Popcorn Addict’s 2012: Best Use Of 3D

Having now seen seven of the nine films nominated for Best Picture at the 85th Academy Awards, I am more convinced than ever that the film most worthy of the accolade is Ang Lee’s groundbreaking 3D extravaganza Life Of Pi.

It’s been a bumpy road for 3D, a longstanding film format that has had a hard time overcoming accusations of gimmickry  With the oft-quoted hindrance of light-loss and the miniturisation effect that result from the various types of glasses, it is seen by many to be seen as a nuisance rather than a novelty.

As a fan of 3D, I often find myself butting horns with skeptics who refuse to see the artistic merit of this particular medium. While IMAX is hailed as the future, 3D is relegated to the past. Luckily for my argument that it is actually (and rightfully) here to stay, Lee hasn’t been the only filmmaker this year to showcase 3D at its very best.

Helicarrier Hell — Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

HelicarrierIt’s widely accepted that stereoscopy works best in films with airborne action sequences — such as James Cameron’s Avatar and DreamWorks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon — and the Hellicarrier sequence in Marvel’s Avengers Assemble is a truly spectacular case-in-point. The entire set-piece — which sees Captain America dodging grenades, Iron Man repairing external damage and Hulk playing leapfrog with S.H.I.E.L.D jets — is added an extra level of jeopardy by the dizzying use of 3D.

Rooftop Handstand — The Amazing Spider-man

The Amazing HandstandI’ve already sung this film’s praises, both in my original review and another post looking at the better uses of the third dimension, but it bares repeating. Whatever the film’s structural weaknesses, it is in moments such as this that its winning spirit renders such issues moot. Where Marc Webb trumps predecessor Sam Raimi is in the way he captures the sheer wonder of wall-crawling, web-slinging life, and this particular sequence captures the fun and the freedom that the character of Spider-man embodies.

Fall From Grace — Dredd

Dredd 3DAs impressive as Dredd was, it was the scenes shot as if under the impression of the film’s SloMo drug that used stereoscopy to the best effect. One scene in particular — following a climactic confrontation in the film’s third act — features one of the film’s primary antagonists falling down a shaft at the centre of Ma-Ma’s Peach Trees compound, emphasising the size of the fall beautifully.

Opening Sequence — Rise Of The Guardians

Jack FrostDreamWorks Animation’s second and final release of 2012, Rise Of The Guardians told the story of a group of legendary figures forced  to unite against a returning bogeyman. Seeing it initially in Russian, I appreciated the winsome score and dazzling visuals all the more as I struggled with the film’s Russian dub. The introduction of Jack Frost — as well as a tracking shot introducing the Tooth Fairy through one of her hummingbird helpers — proved one of the most remarkable sequences of last year.

The Sinking Ship — Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi 3DAs its eleven Academy Awards nominations might suggest, Life Of Pi is by far the the most critically successful entry on this list. In addition to earning praise for its lead actor’s performance and stunning visuals, it was also one of very few films to be commended for its innovative use of stereoscopy. After teasing his own approach to the technology with a skyward shot  from the bottom of a French swimming pool, Lee’s eye for visual depth comes into its own the moment Pi hits the oceanic water as the Japanese freighter carrying his family sinks before him.

And the winner is: Life Of Pi

You can see the rest of Popcorn Addict’s 2012 here.

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Films of the Year – 2012

If there was one word to best sum up 2012 in film, chances are it would be “disappointing”.

Everything seemed to disappoint this year, whether it was Ridley Scott’s muddled Prometheus, Christopher Nolan’s nonsensical The Dark Knight Rises or Peter Jackson’s endless The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Of course, when anything is as hyped as these tent-pole releases tend to be, they are unlikely to ever meet audience’s towering expectations, let alone surpass them. They are only films after all.

But when you look back over the cinematic landscape of 2012, it is surprising just how many movies came close, or bypassed hype altogether. Here, then, are my films of the year.

10. Ill Manors

10. ill ManorsConsidering that I dislike gangster movies, hate rap and have only the basest understanding of who Ben Drew actually is, I think it’s safe to say that I was not expecting to like Ill Manors. In actual fact, the movie is one of the most powerful and affecting of any I have seen this year, with an array of incredible performances and unforgettable characters weaving the various plot threads into one heart-stopping whole.

9. Rise Of The Guardians

9. Rise Of The GuardiansWhile Pixar continue to fall from grace at a pretty staggering pace, DreamWorks Animation have been steadily rising from the ashes ever since they laid Shrek to rest. While Madagascar 3 entertained and impressed, it was November’s Rise Of The Guardians that showed the full extent of the studios abilities. Like 2010’s triumphant How To Train Your Dragon, Guardians combines the talents of a master filmmaker, a celebrated cinematographer and an accomplished composer to truly dazzling effect.

