Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Like the name implies, there are two films trapped inside director Bryan Poyser's latest effort: "Love" being one half, and "Air Sex" being the other. One film is a sometimes charming, sweet, and funny meditation on love between twenty-somethings, while the other is an aggressively unfunny aside that almost derails the entire film (take a guess at which one is which).
Aspiring filmmaker Stan (Michael Stahl-David) and pre-med student Cathy (Ashley Bell) find love in balmy Austin, but life drives the two to opposite coasts; Stan seeks his dreams under the bright lights of Hollywood, while Cathy heads to the wintery Northeast to attend a prestigious medical school in New York. Six months later, Sean's Hollywood aspirations have landed him in a pizza joint, while Cathy feels disconnected from her med school peers. When Stan catches wind that Cathy is flying home to Austin for the weekend, he can't help but "accidentally" fly home on the same weekend as his ex. The obviousness of Stan's gambit isn't lost on their friends Jeff and Kara, who are in the middle of a breakup of their own. The two ex-lovers try to avoid each other during the weekend, but as one of the characters comments, Austin is a small city, and the pair do threaten to bump into each other, whether by coincidence or by design.
When focusing on the relationships among the four leads, Love and Air Sex works well enough. All four come close to becoming fully rounded characters, and the dialogue is witty enough to entertain. The characters send spiked sexual jabs at each other, while hiding the simmering frustration over lost relationships. Throughout the film, our heroes try some new relationships on for size, and while some of them blossom with probability, others are a halted by old yearnings. Poyser shows a intimate understanding of the awkwardness and comedy of damaged romances, and how admitting one's true feelings can sometimes feel like a herculean labor.
The other half of the title, the "Air Sex," is unfortunately, where the film falls apart. First, let's back up and explain what "Air Sex" actually is: a very real competition where participants are tasked with creating explicit and racy sexual scenarios with a disembodied partner (think air guitar, but with more pelvic thrusts). These sessions of sexual "air-tercourse" get as obscene and vulgar as all get out. But the worst thing about these routines isn't that they're too perverse (and they are pretty perverse), but that they're hardly ever funny or entertaining, and that's a huge fault considering the idea takes up half the title. Jeff uses Air Sex as a scheme to get free beer (the winner of the local Air Sex competition gets to drink free for a year), but it's really an emotional pick-me-up after his break up from Kara. These epic sexual pantomimes go on for minutes at a time and quickly grow annoying. What might have been chuckle worthy sight-gag is ballooned into half of the film's focus, and the Air Sex side plot becomes completely obnoxious as the film grinds into its final act. The biggest crime is that all the time focusing on the Air Sex competition robs the film of time it could have used to put the main characters into better focus. Unless you enjoy sexual wordplay like "Hugh G. Rection" or "F**kasaurus Sex," and a lot of air humping, you might spend much of these sequences rolling your eyes.
Love and Air Sex is a deeply confused film. It wants to be a raunchy comedy and a heartfelt indie romance, but it's constantly weighed down by trying to serve both masters. What's left is a Frankenstein-like mess of a creature that resembles a pleasant romantic comedy sloppily sewed into a terrible raunchy bore. The results are sometimes charming, sometimes groan-inducing, and full of wasted promise.
No pun intended but this remake of Tobe Hooper's low-budget 1974 cult horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre cuts straight to the chase and goes right for the jugular. The result is a horror movie bloodbath with jolting scares guaranteed to shock moviegoers out of their seats and onto sticky theater floors. Like the first the remake is set in the early 1970s and follows five friends on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas after making a drug buy in Mexico. Their fates are forever changed when they pick up a hitchhiker who commits suicide in the back of the van. In desperate need of a solution to the dead girl in the car the quintet stumbles upon a dilapidated house in a rural Texas community inhabited by Thomas Hewitt (Andrew Bryniarski) and his strange extended family. Hewitt receives the group led by Erin (Jessica Biel) revving a chainsaw--and suddenly their aspirations go from catching a performance of "Free Bird" to leaving the house with their limbs intact. This is supposedly based on the true story of Plainfield Wisconsin's cannibalistic grave robber Ed Gein which is precisely what makes this film so entrancing. If horror movies are designed to brutally assault not only the victims on-screen but also its viewers then TCM succeeds.
Biel 21 first impressed viewers on the WB series 7th Heaven with her portrayal of Mary Camden the eldest daughter of a progressive minister. As Erin in TCM Biel emerges as a strong lead and it's refreshing to see a horror movie heroine who never twists her ankle in a pivotal chase scene doesn't scream unnecessarily and knows how to hotwire anything on wheels. This role should definitely prepare Biel for her next project playing vampire hunter Abigail Whistler alongside Wesley Snipes in the upcoming Blade 3. While Biel carries the film there are also some decent performances from Eric Balfour (levelheaded Kemper) Mike Vogel (Andy the drunk) Erica Leerhsen (slutty Pepper) and Jonathan Tucker (STD statistic-spouting nerd Morgan). They all have clichéd characteristics that serve to create tension and each rises to the occasion in their limited screen time. At 6'5" Bryniarski (Scooby-Doo) is tailor-made for the role of the enduring yet no less frightening Leatherface. There are also some smaller performances worth noting from R. Lee Ermey (Willard) as the demented Sheriff Hoyt and Heather Kafka as the trailer park baby-thief Henrietta.
Music video helmer Marcus Nispel chose a doozy of a film for his directorial debut. Director Hooper's '74 slasher pic influenced a slew of contemporary horrors including House of 1 000 Corpses Jeepers Creepers and Wrong Turn and it remains to this day a highly romanticized and over-analyzed film. Some for example maintain that Hooper's TCM was a sociopolitical allegory of post-Vietnam America. But although Nispel's setup is practically identical to Hooper's there is no profound message here. Scribes Scott Kosar and Eric Berny do slip in a psychological explanation for Hewitt's wrath by giving him a skin condition that left him without a nose and ostracized as a child which is why he collects body parts and makes masks out of his victims' faces--hence the nickname "Leatherface"--but in the end it's just an entertaining slasher pic. Half storytelling half mood music intensive and richly atmospheric TCM has great visual appeal although some of it is undercut by some of producer Michael Bay's trademark bullet path shots. Nispel's music video background is pervasive in the film's visual MTV-style narration which is fitting for a film aimed at the 15- to 25-year-old TV watching audience.