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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TV has one more Carl. ABC’s Revenge saw the birth of a brand new baby boy, son of the woman pretending to be Amanda Clarke and her baby-daddy, Jack Porter, and the glowing mother named her bundle of joy (the one that has dictated much of the direction of the season thus far)... (drumroll please)... Carl.
Now, revealing the tyke’s name the same night that The Walking Dead aired a new episode naturally begs some comparison. TV’s other noteworthy Carl is, of course, Rick Grimes’ ever-missing son on the AMC series. This season, Chandler Riggs’ controversial character has put his mischievousness to good use (even killing a handful of zombies himself), but considering the fans’ great anger over the Carl of Seasons 1 and 2 it makes us wonder why another Sunday night show would be so quick to christen another child with the same name. To solve the mystery, we look to a few other notable pop culture Carls to see what’s in a name:
Carl Winslow on Family Matters
He was Steve Urkel’s nemesis and sometimes father figure on Family Matters and a Chicago Police officer plagued by a love of donuts and a lack of physical fitness. The problem was that his constant exasperation was sometimes more obnoxious than Urkel himself.
Carl Points: -3
Carl Grimes on The Walking Dead
I’ve already defended little Carl, whose wayward ways are really his ineffective mother’s fault (let’s be honest, Lori is way worse than her son), but the buzz is bad. Season 3’s Carl 2.0 is working on turning that around, but it’s a tough sell. He’s still got some improving to do.
Carl Points: -5
Carl Carlson on The Simpsons
Carl, of the duo Lenny and Carl (Homer’s friends from the Nuclear Power Plant and Moe's Tavern), is a pretty cool dude. He’s an easy-going science wiz and also (apparently) one of the most attractive men in Springfield. Add to that his surprise Icelandic heritage, an element which rears its head sporadically (and often hilariously) and you’ve got a pretty cool Carl. Plus, he’s voiced by Hank Azaria, which gives him four automatic bonus points.
Carl Points: 6
Carl Brutananadilewski on Aqua Something You Know Whatever (the artist formerly known as Aqua Teen Hunger Force) Carl is kind of the worst, but that’s what makes him hilarious. He’s got a beer belly, a bald head, and his favorite outfit consists of blue sweatpants, flip flops, a white tank top, and a gold chain. He has hair on the bottom of his feet and is obsessed with... pleasing himself. This is not a good Carl. But, he does host his own totally awesome sports web series Carl’s Stone Cold Lock of the Century of the Week, which evens things out a bit. Carl Points: -1 Carl Spackler in Caddy Shack Bill Murray’s classic gopher-exterminator is already the best Carl on this list because he’s played by Bill Murray, but, if that’s not enough, let us recall how he helps the good guys win in the end by trying to nab the wiley gopher with a series of plastic explosives whose detonation knocks a golf ball into the hole, giving our hero the push he needs to win. And if that’s not enough, he’s got the power of infinite quotability. Here, we’ve got ourselves a quality Carl. Carl Points: 8 Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can FBI Agent Carl Hanratty spends most of the film chasing down the charismatic Frank Abignale Jr. and dangit if he isn’t a pain in his rear. But as the film progresses, we see that Frank and Carl have a mutual respect for one another, and an unorthodox, but real friendship. Plus, he’s played by the impossible-to-abhor Tom Hanks. Carl Points: 5 Carl Bernstein in All The President’s Men (and, you know, real life) This all-American hero helped uncover one of the greatest scandals in our nation’s history as the scrappy sidekick to Bob Woodward’s sleek, ivy league-educated reporter. And when Dustin Hoffman brought this reporter to the big screen, he went from legend to screen heartthrob (for some of us, OK?). Carl Points: 7 Carl Point Total: 17 Well, newest pop culture Carl, it would seem that you’re in better company than you might have thought. Perhaps your mother, while likely a little loopy after being in a coma after getting pushed off a balcony at her baby shower (that always happens!), wasn’t all that crazy after all. Welcome to the world, baby Carl. Just refrain from teasing any blood-thirsty zombies, growing a beer belly, or being generally stereotypical and obnoxious. Deal? Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler [Photo Credits: AMC; Orion Pictures] More: 'Revenge' Recap: Get Down To The Heart of the Matter 'Revenge' Recap: Mama Drama 'The Walking Dead' Recap: Walk With Me
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The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.
S7: E6: Today the air inside the Top Chef country estate was hushed. The chefs faced the new morning with a determined sobriety. Timmy Dean (a father figure) was missed by all, truly. Andrea rises up from the ashes of Timmy’s destruction and vows to become better than average this time around. Amanda begins whining about something, Alex does a line off the toilet, Kenny and Angelo are furiously making out in the back pantry. Top Chef Cold War begins!