8. The Imposter

8. The ImposterHaving unfortunately missed The Imposter at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, I eventually caught up with it later in the year — and I’m incredibly glad that I did. Treating the true story at its centre like a bona fide thriller, director Bart Layton ramps up the tension to near-unbearable levels as the unfolding events continue to get stranger and stranger. It is not only the story itself, but the expert combination of archive footage, talking heads and dramatisation that set this apart of any other documentary released this year.

7. A Dangerous Method

7. A Dangerous MethodFor many, 2012 has been something of a lackluster year for David Cronenberg. Removed from the body horror from which he has made his name, A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis were far more cerebral affairs that many found turgid and uninvolving. I found A Dangerous Method to be anything but, as a triad of amazing performances from Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender bring to life one of the most interesting and important relationships in all of science.

6. Skyfall

6. SkyfallAfter twenty-two months and twenty-two Bonds, I was all but ready to put Ian Fleming’s secret agent behind me. After the forced fierceness of Casino Royale and its infamous footnote Quantum Of Solace, the franchise had apparently run out of steam just in time for its fiftieth anniversary. Not so, as it happens. Instead, Sam Mendes has produced the definitive Bond movie, one that does away with the threads left dangling at the end of the previous film, re-embraces the various series tropes and sets the scene for what looks to be a bright and brilliant future.

5. The Paperboy

5. The PaperboyI realise that Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy is not slated for UK release until March of next year, but I couldn’t help include it as one of my own cinematic highlights of 2012. A scuzzy and slightly surreal crime drama that puts the case of a potentially innocent prisoner in the hands of the Jensen brothers (as played by Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron), The Paperboy is a film that really must be seen to be believed. Not only will it change forever the way that you look at its leading men, but it coaxes a career-best performance from Nicole Kidman and a turn from John Cusack that suggests that he might even be able to act.

4. ParaNorman

4. ParaNormanFrom Laika, the studio that brought us 2009’s Coraline, ParaNorman is one of three stop-motion animations (and, incidentally, three Halloween-themed children’s movies) released this year. It is also the fourth best film of 2012. Combining a great voice cast, a witty script and some surprisingly adult subtext, ParaNorman goes far beyond simply being a great animated children’s movie. It’s just a shame that more people didn’t see it.

3. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

3. The AvengersWhile the surprisingly staid opening twenty minutes might rob Marvel’s Avengers Assemble of first and second place, the remaining two-and-a-bit hours are so utterly wonderful that it ceases to be a problem. Uniting four separate film series into one mega-franchise, Marvel have potentially revolutionised the way blockbusters are made. The most fun that you are likely to have in the cinema this year, Joss Whedon’s film (the third highest-grossing OF ALL TIME) showcases the superhero genre at its very best.

2. Life  Of Pi

2. Life Of PiAng Lee — never one to back away from a challenge — this year filmed the unfilmable to bring cinema audience Life Of Pi, the astonishing story of a young Indian boy stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger. Although it has (rightfully) made headlines for its luscious visuals and unparalleled use of  3D, it is the films core narrative — along with its meditations on life, faith and nature — that make it such a resounding success. Oscars take note, newcomer Suraj Sharma delivers the year’s best performance as Piscine Molitor Patel: Christian, Hindu, Muslim, survivor.

1. Chronicle

1. ChronicleWhile Joss Whedon’s The Avengers combines smarts, spectacle and spirit in what must surely be the ultimate superhero movie, Chronicle‘s Josh Trank takes a different track with his own super-powered teens. A low-budget, found-footage genre piece, Chronicle instead focuses on the relationship between two contrasting cousins following their inexplicable acquisition of telekinetic abilities. Darker even than Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, Trank’s film — written with verve by Max Landis — is also moving, funny, inspiring, entertaining, honest, insightful, brave, disturbing and utterly, utterly compelling.

11. The Hunger Games 12. The Cabin In The Woods 13. Grabbers 14. Cloud Atlas 15. The Amazing Spider-man 16. Margaret 17. Dredd 18. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower 19. Premium Rush 20. Liberal Arts

Popcorn Addict’s 2012: Best On-screen Chemistry

Best On Screen Chemistry 2012

As the British Independent Film Awards and Los Angeles Film Critics Awards this week demonstrated, award season is already underway, a whole three months before it will reach its sparkly zenith in the 85th Academy Awards on February 25th, 2013.

While the likes of Berberian Sound Studio, The Master, Armour and Zero Dark Thirty are already being honoured for their perceived achievements in direction, cinematography and sound design, however, other films are again being left out by categories that seem to skim over other, equally worthy accomplishments in feature filmmaking.

After all, what was the most fun you had at the cinema this year? Was it appreciating excellent feats of editing? Perhaps you enjoyed a particular use of lighting? Or was the highlight of your year to do with a cinematographer’s frisson for framing? I’m not saying these are not important contributing factors, but there are other things I remember more than a well-designed costume.

As such, this month I will be running my own categories, featuring five nominees and one winner of my own choosing. First up is Best On-Screen Chemistry, because how are you supposed to care about a particular friendship, familial bond or relationship if the actors on-screen do not care about it themselves.

