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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For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
One of young Hollywood's brightest stars and biggest talents, Stewart has become famous around the world since landing her break-out role as Bella Swan in the hugely popular Twilight franchise.
Born into a showbiz family, Stewart dreamed of becoming a writer or director, but her debut playing Jodie Foster's daughter in 2002 film Panic Room put her firmly on the path to stardom.
In between her Twilight outings, Stewart has played a stripper and a rock star, added a haul of trophies to her mantel and kept fans guessing over her rumoured romance with co-star Robert Pattinson.
To celebrate her 21st birthday, WENN has uncovered 10 facts about Stewart that may have passed you by:
- Stewart was born in Los Angeles but is actually half-Australian - her mum originally hails from Maroochydore in Queensland.
- The actress has a musical side - she wrote the track Tracy's Song for her movie Into The Wild and can be heard singing it on the soundtrack.
- Her part in Panic Room originally belonged to Hayden Panettiere. The film was recast when Nicole Kidman was forced to pull out of the lead role due to an injury sustained filming Moulin Rouge!
- She has amassed a reported $25 million (£16.7 million) fortune from her role in the vampire saga.
- Stewart struck up a friendship with Joan Jett to play the rocker in last year's (10) The Runaways biopic, about the 1970s all-girl band.
- She shares her birthday with Dennis Quaid, who played her dad in Cold Creek Manor, as well as Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon and Playboy boss Hugh Hefner.
- She traded vamps for tramps in her saucy movie Welcome to the Rileys, in which she played a young lap dancer who offers to service The Sopranos star James Gandolfini.
- She and Pattinson have repeatedly refused to confirm reports of a romance but they've fuelled speculation by ringing in both 2010 and 2011 in Britain's Isle of Wight.
- Fans love Pattinson and Stewart's onscreen chemistry - the couple has taken home the Best Kiss trophy at the MTV Movie Awards twice.
- Stewart counts her Twilight co-stars Nikki Reed and Dakota Fanning among her closest friends.
We've pored over the headlines and highlights of the last 12 months and come up with a quiz that'll test the old grey matter.
So, put down the eggnog and turn down the TV...
1. She played a Salt-y spy, he voiced Metroman. Name the celebrity couple.
a. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
b. Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise
c. Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith
2. ... and can you name their three biological children?
a. Pax, Maddox and Shiloh
b. Shiloh, Vivienne and Knox
c. Isabella, Conner and Suri
3. Name Scarlett Johansson's super villainess character in Iron Man 2.
a. Black Widow
c. The Bride
4. Hollywood icon Tony Curtis died in September after suffering a cardiac arrest. Name his daughter.
a. Jennifer Jason Leigh
b. Jamie Lee Curtis
c. Carrie Fisher
5. Which fugitive actor spent the latter part of the year seeking asylum in Canada after confessing he feared for his life if he returned to the U.S.?
a. Dennis Quaid
b. Chevy Chase
c. Randy Quaid
6. Which Harry Potter star appeared in a Halloween episode of The Simpsons as a mysterious character called Edmund?
a. Daniel Radcliffe
b. Rupert Grint
c. Alan Rickman
7. Name Mel Gibson's Russian ex.
a. Anna Kournikova
b. Olga Chernikova
c. Oksana Grigorieva
8. This Hollywood actor returned to Wall Street and battled throat cancer. Name him.
a. Michael Douglas
b. Charlie Sheen
c. Josh Brolin
9. What do Toy Story 3, Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender all have in common?
a. They were all remakes
b. They all starred Tom Hanks
c. They were all 3D films
10. Which Bond star landed himself a role in the Hollywood remake of smash-hit Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?
a. Sean Connery
b. Daniel Craig
c. Roger Moore
11. Which movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2010?
a. The Hurt Locker
c. Up in the Air
12. His 'Crazy Heart' won him gold at the Oscars in 2010 and his 'True Grit' looks put him in contention in 2011. Name the movie veteran.
a. Brad Pitt
b. Jeff Bridges
c. Robert Duvall
13. Which Walt Disney movie became the highest grossing animated film of all time in 2010?
a. Toy Story 3
14. Which actress was jailed in July after violating probation stemming from a 2007 DUI arrest?
a. Paris Hilton
b. Lindsay Lohan
c. Nicole Richie
15. Which Pirates of the Caribbean star married his model girlfriend Miranda Kerr in July?
a. Johnny Depp
b. Geoffrey Rush
c. Orlando Bloom
16. Which Oscar winning actress surprised the world by announcing she had adopted a baby boy, just weeks after winning her first Oscar - and then leaving her cheating husband?
a. Sandra Bullock
b. Halle Berry
c. Kate Winslet
17. Hollywood legend Dennis Hopper lost his battle with prostate cancer at age 74. Name his character in cult biker movie Easy Rider.
18. Who hosted the 2010 Oscars?
a. Billy Crystal and Steve Martin
b. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin
c. Alec Baldwin and Billy Crystal
19. Which royal couple is Madonna currently making a movie about?
a. Prince Charles and Princess Diana
b. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
c. Edward VII and Wallis Simpson
20. Seth Rogen and Ryan Reynolds both became green superheroes in 2010. Name their characters in the upcoming movies.
a. The Green Goblin and Green Lantern
b. Green Hornet and Green Lantern
c. The Riddler and Green Hornet
21. And while we're going green, which actor was named the new Hulk?
a. Mark Ruffalo
b. Brad Pitt
c. George Clooney
22. Who co-starred with Bruce Willis in the film Red?
a. Kate Winslet and Morgan Freeman
b. Helen Mirren and George Clooney
c. Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman
23. Liam Neeson portrayed John 'Hannibal' Smith in the film version of which 80's TV show?
a. The A-Team
b. Dukes of Hazzard
c. The Six Million Dollar Man
24. Which Twilight Saga star was crowned Homecoming Queen for the 2nd straight year at her school?
a. Kristen Stewart
b. Dakota Fanning
c. Ashley Green
25. Name Leonardo DiCaprio's mindbending 2010 film
a. The Last Airbender
26. Which movie star dumped a Canadian model for a French hunk?
a. Halle Berry
b. Sandra Bullock
c. Kate Winslet
27. He campaigned for Sudan, played 'The American' and fell for an Italian TV personality. Name the international movie star.
a. Matt Damon
b. Brad Pitt
c. George Clooney
28. Name John Travolta's baby son.
29. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz teamed up for which 2010 summer blockbuster?
a. Knight and Day
b. Day and Knight
c. Mission: Impossible 4
30. She teamed up with Gerard Butler in The Bounty Hunter. Name the actress.
a. Drew Barrymore
b. Katherine Heigl
c. Jennifer Aniston
Julia Roberts will produce Jesus Henry Christ, a comedy from Dennis Lee. The film is based on Lee's Student Academy Award-winning short about a boy conceived in a petri dish who goes on a quest for his biological father. Lee, who also directed Fireflies in the Garden, is writing the new script.
Roberts will produce via her Red Om Films but does not plan to star at this time, says The Hollywood Reporter. Sukee Chew of Hopskotch Pictures also is producing.
Lee is a Columbia film school graduate. Fireflies, his feature directorial debut stars Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss and Hayden Panettiere and will be released in June in the US.
Lee also adapted Brad Kessler's novel Birds in Fall, which he will direct for Senator and Red Om.
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