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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In his new film Due Date director Todd Phillips (Old School The Hangover) stages a rather audacious cinematic experiment placing two enormously talented actors Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis on a mostly deserted island handing them an assortment of blunt and broken tools and charging them with constructing a free-standing fully-functioning Hollywood comedy.
To his credit Phillips was at least considerate enough to supply his comic Crusoes with a detailed blueprint. An odd-couple/road trip movie hybrid Due Date unapologetically mimics Planes Trains and Automobiles one of the John Hughes' rare “grown-up” comedies in which Steve Martin starred as a straightlaced family man forced to travel cross-country with a gratingly affable slob played by John Candy in order to make it home for Thanksgiving. (Surely there have been other such films before and since but Hughes’ work is the one Due Date most vividly recalls.)
The film’s script co-written by Phillips and Adam Sztykiel adds a handful of 21st-century twists to the formula: A baggage snafu while boarding an airplane leads Peter Highman (Downey) a type-A architect with a history of anger-management issues into a confrontation with a Federal Air Marshal that subsequently lands him on Homeland Security’s no-fly list. Stranded without reliable transport lacking the means by which to procure any (he left his wallet on the plane) and desperate to be reunited in L.A. with his pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) in time for her scheduled c-section he reluctantly agrees to hitch a ride with the same tubby schmuck Ethan (Galifianakis) who moments earlier was the catalyst of his security debacle.
The unlikely travel companions embark on a calamitous road trip from Atlanta to L.A. during which Ethan proves to be something of a disaster magnet with Peter bearing the brunt of the damage that occurs. Their navigator Phillips lazily guides them through an uneven obstacle course of comic scenarios some of which are embarrassingly predictable (Ethan stores his beloved father’s ashes in a coffee can and they’re later accidentally used to make coffee!) all of which are designed to showcase Downey’s caustic wit and Galifianakis’ sublime daffiness.
Few actors today deliver choice insults better than Downey and even fewer absorb them better than Galifianakis. They make for a truly marvelous collision of opposites and their interplay is what elevates Due Date above its often puzzlingly flat material. (That along with Galifianakis’ gift for physical comedy; no actor outside of the Jackass crew can better sell a collision with a car door.) The film's supporting cast meanwhile criminally underachieves. Conspicuous cameos from the likes of Danny McBride Juliette Lewis and Jamie Foxx are either unfunny unnecessary or both. On this road trip they’re little more than baggage. Thankfully Downey and Galifianakis are more than capable of shouldering the burden.
Top Story: Rings Gets Top PGA Honor
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won the Producers Guild's highest honor for a film at the PGA Awards, which took place Saturday night at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. The 2,000-member guild presented producers Peter Jackson, Frances Walsh and Barrie M. Osborne with the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award for The Return of the King. The accolade makes The Return of the King a clear Oscar frontrunner, since 10 of the last 14 producer of the year winners have gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar. The Return of the King has been hailed by several major critics organizations and has won the best film award from the New York City film critics and a best director award for Jackson from the Los Angeles critics. Other PGA winners include the HBO drama Six Feet Under, which took best TV dramatic series and the network's Sex and the City, which was named best comedy series. Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy won best reality or game show series, while My House in Umbria took the top prize for best TV movie or miniseries.
FBI Probes Leaked "Screener" Videos
The FBI is looking into how four video screeners sent to Academy Award voters ended up on the Internet, including the films Something's Gotta Give, The Last Samurai, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Thirteen. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the copies of the four films have been traced by their respective studios to screeners intended for use by character actor Carmine Caridi, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Penalties for an Academy member who fails to safeguard their screeners could be disciplined with expulsion from the Academy, but illegally distributing copyrighted works is also a federal crime that could lead to more severe penalties. Screener copies of House of Sand and Fog and Cold Mountain have also turned up on the Internet but have not been linked to Caridi. Cardini could not be reached for comment.
Mystic River, Seabiscuit Honored
Mystic River and Seabiscuit tied for this year's University of Southern California Scripter Award, which honor the best English-language adaptation. The Associated Press reports the tie will require a runoff between two films with the final results to be announced Thursday. The award will be presented Feb. 15. Nominees this year include: Mystic River-- screenwriter Brian Helgeland/author Dennis Lehane; Seabiscuit screenwriter Gary Ross/author Laura Hillenbrand; Cold Mountain screenwriter Anthony Minghella/author Charles Frazier; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King screenwriters Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson/author J.R.R. Tolkien; and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World screenwriters Peter Weir and John Collee/author Patrick O'Brian.
Jamie Foxx, Sister Enter Not Guilty Pleas
Comedian Jamie Foxx and his younger sister, Deidra Dixon, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges stemming from a fight with police officers and security guards last year at the New Orleans Harrah's Casino. A Feb. 3 trial date was set at the hearing. According to the AP, Foxx and Dixon were arrested April 26 after police said they and a group of their friends refused to show identification at the door, entered the casino and then refused requests to leave. The two were each charged with two counts of battery on a police officer causing injury, a felony, and one misdemeanor count of disturbing the peace. Dixon is also charged with resisting an officer, another misdemeanor.
Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Hello!: Part II
Just when you thought it was finally over, a judge in London granted celebrity magazine Hello! permission Friday to appeal a ruling that it acted improperly in publishing unauthorized photos of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones' extravagant 2000 wedding at New York's Plaza Hotel. According to the AP, Judge John Lindsay also gave the couple permission to appeal part of his decision that publication of the photos didn't infringe on their privacy. In November, Lindsay ordered Hello! to pay the couple $26,000 in damages--far less than the $900,000 Douglas and Zeta-Jones had sought. He also ordered Hello! to pay $1.9 million to rival celeb tabloid OK!, which had an exclusive deal for pictures of the couple's wedding. No date was set for the appeals.
UPN Gets Amish in the City
UPN is preparing a reality series that follows Amish teenagers having their first experiences outside of their society, the AP reports. Members of the Amish religious sect, present in rural Pennsylvania and Ohio, dress simply and shun modern technology. But at the age of 16, Amish teens are allowed to break free of the religion's strict code of conduct to decide whether or not they want to be baptized into the Amish faith. "To have people who don't have television walk down Rodeo Drive and be freaked out by what they see, I think will be interesting television. It will not be denigrating to the Amish," said CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, who also oversees UPN. The Amish series is tentatively scheduled for this summer.
Johnny Rotten Joins I'm a Celebrity
To the shock and dismay of punk fans worldwide, former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten has agreed to appear in the reality s
Top Story: Foxx Caught Resisting Arrest
Comedian Jamie Foxx and his sister were arrested early Saturday after allegedly refusing to leave a casino in New Orleans and then fighting with police officers called to escort them out, authorities told The Associated Press. Foxx, 35, and Deidra Dixon, 25, apparently refused to show identification as they walked around the gambling tables at Harrah's Casino at around 4 a.m. and then fought with security guards trying to remove them. Police Capt. Marlon A. Defillo told AP the police had to use pepper spray and handcuffed them. Foxx, was booked with trespassing, battery on
officers and resisting arrest and was released on $1,900 bond.
Stars Back Out of Toronto Gigs
Billy Joel, Elton John and American Idol Kelly Clarkson have all canceled their concert tours in Toronto due to the city's recent SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak. Reuters reports Joel and John were due to perform Monday at the city's Air Canada Center, a venue that sold out in 20 minutes, while Clarkson was scheduled Monday to appear on Canada AM, The Mike Bullard Show and MuchMusic's Much On Demand. The highly contagious SARS, which started in Asia and has no known cure, has killed 16 people in the Toronto area.
Will & Grace's Morrison Arrested for Shoplifting
Shelly Morrison, who plays wisecracking maid Rosario on NBC's Will & Grace, was arrested last Wednesday on suspicion of shoplifting, Reuters reports. The alleged theft at a Robinsons-May department store in West Los Angeles qualifies as a felony because the items cost more than $400, police told Reuters. The 66-year-old actress was released on bail.
Will & Grace, The Hours Get GLAAD
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 14th annual Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Awards, which honors fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender communities and the issues that impact their lives, were handed out Saturday in Los Angeles. The organization feted such television shows as NBC's Will & Grace, HBO's Six Feet Under and feature film The Hours.
All Reality, All the Time
It was bound to happen. Larry Namer, co-founder of E! Entertainment Television and businessman Blake Mycoskie have developed Reality Central, a 24-hour channel of reality programming, The Associated Press reports. "Reality is now a genre, just like any other genre," Namer told AP. The channel is scheduled to debut in early 2004.
Heston's Dropping His Guns
Charlton Heston, long known as the controversial spokesman for the National Rifle Association, has stepped down as president of the organization, Reuters reports. At a convention of gun owners in Orlando, Fla., the 78-year-old actor, who announced last year he had symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease, held a 1866 Winchester rifle above his head and proclaimed, "From my cold dead hands."
J.K. Rowling Richer Than the Queen
They said it could never be done, but the Queen of England has been officially surpassed on Britain's annual "richest list"--by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, the London Times reported Sunday. At $445.5 million, Rowling--whose now-famous story about writing her first Potter novel as a single parent living on only $111 a week--is now Britain's 122nd richest person, while Queen Elizabeth's $397.8 million fortune puts her 133rd on the list.
Prisoner of Azkaban Items Stolen
In more Potter news, some props were apparently stolen from the set of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, filming in Glencoe, Scotland, the British paper The Herald reports. Polystyrene pumpkins and plaster rocks were some of the items removed or vandalized. The problem of theft may be due to the fact that part of the set is on a mountain-track right of way for walkers, climbers and mountaineers. Security has been increased.
Madonna Gets Hacked
Madonna got a rude awakening from computer hackers in response to her attempt to stop anti-piracy. The singer lent her voice to Warner Music Group, which set up audio file decoys of downloadable songs from Madonna's new album American Life. What users heard instead after downloading them was the Material Girl swearing at them for stealing. In retaliation, Reuters reports, hackers defaced the pop diva's Web site and have made the real songs easily available for download. Don't mess with those computer geniuses out there.
Jim Morrison's Parents Sue the New Doors
The Doors 21st Century has been slapped with a lawsuit by Jim Morrison's parents, AP reports. George and Clara Morrison have filed suit against original members guitarist Robby Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, claiming the new Doors band "maliciously misappropriated" the name and logo of The Doors and used Morrison's poetry and photos without permission. The suit also claims the new band plans to "wrongfully enrich themselves" through touring, AP reports.