Kelly MacDonald and Emma Thompson – Brave

I had a number of problems with this year’s Pixar release — be it the frankly wasted supporting cast, the horribly jarring Julie Fowlis soundtrack or the sudden, slightly anticlimactic resolution — but there’s no denying that Brave delivered where it really mattered: a touching and untraditional (for Hollywood at least) central relationship between a mother and daughter. While both vocal performances are worthy of individual acclaim, together they resulted in one of the most moving maternal bonds this (or any other) year has had to offer. Not bad for a kid’s cartoon, even if we are talking about the same animation studio that brought us Toy Story 2 and Wall.E.

Alex Russell and Dane DaHaan Chronicle

With so many superhero movies slated for release in 2012, writer Max Landis and director Josh Trank were always going to have to deliver something pretty special if they were going to stand up to the likes of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble and DC’s The Dark Knight Rises. While the found footage gave it some novelty and the low-budget special effects gave it its edge, it was really the relationship (and relationship breakdown) shared between its three leads that made it such a blockbuster breakthrough. In particular, the turbulent kinship of Russell’s confident Matt and DeHaan’s insecure Matthew was one of the most engaging, well observed and ultimately tragic of this year.

Daniel Craig and Judi Dench Skyfall

For fifty years now James Bond has been painted as a suited, suave, slightly simple secret agent, who is by and largely as woefully undeveloped as he was when he first hit the screen in Dr. No. While each actor has brought his own air to the character, only Daniel Craig has really bothered to breathe some back-story into 007. With Quantum Of Solace well and truly sullying the memory of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, Sam Mendes was going to struggle to find a Bond girl worthy of such a momentous outing. In pairing Craig not with some leggy starlet but with the wonderful Judi Dench, Skyfall was finally able to explore some new — and actually interesting — facets of Bond’s psyche.

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill 21 Jump Street

Good comedy is hard to pull off, as Adam Sandler and Kevin James have spent the entirety of their careers trying to demonstrate. In order to make the jokes work, they have to be grounded in something approaching a recognisable scenario, otherwise they can’t succeed in subverting  audience expectations. That last sentence makes it all the more surprising for me to admit that this relatively short list of successful examples now includes a situation in which Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops at a local high school, in a reboot of a 1987 TV series no less. The truth is, however, that both Hill and Tatum display some hitherto unforeseen comedy-chops in what turned out to be one of the funniest films of the year.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone  The Amazing Spider-man

There have been few cinematic pleasures this year quite as delightful as the blossoming romance between Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. While The Avengers went for goofy humour and The Dark Knight Rises opted once again for Nolan’s now trademark monotone seriousness, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man did something relatively novel for a superhero movie: it charmed the pants off of almost everybody who saw it. While Webb delivered on the stunts and turned in a story that was at the very least comprehensible, the relationship he directed between Garfield and Stone elevated the film to something much more than the cynical reboot of a decade-old superhero movie it was always presumed to be. Considering that one of the most iconic moments from Sam Raimi’s original was an upside-down kiss in the rain, it is all the more impressive that Garfield and Webb’s incarnation of the titular-webslinger now feels so utterly definitive.

And the award goes to: The Amazing Spider-man

The Worst of 2012: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Savages

Top Ten Memorable 3D Moments

Ever since James Cameron almost single-handedly changed cinema projection forever, by necessitating a world-wide overhaul of equipment and systems to facilitate his 3D extravaganza, Hollywood has seemed determined to cash-in on this most recent (though hardly new) dimension.

Unfortunately, audiences have proven far less enthusiastic about the additional charge for glasses, considerable light-loss and tacked-on gimmickry that seems to have come hand-in-hand with the 3D format. With the situation exacerbated by low quality, last minute conversions in post-production, cinemas have seen profits wane as customers favour the traditional 2D versions of the latest releases.

But while 3D might not be the future of cinema as was prematurely forecast, it can nevertheless add to the cinemagoing experience when done correctly. Films shot in the format, by a director who knows what he or she is doing, can produce some stunning results, create a more immersive environment and go a long way towards justifying the additional costs. Here are ten examples of 3D done right.

10. My Bloody Valentine – The Naked Mile

A throwback of sorts to the format’s gimmicky heyday, My Bloody Valentine is a schlocky slasher that throws just about everything it has in the prop department at the screen, and by extension the audience too. The most memorable scene from the movie features not material assets, however, but those of supporting actress Betsy Rue. Attempting to escape the film’s killer at an out-of-town motel, Rue inadvertently treats audiences to one of the longest, most gratuitous nude scenes to ever grace mainstream multiplexes.

