The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spider-man 2Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is loving life as Spider-man — or, at least, he’s trying to. When he’s not showing up the Russian mob he’s either investigating his parents’ disappearance, helping to support his aunt (Sally Field) by selling photos of his alter-ego to the Daily Bugle, or trying to come to terms with the death of Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary), and the promise he made to leave his daughter Gwen (Emma Stone) alone. Across town, OsCorp is in crisis; much of its research into cross-species genetics has been destroyed to appease uneasy shareholders in the wake of Dr Curt Connors’ transformation into The Lizard, leaving Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) without any means of treating his illness. To complicate matters, estranged heir apparent Harry (Dane DeHaan) has returned to the boardroom and an employee has seemingly died on the premises. When electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is reborn as Electro, and after he is apparently defeated by Spider-man, he is taken to the Ravencroft Institute for study, a secret research facility that may have ties to Peter’s father.

When Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man was released back in 2012, the general consensus was that it did not distinguish itself enough from Sam Raimi’s original trilogy to justify Sony’s decision to reboot the franchise. This is of course ridiculous; Raimi’s films concerned a mature, earnest, somewhat hapless Peter Parker who was haunted by the part he unwittingly played in the death of his uncle, while Webb’s dealt with a cocky character preoccupied by the mystery of his parents’ abandonment. There were of course other differences — The Amazing Spider-man boasted a more believable love interest and followed the Marvel model of paving the way for future instalments — but the key distinguishing factor was that Parker was essentially a different person. Inevitably, the feeling now seems to be that it’s too different. Given that there are so many iterations of the character in the comics, this too is nonsense.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 feels almost as different from its predecessor as it does from the original trilogy (in fact, the film it most closely resembles is probably Kick-Ass). Just as The Dark Knight dropped Katie Holmes and the mystic ninjas after Batman Begins, Webb’s sequel does away with the darker suit and skateboarding scenes in pursuit of an aesthetic better suiting his intentions. Unlike The Dark Knight, Webb’s sequel goes brighter and more bombastic. This is the most primary-coloured superhero film since Fantastic Four, and not at all in a bad way (this is a children’s movie after all). Opening with a plane crash that may or may not involve Richard and Mary Parker, the film cuts to Spider-man swinging through the streets of New York, combining slow-motion and 3D to astonishing effect. It’s kinetic and fun and confident, beautifully capturing the appeal of the character and proving once and for all that Webb knows his way around an action set-piece. The following sequence is one of the most exhilarating of the year so far, as Spider-man tries to prevent Aleksei Sytsevich (a scenery-chewing Paul Giamatti) from escaping the scene with stolen OsCorp technology (and the vials from escaping his speeding van) while on the phone to Gwen, who is waiting for him at graduation. Webb certainly isn’t holding back.

What’s remarkable about The Amazing Spider-man 2 is just how much personality it has — the film is wonderfully goofy and at times incredibly childish. Garfield is once again on fire, dishing out one-liners and serving up charm with an ease and effortlessness that is incredibly endearing. He’s one of the best physical comedians working today, and his manic mannerisms lend the scenes in the suit as much character and energy as those outside of it. Webb is only too happy to showcase his star’s talents at the expense of pace, and three scenes in particular — one set in a pharmacy and involving a sick Spider-man, another between Peter and Gwen as they list adorable affectations the other must stop if they are to be ‘just friends’, and a montage showing Parker returning home after various crime-fighting escapades — come as a welcome break from the plot, and give a real sense of the character’s everyday life. Peter Parker has more dimensions than ever before: he’s a high school graduate, an orphan, a devoted boyfriend to Gwen Stacy, an estranged friend to Harry Osborne and the pride and joy of his Aunt May. Not to mention New York’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-man.

Parker isn’t the only interesting character, however, and each person in his life has interests and issues of their own. Gwen, tired of Peter’s reluctance to commit (and thereby betray the promise he made to her father), decides that she wants to be the one to end their relationship, and decides to start afresh at the University of Oxford in England. It is revealed that Harry, meanwhile, is headed for an early grave due to an apparently incurable hereditary disease he has inherited from his father. Harry’s arc is particularly juicy, as he becomes convinced that Spider-man’s blood is the only answer to his problems, leading him to ask for Peter’s help in tracking the web-slinger down. There is a desperation to the new Green Goblin that makes him incredibly compelling, and Dane DeHaan’s volatile performance lends him a real menace and threat. Sally Field is also on top form, as her Aunt May takes on a second job to help pay for Peter’s higher education and is finally forced to come clean about what she knows about Richard and Mary’s research. There are a number of heart-rendering moments in The Amazing Spider-man 2, and that’s one of them.

