Where did Spider-Man come from? What is Peter Parker’s primal trigger to become a vigilante for good? Wow! Can’t believe I stumped you! Yet another explanation’s ready for your perusal in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Despite moments of drab familiarity, there are gleaming little instants in director Marc Webb’s third feature, not confined to the goofy, charged chemistry between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. We’ve landed in the middle of another series of Manhattan canyon aerial web-slinging adventures that look, and more distressing, feel increasingly alike. Fallen fathers and foul deeds pile up along with oh-so-many subplots and villains, a clutter of characters and clatter of boom-bang-boom.
The best moments, when Webb (“(500) Days Of Summer,” 2009) is able to pause the freight train, include a weightless instant in which Spider-Man, wending his way across Manhattan, arrives at the top of an arc, mid-air between skyscrapers, high above the asphalt, and there is a balls-rising-up, near-orgasmic pause before simulated gravity and emulated physics bring the boy down to earth.
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Bear meets mouse in the lovely, charming “Ernest & Celestine,” based on the series of popular children’s books by Gabrielle Vincent. Oscar-nominated for best animated feature last year. A French-Belgian co-production, “E&C”’s animation works with the liquescent beauty of watercolor painting while keeping the amiable mismatched-pal animal ruckus in forward motion. Bears live aboveground and mice in their own subterranean city, each species going about everyday tasks as if they were larger or smaller humans. As directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (“A Town Called Panic”) and Benjamin Renner and adapted by novelist Daniel Pennac, the animals’ small world breathes with the kind of detail its ideal audience—clever tots—live in in their own fantasy world. Read the rest of this entry »
Or, “How Walt Disney Nanny-splained The Life Of The Writer Of ‘Mary Poppins’ To Herself.” Genial, inconsequential, deeply odd but not quite “quirky”—a bifurcated narrative about the alcoholic father of novelist P.L. Travers (Colin Farrell) and the work methods of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks)—“Saving Mr. Banks” is a movie made by the Walt Disney Company about Walt Disney himself that has a litter of knowing japes and intermittent bites of sarcasm, largely from Emma Thompson’s bitter, anxious, uneasy, red-toe-polished control freak. The control extends to the current corporation, at one point in the form of the CGI plume of a single, nonexistent lit cigarette is all that is allowed to indicate the Man’s historically well-known chain-smoking jones. Read the rest of this entry »
“What does it mean to spend money? A dollar. A million.” With “Cosmopolis,” David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson create a day in the life as they hop into the soundproofed pages of one of Don DeLillo’s minor novels and wreak a compelling, if detached succession of compartmentalized dream-scenes about the fall of money. Cronenberg adapted DeLillo’s 2003 novel, which, while looking back to September 11, 2001, is oddly prescient about 2008 and 2012 as well. It’s unapologetically cerebral stuff. The dialogue, esoteric, hermetic, unwieldy, is drawn almost entirely from DeLillo and it’s a thrill to hear the writer’s gnomic interior-monologue-spoken-aloud staccato brought to life by good actors, which include Pattinson, cool and damped as Eric Packer, a twenty-eight-year-old billionaire asset manager who senses the pixels and numerals seeping from his stratified, Ponzified, algorithmic mastery of rarefied fiscal air. He’s made an ungainly bet against the Chinese yuan, and wants only to cross Manhattan in his white stretch limousine, armor-plated, “Prousted” with cork, to get a haircut from his old barber. Read the rest of this entry »
Rated not appropriate for sober audiences. That Tom Cruise was willing to be filmed in ass-baring leather chaps not only tells you everything you need to know about “Rock of Ages,” but it also disproves any notion that the man takes himself too seriously. Nor does this jukebox musical ever take itself seriously, sending up the 1980s with its big hair, insanely bad fashion and parodying the moment when hip-hop was co-opted for boy-bands on MTV. Not only does Cruise do an unexpectedly credible job of channeling Axl Rose at his most cliché-ridden excess, but Paul Giamatti sings, after all. “Rock of Ages” is musical theater fantasy camp for movie stars who not only let their hair down, but grow it out and look unapologetically foolish. A duet with Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand is ridiculously priceless. Catherine Zeta-Jones leading a chorus line recalls the absurdity of a similar scene with Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia.” And I say all this as a compliment. Sometimes? Big dumb fun is OK.