9. The Amazing Spider-man – Two Fingers To Gravity

While Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man was prematurely dismissed by many as a cynical and unneccessary reboot of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy (which was barely a decade old at the time), there is still plenty to admire in the wall-crawler’s most recent outing. One of the film’s biggest strengths, in addition to the warm chemistry generated between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, is Webb’s use of 3D. One scene in particular–involving a costume-free Peter Parker doing a handstand atop one of Manhattan’s tallest skyscrapers, before diving off the end–would leave many a fanboy clambering for the rooftop if only they had Parker’s abilities and OsCorp’s industrial webbing.

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II – Courtyard Apocalypse

Having run out of time to convert Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I into 3D ahead of its 2010 release, Warner Bros. were able to apply the extra dimension to the final instalment in the decade-spanning Harry Potter franchise. Although the battle of Hogwarts in its entirety makes solid use of the format, a single tracking shot of Harry, Ron and Hermione crossing one of the school’s many courtyards as wizards, giants, Acromantula and enchanted suits of armour do battle around them almost has you ducking and dodging with the three struggling heroes.

7. Coraline – Garden State

Split between the muted real world and a vibrant alternate reality, Henry Selick’s stop-motion sees Coraline seduced by her Other Mother. While this idealized version of her boring home-life eventually falls into decay and ruin, the early scenes are full of magic and wonder as Coraline is introduced to more attentive, sympathetic and exciting versions of her family and friends. On a tour through her Other Father’s manicured flower beds, she comes face-to-face with a giant praying mantis-esque contraption that will stay in your mind long after the garden has withered.

6. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – You’re Bantha Poodoo

Re-released on February 9th, 2012, The Phantom Menace was once again savaged by critics and fanboys who saw it as a cynical cash-in by George Lucas and yet another personal assault on the memory of his cherished original trilogy. While the dialogue is still terrible and the performances just as wooden, the film’s strengths have always been its franchise-best score and spectacular special effects. While John Williams’ work remains untouched by the 3D overhaul, the various set-pieces are enhanced as the numerous areal attacks spill out of the big screen. In particular, the much publicised pod race excites and impresses anew as the racers flit around the breathtaking backdrop of rocky Tattooine.

5. Step Up 4: Miami Heat – Pimp My Ride

While the previous instalment boasts some particularly impressive dance numbers and is undeniably the better movie, Step Up 4: Miami Heat wins hands-down as a great example of the format’s careful implementation. Capturing each and every performer as they dance through the film’s many set-pieces, the 3D brings the performances to life in a way that 2D never quite could. A mix of dancing and performance art, the bigger scale and more scenic Miami settings help to create a number of moments that are quite simply stunning. This is best exampled in an early flash mob that sees The MOB hold up a busy street as they dance across the hoods of suped-up cars.

4. Hugo – Safety Last!

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a celebration of cinema in all of its forms. Set in 1930s Paris, the film explores the early beginnings of cinema (through the works of Georges Méliès) using state of the art computer graphics and cutting edge 3D technologies to bring the sets–which include almost every square inch of the Gare Montparnasse–to life. Perhaps the most bewitching scene recreates Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor’s Safety Last!, as Hugo hangs precariously from the hands of the station clock in an attempt to hide from the ever-vigilant Station Inspector.

3. Piranha – Fellate-O-Fish

While 3D films can of course be Oscar-worthy and relatively highbrow (see also Ridley Scott’s artily breath-taking Prometheus), it’s rarely better than when languising in the shameless grasp of a master of horror. Alexandre Aja’s follow-up to the likes of Switchblade Romance and The Hills Have EyesPiranha puts you in the midst of a swarm of mutant fish as they terrorise the pretty and mostly naked residents of a small fishing community. Undoubtedly the most memorable sequence is that which sees a set of regurgitated genitals spat out into the audience.

2. How To Train Your Dragon – Battling The Green Death

I’m maybe a little biased here, but in a film that contains memorable, jaw-dropping spectacle from start to finish it’s difficult to single out a particular scene for special mention. One of the only digital animations to utilise an Oscar-nominated cinematographer (Roger Deakins collaborates frequently with the Coen brothers), every scene is structured to make full use of the 3D technology. It is well documented that 3D is at its most effective during aerial scenes and DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon exploits this to wonderful effect. While one such flight sequence–which shows out heroes soar high above Berk to the inspiring melody of John Powell’s Test Drive–comes immediately to mind, it is the finale which sees Hiccup and Toothless face off against the monstrous Green Death which arguably takes the most breath away.

1. Avatar – I See You

In development since 1994, it is little wonder that 2009’s game-changer Avatar should take the top spot here. The first film that I ever saw in Real D, it blew me away with its expansive world-building, astonishing bio-diversity and innovative use of what was once (and perhaps still is) considered the ultimate gimmick. Most scenes could be cited as the most spectacular moment in a film brimming with spectacle, but it is the aerial assault in the film’s final act which, as in How To Train Your Dragon, manages to steal the show. As great swarms of Banshee-mounted Na’vi and Scorpion Gunships swoop in and out from between the floating Hallelujah Mountains, you could be forgiven for thinking you had just experienced the eighth wonder of the modern worldIn eye-popping 3D.