And then there’s Jamie Foxx’s primary antagonist, Electro. While bumbling electrician Max Dillon may fail to live up to Spider-man 2‘s Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus is widely considered to be one of the great comic book movie villains) he is generally more successful than Lizard from the previous film. Dillon is clearly disturbed, displaying compulsive tendencies and delusions of grandeur. He just wants to be noticed, and when Spider-man saves him during the earlier skirmish with Sytsevich he misinterprets it as an act of friendship. Electro is created when Dillon falls into a vat of genetically engineered electric eels, and though preposterous it is a very cinematic rebirth. As OsCorp races to cover-up the incident lest Wall Street catch wind of it, Dillon sparks back to life in what appears to be an in-house morgue. Spider-man reaches out to him in Time Square, but as his image is replaced on the surrounding screens by that of the wall-crawler Dillon accuses his one-time idol of stealing the limelight. It’s not water-tight motivation, but it’s substantially different to anything we’ve seen in the series to date. Thanks to the texture of Webb’s world Dillon is not an isolated threat, and his working at OsCorp naturally leads to encounters with both Harry and Gwen.

Raimi’s movies were getting nowhere fast. At the rate of one villain apiece (at least until Spider-man 3) we were still a long way from seeing a world as vibrant and textured as that of the comic book realised onscreen. Since Webb took over the series, he has seeded his movies with subplots and supporting characters galore, each offering a new and exciting direction in which to take the narrative in future instalments. The Amazing Spider-man 2 isn’t all set-up, however, and thanks to a set of outstanding performances (Garfield and Stone once again have chemistry to spare), distinct arcs for both Peter Parker and Max Dillon (not to mention Gwen Stacy), and a truly unique score from Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams (which at one point beautifully emulates Electro’s inner monologue) it is also a thrilling, engaging and emotionally satisfying story in its own right.

4-Stars

 

 

 

 

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Kill Your Darlings (2013)

Kill Your DarlingsThings aren’t great at home: his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is suffering from schizophrenia and his father (David Cross) is determined that she be incarcerated, yet Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) decides that the time has come to enroll at university. While at the library, Lucian Carr (Dane DeHaan) interrupts his induction by mounting one of the tables and reciting from a restricted text. Ginsberg befriends Carr and is introduced to his circle of friends, comprising William Burroughs (Ben Foster), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and David Kammerer (William C. Hall), an ex lover who now writes Carr’s essays for him. Seduced by their talk of revolution (as well as Carr personally), Ginsberg agrees to help spearhead a new movement in American poetry.

While movies about authors, filmmakers and musicians are a relatively common sight in cinemas, often marketed to mainstream audiences and screened at multiplex venues, films focusing on the lives and times of poets are significantly less so. Outside of the occasional film about Edgar Allan Poe (most recently seen in The Raven) and oddball offerings such as The Libertine, the majority of films about poets do seem to focus overwhelmingly on the beat generation.

Having starred in Howl and cropped up most recently in On The Road, Allen Ginsberg is once again given the movie treatment in Kill Your Darlings, this time portrayed by none other than The Boy Who Lived himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Chronicling the beat poet’s earlier years, from his enrollment at Columbia University to his infatuation with fellow revolutionary Lucian Carr, John Krokidas’ debut overcame a troubled production to arrive on the 2013 festival circuit with appearances at Sundance and Toronto.

Radcliffe fares surprisingly well in the leading role, period clothing and a convincing American drawl helping to sell his more boyish take on Ginsberg. It’s only when he laughs that the illusion is shattered, and you begin to notice that the round glasses look uncannily like those worn by one Harry Potter. Dane DeHaan and Michael C. Hall are even more impressive, the former exuding waifish charm while the latter plays an obsessed and deluded ex who’s still helplessly under Carr’s spell. None can compete with Foster, however, who is so effective as William Burroughs that you don’t ever recognise it is him.

Although well acted and thematically strong, Kill Your Darlings is unlikely to attract audiences otherwise uninterested in the exploits of an esoteric figure from America’s literary past. Krokidas does at least attempt to widen the film’s appeal, dedicating the last act of his film to the murder of David Kammerer, but even so, the first hour of the movie is still a turgid and rather tedious exploration of what is essentially a specialty subject. This became painfully clear in the press leading up to the film’s release, as savvy editors — apparently more mindful of their audience’s interests — instead chose to focus on a short-lived snog between Radcliffe and DeHaan that the cast were clearly sick of talking about.

Kill Your Darlings is by no means without merit, but even as you admire the performances and appreciate the set decoration it is difficult to connect with the characters discussing Yeats onscreen. At one point Ginsberg is asked by his lecturer why he doesn’t take his fighting spirit to Germany where it might be better channeled into World War II, and as nice as typewriters and libraries are you can’t help but push him for an answer. “Well?”