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George Clooney’s fourth feature debuted at Toronto, where a fair grumbling scrum of reviewers called it “cliché,” found its backstairs politics less than interesting, said there was nothing “new.” I say that’s spinach, and to hell with it. Have movies about politics become like movies about sex, where fears and predilections of its critics are imposed atop opinions like damning CT scan results? Were they onto something? Does a process story like this, with its lightly coded spoken shorthand, extend beyond steady followers of politics? (“She’s gonna take this to Drudge or Roll Call or some shit.”) While traipsing a few familiar byways, the theme-and-variation script of “The Ides Of March” is one of the boldest political statements by an American filmmaker in memory: the telling’s not resigned to corruption or concession, but instead, it’s cognizant. Read the rest of this entry »
Or, “Five Dicks and Some Penises.” The unpretentiously titled “The Hangover Part II,” credited as “A Todd Phillips Movie,” is a Rube Goldberg-style assembly of gross-outs repeating the template (and most of the characters) of the first installment with a wedding expedition to Thailand in place of the original Las Vegas bachelor party gone to hell. Attempts at synopsis would diminish what pleasure there is in deciphering the wild details of the “Wolfpack”‘s newest degenerate blackout, but the rating reasons are accurate: “The film has been rated R by the MPAA for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images.” Essentially a succession of degradations bulldozered forward by an aggressive, overstuffed collection of pop songs, “The Hangover Part II” is a splendid sample of screenwriting Jenga, where the most improbable of complications arrive in the midst of the story at just the right moment to move things along. By all lights, it should topple over at any second. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
With the sly and understated “Win Win,” writer-director Tom McCarthy’s unstated goal is again to depict how goodness and kindness can come in the most ordinary lives.
In suburban New Jersey, attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer for elderly patients, with a good wife (Amy Ryan), two kids and a practice that’s coming apart in our economy. He’s a high-school wrestling coach as well, sharing duties with office mate Jeffrey Tambor. A questionable business choice volunteering to be guardian to a client, Leo (Burt Young), leads to complications, including a runaway grandson, Kyle, who’s a star athlete. Alex Shaffer, a first-time actor who in fact is a champion wrestler, plays Kyle with gentle assurance as a quiet, bright sullen young guy in bad circumstances. But for Mike? He could sure use him in the high-school program…
McCarthy, whose earlier mixtures of comedy and drama are “The Visitor” and “The Station Agent,” again explores bonds in an unlikely community borne out of affinity more than through blood. While McCarthy has said he’d rather be slightly ordinary than to take us out of his characters’ lives, the dialogue in “Win Win” (co-written with his high-school wrestling buddy Joe Tiboni) is almost as stylized as “True Grit,” in a way, which includes a sophisticated take on swearing. “That’s funny,” McCarthy tells me. At times, you hear a “fricking”‘ or a “fracking,” but these people in this modern moment express themselves in different circumstances through a combination of saying “Fuck, shit, frackin'” and “crap.” Read the rest of this entry »
Mordechai Richler’s last novel, “Barney’s Version,” takes bits and bobs from the much-admired Canadian writer’s own life and refracts them through the perspective of an unreliable narrator who doesn’t realize his faculties are failing from Alzheimer’s. While Michael Konyves’ sprawling adaptation of Richler’s love letter to Montecristos, Scotch and adultery skirts that conceit, the movie, intriguingly, leaps forward and back in ways that suggest hack television producer Barney Panofsky has always possessed a nimble but scattered mind. As played by Paul Giamatti (winner of a best actor Golden Globe on Sunday for the role) in a succession of beards and feral hairpieces across three decades and two continents, Barney is a skirt-chaser of the broadest stripe, meeting his third wife at his second wedding, then pursuing her for months afterward. (His many, many transgressions only start at that level.) Giamatti glories in playing the grand bad man. Read the rest of this entry »
What did Dame Helen Mirren and Christopher Walken get their Oscar nominations for in “The Last Station”? Why, ACTING, my dear boy, for ACTING, for fury and flair and splendid cussedness. A spirited melodrama adapted from Jay Parini’s 1990s novel about the last year of the life of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer, grand, grandiose), “The Last Station” is vivid and entertaining, largely for the spirited performances by the leads, but there’s delicate work by all the actors enacting the figures settling the affairs of the world’s most famous novelist of 1910. It’s also good to see another sort of romp from Michael Hoffman, who directed “Restoration” and “Soap Dish,” other semi-comic studies of the holding of court. The interlocking storylines demonstrate abiding faith in the power of love: young love, old love, desire, jealousy, pride… and especially old love. With James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti, Anne-Marie Duff, Kerry Condon, Patrick Kennedy, John Sessions, Tomas Spencer, David Masterson. 112m. (Ray Pride)