So what’s your favourite 3D moment? Or are you waiting for the release of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi before you make up your mind?

July 2012 – You don’t wanna know what I have to do for twenties

Compared to the busyness of last month, with its foreign weddings and international film festivals, July has been taking it slow. Too slow.

This month saw the release of The Amazing Spider-man, Magic Mike, Friends With Kids, Seeking A Friend For The End Of the World, Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, The Dark Knight Rises and The Lorax, while I caught Ted ahead of its release courtesy of Show Film First. Unfortunately, none of the above managed to shift the summer season from its cinematic rut. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been genuinely blown away since The Avengers, and that was back in April.

Surprisingly, it was the animated releases that really let the month down. While Ice Age has never been my favourite franchise, I had real hopes for The Lorax. Alas, it was instead the latest in a long line of adaptations that have failed to do Dr. Seuss’ classic creations justice. Meanwhile, dramedies Friends With Kids and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World seemed to fall into the no-man’s-land between both genre’s, even if the latter was substantially better then the former.

It was the superheroes that came out on top this month, with both The Amazing Spider-man and The Dark Knight Rises scoring solid three and a half star reviews for their handling of two of the genre’s most famous figureheads. The Dark Knight Rises improved on its predecessors with a newfound emotional centre in Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, even if it did once again fall foul to Christian Bale’s tedious take on the caped crusader himself. Andrew Garfield made for a far punchier protagonist, imbuing Peter Parker with an angst and wit that Tobey Maguire’s was always lacking. Heck, there was so much to like I had to write a second review.

In addition to film-related duties, which this month included my first ever D-Box experience, I also contributed the first of (hopefully) many articles to Caroline O’Donoghue’s wonderful Work In Prowess, including one on the predicted highlights of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I also tuned into the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics (as put together by Danny Boyle), it’s safe to say I’ve never been so caught up in a sporting event before. Ever.

I ended the month — as I have the last eighteen — with the next James Bond movie for BlogalongaBond. July’s prescribed instalment was The World Is Not Enough, and for the first time since this exercise began I was left wanting more. Rather apt, really.

Film of the moth: The Amazing Spider-man

Marc Webb’s Spider-man: The amazing and the not-so-amazing

There has been much build-up to Marc Webb Sony’s reboot of the nary decade-old Spider-man franchise, with a near-constant succession of teasers, trailers and tv spots vying desperately to show us the movie long before its release. Thankfully, the finished film – released last Tuesday. That’s right: Tuesday – miraculously still contains the odd surprise, and, while far from perfect, marks a successful new beginning for a second Spider-trilogy.

While my review touched on some of the various strengths and weaknesses of Webb’s movie, however, it was unable to do due justice to the many highs and lows of The Amazing Spider-man. As such, here is a substantially more detailed – and, therefore, spoiler-heavy – analysis of the “finished” film.

The Amazing

The Cast

Sam Raimi’s original film, 2002’s Spider-man, is still held in high esteem by many as a high point in the superhero resurgence which – arguably – started with Blade and has continued to this day. Succeeded and exceeded by Raimi’s first follow up, it was presumed that although prone to the occasional misfire the franchise would endure for many years to come. While the announcement of a premature reboot caught many by surprise, being instantly dismissed as a cynical and unnecessary move on the studio’s behalf, the then untitled project was nevertheless simultaneously viewed as an ideal opportunity to find a new, better cast.

Tobey Maguire had never quite convinced as the amazing, spectacular, superlative Spider-man, with even his Peter Parker coming across as a bland, wet and ever-so-slightly smug miscreation. Kirsten Dunst too had seemed miscast as Mary-Jane Watson, the natural blonde struggling to find the right note on which to play the character, often resorting to a poorly judged attempt at miserablism. Indeed, with the exception of J. K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson, very few of Raimi’s cast felt as though they truly belonged in Spider-man’s world.

Webb, on the other hand, gets just about every part right, from the infinitely less annoying Sally Field as Aunt May to Martin Sheen’s heroic turn as the famously ill-fated Uncle Ben. It is in Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone that Webb truly trumps Raimi, however, his Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy practically glowing with youthful energy and infectious charm. Garfield is a revelation, convincing entirely as a schoolboy (despite being 28 years of age in real life) in a way that Maguire never could. Wiry and slight, he is also a much more spider-like superhero, positively dwarfed by Rhys Ifans’ towering Lizard. Stone, meanwhile, brings a warmth and likeability to the role of love interest, imbuing Gwen Stacy with a strength and capability that makes her a joy to watch.

The Effects

After three films spent swinging between buildings, crawling up walls and besting bad guys, it was starting to seem as though Raimi had all but exhausted Spider-man’s few powers and abilities. It wasn’t until the final film in his trilogy that the director discovered impact webbing, and even then it was used to do little but inconvenience James Franco’s New Goblin. What did that leave Marc Webb? How was he going to wring tentpole-worthy set pieces out of sticky fingers and stringy webbing in a summer also boasting Ghost Rider, The Avengers and Christopher Nolan’s apparently infallible The Dark Knight Rises?