Today’s quick fire was the gross proteins challenge. This challenge is old hat, but how do we tie this in to the theme of the season? Probably Bravo is insinuating a similarity between the physiognomy of various senators and that of the distinguished animals who have sacrificed their corpses to the whims of television. There were the usual suspects, including ostrich, croc, rattlesnake, duck testicles, frog, yak, llama, and emu eggs.
Angelo is drawn somehow to the duck testicles (he thinks they are kidneys thanks to culinary euphemism) and designs to make a testicle marshmallow (as an homage to his days in the boy scouts).
The rest of the chefs started preparing their ghastly meats with relatively few complaints (except of course, Amanda) until Padma waltzes in and breathily commands them all to switch meats mid-preparation. TWIST.
The judge for today’s quick fire was Michelle Bernstein of Miami’s Michy restaurant in Florida. Michelle looks exactly like Andrea, and in fact, they know each other! This does nothing to debunk my theory that there exists an underground network of white girls who look exactly the same and who all secretly know each other. With one sharp exchange of barely contained venom twisted into forced maniacal smiles, it becomes clear that Andrea and Michelle also hate each other. Michelle Bernstein clearly took pleasure in adjudicating her frenemy, smoothly informing Andrea that her boar meat was chewy and placing her at the bottom, along with Alex’s dry ostrich and Steven’s “insipid” frog’s legs.
Kelly won for her creamy and delicious emu egg omelet! Kelly was definitely a Gollum earlier in the season but this episode I found her kind of funny. Hopefully she pulls it out and gives us someone to get behind finally, besides the bald Russian pervert.
The Elimination challenge was to prepare a dish to be served cold, just as America serves up a chilly plate of DEMOCRACY to your asses. The chefs were split into teams and are set to judge each other’s food - allowing them to decide who wins and loses. Bravo was able to squeeze many more humorous situational puns out of this particular challenge. This episode was called “Cold War”, and the chefs were split into teams and told they would be “planning” their “strategy” on board the USS Sequoia, a maritime Air Force One, and a place that saw the negotiations of John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Richard Nixon’s arms treaty. This segment of the show felt cheap and tactless, and watching spoiled reality show contestants manhandle a historic space was a bit sad.
ALSO we were forced to sit through several minutes of Angelo trying to plan some kind of strategic moves with Tamesha and Stephen and any other weak-willed chef who would listen to him (by advising them what to cook, how to make it, etc), and Kenny fuming below deck that Angelo wasn’t paying any attention to him ("He never notices when I change my hair!”)
Also finally, someone acknowledged that Amanda is extremely annoying - Tamesha deadpans that she could probably strangle her in a second. Understandable!
Back in the kitchens, most everyone has decided to make a carpaccio, which is raw meat thinly sliced, and tartare, which is basically a meat cake patty made of raw minced meat. Essentially we’re looking at a lot of raw meat here. Angelo is making salmon (with pineapple tea) and again refuses to face facts that one should not actually consider animal flesh chunks “sexy”.
Oh, and Amanda put an entire chicken into a meat grinder and formed it into a cake. Sigh.
The judging was pretty entertaining, as each team judged the other and we saw some real psychological shenanigans going on. Groupthink! What a deft tie-in to relevant political themes from Bravo!
Angelo bashed almost every dish as not having “clean flavors” or being convoluted, lacking salt, or containing poorly sized chunks of vegetables. The others in his group mostly followed his direction, agreeing with him at every turn, nodding and frowning at appropriate moments. Even Amanda’s cartilaginous chicken jello-mold didn’t dissuade Angelo from his political crusade against Kenny and his lamb duo, and got him sent to the bottom.
Tom was surprised by how harsh team Angelo was as evidenced by multiple blinks and eyebrow raises. Team Kenny was more even-handed, and Kevin Sbraga liked Angelo’s best, but Amanda rightly points out that Angelo only makes Asian food. In the end, Kenny committed to making sure that Angelo did not win at all costs! Tiffany’s crusted tuna was sent up to the winners circle, and Tamesha’s slimy scallops to the bottom.
Kenny was extremely sullen at the table, evidently feeling wrongly persecuted for being such a strong, capable, alpha male. Michelle Bernstein interjected with a swift reminder that having never tasted his food before or witnessing his extreme masculinity, she felt that his food blew. Luckily for the narrative arc of this season, Tamesha was sent home for slimy scallops and watery jus. Whew! We barely escaped that one - where would the show be, story-wise, if Kenny was eliminated? Where would the humanity come from? Bravo needs to be more careful next time. We don’t want to have to make Alex the Tan Russian the protagonist of Top Chef just yet.