3-Stars

 

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond The PinesAfter learning that a former lover had given birth to his son in secret, Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) quits his job as a stunt racer for a travelling circus and begins robbing banks to better support his new family — whether they want his help or not. When Glanton’s raids put him on a collision course with idealistic beat cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a chain of events are set in motion that will impact not only their own lives, but those of their children, Jason (Dane Dehaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen), too. Read more of this post

Lawless (2012)

It’s Prohibition-era Virginia, and Bondurant brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) are struggling in their illicit bootlegging business as the authorities vie for a percentage of their profits. As Jack attempts to court the disapproving daughter (Mia Wasikowska) of a local preacher aided by best friend Cricket (Dane DaHaan), Forrest finds himself falling for ex-burlesque dancer Maggie (Jessica Chastain). However, when a new special agent (Guy Pearce) arrives on the scene and Jack, tired of playing second fiddle to his brothers, crosses local gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) with moonshine of his own, profits quickly become the least of the brothers’ worries. Read more of this post

Chronicle (2012)

Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is not the most popular boy in school. Bullied by his classmates and beaten by his drunken ex-Fireman father at home, Andrew endeavours to chronicle his life with a newly acquired video camera. Talked into attending an extracurricular rave by his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), Andrew once again finds himself ostracised by his peers, leaving the party to clear spilt beer off of his camera only to be talked into filming a mysterious discovery for another student, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). Entering a nearby cave, the trio discover a strange, glowing structure which messes with their electronics and nearly buries them when the earth above them collapses. When their encounter leaves them with growing telekinetic abilities, however, Andrew finds that he is no longer at the bottom of society’s pecking order.

You might not have noticed, but 2012 looks to be more than a little superhero-heavy. With The Avengers, Spider-man and Batman set to battle it out for admits come summer, and films like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Dredd flanking the heavyweights, a newcomer such as Josh Trank’s fledgling Chronicle was always under threat of being lost in the deluge of capes and costumes. That Chronicle not only manages to impress in a cinematic landscape so saturated in superheroics, but also sets such a high bar for its better established peers to follow, is testament to the good work and talents of Trank and writer Max Landis as they endeavoured to find something new to say, and a novel way in which to say it.

While novel might not be the first word that jumps to mind when describing the found footage format at large, Chronicle manages to make the practice work for it, much in the same way that Troll Hunter did last year with its mocumentary tale of Norwegian conspiracy. Through a number of imaginative and innovative machinations, the cameras and characters are liberated from the usual hindrances of relegating one character offscreen with a barrier prop. Indeed, approximately three weeks are allowed to elapse in one cut between the acquisition and first display of the trio’s abilities, as Andrew sets about acquiring a replacement camera – just one manifestation of the filmmaker’s pursuit of realism.

Of course, it helps that Chronicle isn’t really a superhero movie after all. In a neat inversion of Kick-Ass‘ recent genre subversion, it is strictly all powers and no responsibility. Chronicle is the 28 Days Later of superhero movies, the word apparently as taboo to Trench as ‘zombie’ has become thanks to the likes of Danny Boyle. In fact, the film Chronicle most closely resembles is arguably manga masterpiece Akira (or, for slighly different – less fair – reasons, 2008 miss-step Jumper), with the trio’s relationship pushed front and centre – the newfound telekinetic powers just one element of a much deeper story. Indeed, after seeing Chronicle do it so well, I feel less strongly about ever seeing Akira realised in live action.

The three central performances are impeccable, with Dane DeHaan in particular impressing as the troubled Andrew. From passive victim to self-fashioned “apex predator”, the way in which DeHaan’s has executed his character’s development is note-perfect, the steady increase in foreboding he propagates proving one of the film’s crowning achievements. Russell and Jordan are similarly absorbing as the comparatively straight-cut but by no means less complex Matt and Steve. With early banter and camaraderie an absolute pleasure to watch, their hastily forged friendship soon fractures under pressure, aggravated by Andrew’s tumultuous and unhealthy home-life.

Sadly, while the welcome alchemy of found footage and indie superhero sensibilities might work beautifully for the majority of the film’s build up – the keen implementation such that you never question the logistics of the ever-present video camera – the two elements begin to jar as the story reaches its admittedly breath-taking climax. What once facilitated the audience’s immersion into toy store-set hi-jinx or the boys’ first flight suddenly becomes barrier-like as you are forced to watch the explosive finale from an assortment of poor quality sources at what is often a considerable distance.

Chronicle, then, probably the only quasi-superhero movie you’ll see this year to cleverly name-check Plato’s Analogy of the Cave, is a heck of a lot of fun. Admirable performances, jaw-dropping effects and a refreshing approach to an increasingly staid genre play in the film’s favour, with the sole criticism – a necessary evil – doing nothing to detract from the first hour’s indomitable success.