In the build-up to release, Webb had spoken often of his desire to base Spider-man’s movements on those of an actual spider. Garfield too had discussed the efforts he had gone to in an attempt to better emulate the quirks and idiosyncrasies of arachnid behaviour. While such research is hardly rare in this type of production, never has it paid off so impressively in the finished product. Whether disarming a car thief with bursts of webbing, using a web to decipher The Lizard’s whereabouts or cocooning his pray in a school corridor, Webb uses each and every skirmish to develop and elaborate on Spider-man’s powers so that the action remains fresh and exciting.

More than that, however, is the effect it has had on Spider-man himself. Whereas it was often easy to distinguish between live action (who can forget the infamous image of Dunst clinging to a costumed mannequin in the original movie) and CGI during Raimi’s tenure, the technological advancement between franchises has done wonders for The Amazing Spider-man. The 3D helps too, giving an extra dimension (obviously) not only to the scenes depicting Spidey swinging across the New York skyline but also to the quieter moments spent atop a skyscraper, balancing on two fingers, giving the best insight yet into what life must be like as Spider-man: liberating.

The Not-So-Amazing

The Edit

Just about every movie you have ever seen exists in more than one cut, each telling its story through a unique assemblage of footage as put together by the film’s appointed editor. Earlier this year, Joss Whedon shaved at least thirty minutes from his adaptation of Marvel’s The Avengers, leaving audiences with a new version that was every bit (we assume) as satisfying and entertaining as the film’s full incarnation – perhaps even more so as it refined the movie’s pace and trimmed the feature down to a slightly less ass-numbing length.

Unfortunately, Webb’s final cut of The Amazing Spider-man isn’t quite as successful, instead bringing to mind Ridley Scott’s work on the much-derided Prometheus. With a number of additional scenes known to exist in some shape or form (although the less said about Webb’s patented Spider-vision the better), the theatrical cut is missing a considerable amount of detail on the topic of Peter’s parents, their link to his apparent destiny and his hunt for Uncle Ben’s killer. Without this elaboration, the film seems incomplete, a number of the later scenes not paying off in the way that they were perhaps intended to, as the foundations have simply not been laid to the required extent.

In its abbreviated form, the film does not have the time to address the myriad subplots and tangents in a way that is both satisfying and comprehensible. By the film’s finale, there are too many loose ends and unanswered questions to provide closure on what should have been a self-contained origin story. Almost certain that the film would perform well enough to earn sequels, Sony have left far too much up in the air for subsequent instalments to pick up from whenever Webb et al find the necessary time to return to the franchise. This isn’t helped by a mid-credits scene that not only feels tacked on and unnecessary, but doesn’t give enough information to satisfy in its own right, either.

The Liberties

In order to distinguish his own movie from the extant franchise, it was necessary for Webb to find a new spin on the story if he was to entice cinemagoers back to watch essentially the same movie they had seen in the cinema a decade before, and however many times they have since revisited it on DVD or Blu-ray. While a number of these innovations work wonders – be it the reintroduction of the artificial web-shooters, the additional backstory (up to a point) and the use of a new antagonist – many more prove substantially less successful.

The biggest problem is that many of these alterations seem to exist for little more purpose than to deviate from the norm, often jarring as they struggle to find an equally effective way of telling practically the same story. Uncle Ben, for instance, gets so caught up in not saying “with great power comes great responsibility” that he ties his tongue over a series of more convoluted and less iconic ways of saying the same thing.

For me, however, the most irritating example of this came when Peter Parker first acquired his powers as Spider-man. In the original movie, he was bitten by a radioactive hybrid with all of the characteristics of Spider-man, before doing away with the culprit arachnid and slinking back to anonymity until the transformation was complete. In this new version, the script conspires to have Parker enter a restricted part of OsCorp, which (despite his father’s work having been allegedly stopped years previously) is teeming with blue spiders just waiting to bite unsuspecting trespassers. Parker is covered in them, before escaping – and leaving the spiders to their own devices – and proceeding to show off his new abilities to just about everyone in the downtown area. Very subtle. All anyone would have to do is spot the escaping spiders, check CCTV and they’d know exactly who the new vigilante swinging around Manhattan is and where to find him.

Despite such reservations, however, I did rather enjoy Marc Webb’s take on the Spider-man story. Many of the biggest limitations – i.e. the moments of pure cheese – are weaknesses it shares with Raimi’s 2002 original. With The Amazing Spider-man‘s cast, direction and effects, however, there is no reason why Webb shouldn’t go on to make the definitive Spider-movie, perhaps even improving on Raimi’s current franchise-high Spider-man 2.

