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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Can you believe we've only got two episodes left to go this season? It feels like just yesterday we were cracking wise about Edgar Allen Poe stories, wondering when we would finally learn who this "Roderick" fellow was and what relationship, if any, he might have to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid character. Think of all that's transpired these past three months! Plots slowly, slowly advanced. Characters were introduced, then killed or severely wounded. There were LCD Soundsystem flashbacks. But we're finally nearing the finish line, Following Followers, and with that comes the tidying up of some of the season's loose ends.
Most notably, last night saw the untimely demise of our favorite Follower/fake town sheriff, Roderick, who bit it when frustrations with Joe led him to make some rash decisions. "I told you I'm impulsive!" he reiterated to Ryan in an interrogation. Too true, guy! The shame of it is that things had been running so smoothly for a full three minutes or so. As we saw last week, Roderick managed to ingratiate himself with Hardy & the FBI, hot on the trail of the Follower compound. Everybody seemed cool, just happy to be working with a normal guy like Roderick. But then Weston — he of the recent really bad day — pegged him as the guy who kidnapped and tortured him. And just like that? Roderick's sheriffin' days was over.
I think most of us assumed the creative team would drag that deception out to at least a mid-episode reveal, so points for getting things moving fast. In a frenzy, Roderick returned to Follower HQ. "We're screwed," he told Joe. Ever the unflappable college professor when an audience is in view, Joe kept his cool at first. But that quickly turned to choke-fighting, and the end of Joe and Roderick's professional and personal relationship. Moments later, #2 would kidnap Joey (who just cannot catch a break); in response, Joe would order Roderick dead. It's crazy how fast relationships can sour, in or out of murder compounds.
Things weren't going much better for the FBI, who'd been totally blindsided by the Roderick reveal. "Isn't that a kick in the pants!" Parker basically said, shrugging her shoulders in the most nonchalant way ever associated with a horrific murder investigation. Meanwhile Hardy, out of ideas and lacking anything resembling departmental oversight, even at the federal level, got on camera to deliver a VERY SPECIAL MESSAGE to Joe's Followers: "Any Follower who wants to give us info, gets immunity. You can turn back. Be completely exonerated." "Maybe that'll yield some fruit?" Hardy thought, imagining his next vodka and vodka on the rocks.
His FBI commander made sure to chew him out, but in that very specific way that says he really admires Hardy's outside-the-box thinking and can-do attitude. And hey — while Hardy's play didn't immediately land them any ex-Followers, it wasn't long before they tracked down Roderick. Hardy managed to interrogate the guy without stabbing his hand or aggravating a bullet wound, so that was good, and even got Joe on the phone to describe how we would "personally peel the skin from [Roderick's] body" if they ever saw each other again. Then the kicker: Roderick had Joey. Not nearby, no, but somewhere close enough. Hardy, would you mind giving him a lift?
This next sequence was great. We've been trained to think of Hardy as this rule-breaking alky with a devil-may-care attitude, the kind of guy who would willingly torch an orphanage for love and go swimming just twenty minutes after eating. Hardy don't care! So when he flagrantly ignored his boss's one command to not trade Roderick for Joey, all us Followers at home were like "psssh, show me something new." GUESS WHAT: Parker, Weston, and even Hardy's boss (Nick? It doesn't matter) were in on Hardy's plan the whole time. "Now I've drunk the Ryan Hardy juice!" laughed Nick, completely unaware of his employee's unbelievable history of alcoholism and regret-focused mood disorder. But DAMMIT if it didn't work: Roderick shot dead by Weston*, Joey in Hardy's arms, and the whole world a little warmer if only for one hour on FOX.
*A serious question: was it Weston that took the fatal shot? This show is so unbelievably dark — visually — that half the time I can't make out things like characters, or scenes. You should know that most of the time I treat The Following like a really strange radio show.
Claire, meanwhile, continued her one-woman show about completely nonsensical characterization with a few scenes at Follower HQ in which she: explained concepts of "good" and "bad" to her son; tried to level with Jacob, a known murderer but great babysitter; fake-flirted with Joe, another very-known murderer; finally summoned the courage to shiv said murderer with intent to kill. Yes, we all do crazy things for the love of Kevin Bacon but Claire — you're all over the map! Even your ex-husband would have to agree! Which he did, over the phone to Ryan:
"Our story has taken an…unexpected turn. It's bad. Really bad. Page one rewrite." Before Hardy could assemble their writers group to address these narrative problems head-on, Joe offered his rewrite idea. "Sadly, it is time for Claire to die."
Oh, and one of the Followers took Hardy up on his exoneration offer from 30 minutes earlier but really she just wanted to stir s**t up, specifically by stabbing Nick in the eyes. Those probably won't heal. Altogether now:
"And that's what happens when you drink the Ryan Hardy juice."
Follow Henning on Twitter @HenningFog
MORE:'The Following' Recap: We Need to Talk About Weston'The Following' Recap: Hardy Uncovers an Explosive Plot'The Following' Recap: Goodbye, Claire?
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Meet Pistachio Disguisey (Dana Carvey) an irritating little guy who works as a waiter in his father Fabbrizio's (James Brolin) Italian restaurant. One night Fabbrizio gets kidnapped by one of his former enemies (Brent Spiner) a criminal mastermind who intends to use him to steal some of the world's most precious treasures including the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell. A distraught Pistachio gets an unexpected visit from his grandfather (Harold Gould) who spills the beans about the Disguisey dynasty and reveals that Pistachio actually comes from a long line of masters of disguise. With some quick lessons in Energico the art of transformation Pistachio is ready to rescue Fabbrizio from his evil captors. And because every master of disguise needs an assistant he hires a smart and beautiful woman named Jennifer (Jennifer Esposito) to help him track down his father. The story in this film is so simple and the jokes so clean--unless you consider the one running fart gag "crude humor"--it's a mystery this film received a PG rating.
Well now isn't that special? Anyone familiar with Carvey can't help but be a fan. His characters from his Saturday Night Live days including Garth in "Wayne's World " Hans in "Pumping Up With Hans and Franz"--not to mention the judgmental Church Lady--are comedy classics. Unfortunately the wittiness that made his SNL characters downright hilarious is wasted in The Master of Disguise. While Carvey shines when mocking people in a compulsive manner in the film his impersonations are a little rusty. In one scene for example Carvey is supposed to be imitating George W. Bush but until he flat-out calls himself "Dubya " he looks and sounds a lot more like George Sr. For the better part of the film we see Carvey doing a myriad of silly and unsophisticated characters like a chunk of grass--complete with a patch of cow dung--and gooey cherry pie filling. Granted this film is aimed at children who will probably find a guy in a grass suit funny. But sadly his characterizations just don't seem up to par. Anyone can don a costume and act silly and Carvey just doesn't stand out. Spiner (better known as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation) plays the villain in a stiff and methodical way while Esposito sort of seems like she's playing herself.
Perry Andelin Blake who has worked as a production designer in countless Adam Sandler pics including Billy Madison The Wedding Singer and Little Nicky makes his directorial debut with The Master of Disguise. His design skills are obvious: The film has a very ambient and magical feel about it; it's dark and smoky with rich and elaborate sets that include dusty attics with moving bookshelves and dimly lit alleyways. There are a few funny moments in the movie mostly the cameo scenes with Bo Derek Michael Johnson Jesse Ventura and Jessica Simpson not to mention the scenes in which Carvey displays his gift to mock. But I still can't understand why the filmmakers chose to make the main character Italian. The ridiculous accent makes Pistachio the single most irritating thing about the movie with that stupid name coming in a close second.