupid would have us happily fluttering around a glowing light, oblivious to anything else — until that light doesn’t quite glow the way it used to.  Any love worth celebrating isn’t so fickle or shallow.

So if you haven’t bought into wuv, maybe being single on Valentine’s Day is kinda sorta noble.  Or at least, knowing you shouldn’t care if you happen to be.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

a note on ‘Life Itself’

If you ever followed Roger Ebert’s movie reviews, you might like to know there’s a documentary being made about him.  It’s being done by Steve James, the director of two projects that Ebert loved (“Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters”).  James is raising money to finish the post-production of “Life Itself” at Indiegogo http://igg.me/at/EbertMovie, and if you have the notion, check out or pass the link along.

I’ve written as much before: “At the Movies” with Siskel and Ebert (and then later Ebert with others) wasn’t a constant for me due to syndication weirdness, but as a kid who never had cable it was the most intelligent and thoughtful commentary around.  And even when I was able to see what cable had to offer, it retained those qualities.

Oh, and since I’m out of days on my page-a-day calendar, I guess it’s a new year.  I’ll miss that last Dilbert strip I’d colored in, but I suppose I could always just create my own.

Jackie Chan on villian casting

“When I was casting the pirates, they brought up all black guys.  I said, ‘No!’  I want Japanese, Thai, everybody.  I want to show the whole world that there are good people and bad people everywhere.” —  Jackie Chan, from a Collider.com interview with Sheila Roberts

Last four endings selected in contest to finish Roger Ebert’s short story

Among the last four entries selected by rogerebert.com as part of their contest to complete a short story by Roger, check out my own. And then check out the other three (’cause reading is fundamental) and vote for the one you like best!

How my ending begins:

“A failed Mozart?” Alex said. “That sounds like an empiricist’s nightmare. Throw him and his star-speckled wig on your science-fiction cover, Mason.”

Mason smiled a little. “Why not? Maybe all the space girl needs is an intermediator, someone who speaks the molecules’ language.”

As the waitress brought Regan the last piece of apple crumb cake, Regan tapped the bridge of her nose. “Thank you! I mean, mostly the waitress and Claire, of course. No offense to you space boys.”

“None taken,” Elliot said.

Find all of the entries here:

http://www.rogerebert.com/chazs-blog/the-thinking-molecules-of-titan-the-final-batch-of-four-endings

Gotta note: the great illustration above is by Krishna Bala Shenoi and was done for my own little ending (He’s done some really cool stuff for each of the others selected, as well).

That’s all for now. Have a good day and/or night, folks.

‘The lack of …’

“The lack of diversity, specifically in genre films and the superheroes our kids grow up watching and emulating, they can’t really identify with.  When you see the same thing, over and over again, and it seems not to speak of you and your heritage and your culture, it leaves you out of this world, a little bit.” — via Christina Radish’s great interview with Djimon Hounsou at Collider.  It touches on his role in Guardians of the Galaxy and more.