The Amazing Spider-man (2012)

Abandoned by his parents as a child without explanation, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has spent the years since searching for answers from the home he shares with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen – “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”). Discovering a briefcase whilst clearing the basement, Parker contacts an old lab partner of his father’s, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), only to be bitten by a radioactive spider at the latter’s place of work (OsCorp, for anyone taking notes). Helping to complete the scientist’s long-gestating formulae, Parker inadvertently helps create The Lizard when Connors tests the results on himself in a bid to grow back his missing arm. Having fallen for Connors’ head intern, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter becomes Spider-man and sets out to win the girl and save the day. Read more of this post

FILM NEWS: Summer of Cinema tease the months and movies to come

While the marked improvement in weather and later nights might indeed be some indication, nothing heralds the onset of summer with quite as much occasion as Summer of Cinema’s annual trailer for coming attractions.

True, there are a number of highlights (and, unfortunately, lowlights) that have already been and gone, the likes of The Lucky One, Dark Shadows and Marvel Avengers Assemble still making waves (and humping pies) in cinemas around the country, but for the most part the assorted footage sets out the road ahead for some of the most anticipated movies of the season. And, I suppose, The Dark Knight Rises, too.

With teasers for 51 films condensed into just one super-trailer, Summer of Cinema have effectively planned the next few month’s viewing with glimpses at Men in Black 3, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spider-man, Brave, The Bourne Legacy and film to beat Prometheus, to name but a few. As for the trailer itself:

So what are you most looking forward to? As long as it’s not Top Cat – The Movie, feel free to leave your picks in the comments section below.

FILM NEWS: New trailers for everyone!

If your week has been as disastrous as mine, then you might be relieved to note that you have six whole minutes of relatively new footage teasing the many delights of summer, 2012 to perk you right back up in time for the weekend. Over the course of the last seven days, Hollywood has released the third and final trailers for Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-man.

And we’re talking proper, full-length trailers; none of this viral, first five minutes, trailers-for-trailers rubbish we have been drip fed over the last few months. So, with each trailer presented below, feast your eyes on three of the next few months’ most exciting cinematic releases. And The Dark Knight Rises.

So, without further ado…

Prometheus

“Mrs. Vickers, is there an agenda that you’re not telling us about?”

Last Sunday, fans of Channel 4’s utterly beguiling Homeland were treated to the world première of the latest trailerr for Prometheus when it débuted during the show’s first ad-break. Not as beautifully composed and delightfully enigmatic as the first full trailer, a masterclass in Goldilocks marketing, the new footage verged on giving away too much information, without the first’s truly heart-stopping pace.

That said, despite the fact that we know a little more about the overall shape of the narrative, this new trailer does little to jeopardise the near-crippling excitement Ridley Scott’s film has so far managed to generate. With Prometheus‘ ties to the director’s Alien clearer – and apparently stronger – than ever before, this is still the film to beat this year. Even if I’m still not 100% sold on Noomi Rapace’s British accent.

The Dark Knight Rises

“Your punishment must be more severe…”

Following mumble-gate, the clarity-related controversy that met the first trailer’s depiction of a grumbly (even for Christopher Nolan) and near-inaudible Bane, the latest trailer ramps up the sound to near-sarcastic levels. Hinting once more at the class wars threatening to tear Gotham apart, the footage gives off an air of desperation as Batman finally meets his match.

But Bane isn’t the star of this footage, with Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman (or Selina Kyle in a rather unimaginative eye mask) stepping out of the shadows for the first time since the promotional campaign began. Sadly, even this long-overdue reveal isn’t enough to purr some life into Nolan’s increasingly closed-off franchise. Sure, bridges collapse and someone flies a tank (I kid you not; and this is supposed to be the realistic superhero movie), but the director once again fails to give us a reason to care whether these characters live or die.

The Amazing Spider-man

“You’ve found my weakness – it’s small knives”

Up to this point, walking pun-magnet Marc Webb’s reboot of the nary decade-old Spider-man could have been described as darker, maturer, first person-ier, just about everything other than amazing. With its short-snouted Lizard, misconceived Spidey-cam and predominantly mask-less hero, the film had garnered almost as much unease as it had actual excitement.

But hey, at least Spider-man’s got his artificial web-shooters back; and man, does he put them to good use. The trailer is certainly high on spectacle and – reassuringly – smart alecry, and, the first-person gamer scenes aside, we may very well be in for a treat. With a tweaked origin story, bestial villain and, well, Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in leading roles, The Amazing Spider-man could still deliver in a big way.

Ten 2012 Movies That Can’t Come Quickly Enough

So, it’s been 2012 for, like, three days now and while I might have found the time to bankrupt myself on overpriced cocktails, watch season two of An Idiot Abroad and fail dismally at 3D hopscotch, I haven’t actually had time to write anything about my socially crippling love of films. While I had planned to offload a few alternative top 10 lists to celebrate my number one guilty pleasure of 2011 (Killing Bono), my biggest cinematic surprise (Real Steel) and the film I felt was most overrated by critics (Source Code), I thought it best to shut up and move on lest I remember that Harry Potter is now finished and therefore life might as well be too. Which movies do I hope to be taking solace in this year? Well, I’ve written you a list:

The Woman in Black

Having suffered a fate worse than death and wound up father to Ginny Weasley’s children, Harry Potter is too busy wearing slippers and wiping shed hair from his pillow to find another Dark Lord to duel to the death. Luckily, Daniel Radcliffe threw in the towel at just the right moment and lives to battle evil another day: the 10th of February, 2012, to be exact, when he will use Jane Goldman’s words to (hopefully) talk himself out of a rather terrifying looking haunting.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Arthur Christmas was brilliant, wasn’t it? But for what it made up for in wit, craft and innovation, it unfortunately lacked in thumb-prints. Luckily, Aardman Animations plan to return to the painstakingly arduous process of stop-motion animation for upcoming 3D extravaganza The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Boasting vocal performances from Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven,Imelda Staunton and David Tennant, Aardman’s latest looks bloody plunderful indeed.

American Reunion

Having heroically saved a generation from the hazards inherent in humping a freshly baked apple pie, Jim Levenstein is set to return to cinemas in order to impart a few new pearls of wisdom. Set to reunite all-but-one of the first film’s winning ensemble (yes, even Chris Klein), this eighth fourth film in the American Pie franchise will see East Great Falls’ Class of ’99 return for a school reunion. While producer Chris Weitz might not have been as involved as he’d have liked, he did tell me that he’d seen some dailies and they were “really funny”.

The Cabin in the Woods

Having occupied the Joss Whedon circle of Development Hell for the last two years, thereby allowing The Avengers to arrive in cinemas as planned, The Cabin in the Woods saw Drew Goddard return to the director’s chair for the first time since 2008’s Cloverfield. Promising to subvert the more traditional tropes of the horror genre (a la Scream), and with the first trailer doing little to dhry appetites, this could well prove THE horror-comedy of 2012.

The Avengers

Why save the best for last when you can have it FIFTH! We only have to wait until May for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, an audacious Marvel project which plans to unite four behemoth franchises in one $220 million dollar effort to save the world. Even more mouth-watering than the prospect of ALL THOSE PIXELS is the opportunity it will provide to see the titans clash out of costume, with each hero set to rub the other three up the wrong way. The silly to The Dark Knight Rises‘ serious, who needs shadows when you can have this much fun in broad daylight.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

After Cars 2 stalled in cinemas, and with How To Train Your Dragon having trounced Toy Story 3 in everything but Academy Awards, DreamWorks has really upped its game to the point where it is proving a genuinely credible match for the previously untouchable Pixar. Over the last two instalments, the Madagascar franchise has grown into something truly special, its ever-expanding cast of misfit mammals (and marsupials) developing into one of the most watchable animated ensembles around. Unless it changes its name to Madagascar: 3urope’s Most Wanted, this is undoubtedly the family film I’m most looking forward to this year.

Prometheus

With Ridley Scott channelling his dismay at the existence of two Alien vs. Predator movies into an intervention for the flagging Alien franchise he birthed (phallically) all those years ago, Prometheus promises to finally shed some light of on the colossal Space Jockey entity he teased in the original Alien movie. The first trailer (and indeed the trailer’s trailers), a masterclass in mouth-watering marketing, promised a return to form for a franchise steeped in diminished returns. Whether or not it features the series’ trademark xenomorphs, Prometheus might just be the film to beat this summer.

Brave

While I might not have thought all that much of Pixar’s last offering – or, indeed, previous release Up – I am nevertheless excited about their forthcoming project, Brave. Marking a tonal shift for the studio with the film’s less Disney Store-friendly tale of epic battles and mystic legends, Brave could prove a welcome change of pace for a studio that must by now surely be running low on things to anthropomorphise. Set in the Scottish Highlands and featuring a vocal performance from (among others) Craig Ferguson, this might just be Pixar’s answer to DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon. Maybe the most exciting arrangement of words in the English language.

The Amazing Spider-man

While I might occasionally bemoan the remake culture which has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, there is no denying that the practice does have its place in the filmmaking process. Although Sam Raimi’s original Spider-man movie did an admiral job of bringing everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood web-slinger to the big screen, a number of factors – the Green Goblin’s mask, Kirsten Dunst and the near-entirety of the third instalment – prevented the first trilogy from being as good as it could have been. (500) Days of Spider-man with Andrew Garfield might just be the big screen incarnation we’ve all been waiting for.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Everyone has a guilty pleasure franchise, and mine is undoubtedly Resident Evil. While the film series might sully the game’s mythology, routinely disappoint on just about every level and retcon at least one element with every instalment, it nevertheless delivers an entertaining slice of zombie-lite every two years or so. Marking the return of Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory and Oded Fehr, Resident Evil: Retribution promises to be somewhat of a greatest hits for the franchise.