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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Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Here's a feat: taking what is likely the oldest, most well-known story in the world, and making a retelling feel inventive. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Darren Aronofsky's Noah takes many forms — Tolkien-esque fantasy, trippy psychological thriller, merciless dissection of the dark points of abject faith — never feeling too rigidly confined to the parameters of the familiar tale that we've all experienced in the form of bedtime stories, religious education lessons, and vegetable-laden cartoons. As many forms as the parable has taken over the past few thousand years, Aronofsky manages to find a few new takes.
The director's thumbprint is branded boldly on Russell Crowe's Noah, a man who begins his journey as a simple pawn of God and evolves into a dimensional human as tortured as Natalie Portman's ballerina or Jared Leto's smack head. Noah's obsession and crisis: his faith. The peak of the righteous descendant of Seth (that's Adam and Eve's third son — the one who didn't die or bash his brother's head in with a rock), Noah is determined to carry out the heavenly mission imparted upon him via ambiguous, psychedelic visions. God wants him to do something — spoilers: build an ark — and he will do it. No matter what.
No matter what it means to his family, to his lineage, to his fellow man, to the world. He's going to do it. No matter what. The depths to which Aronofsky explores this simple concept — the nature of unmitigated devotion — makes what we all knew as a simplistic A-to-B children's story so gripping. While the throughline is not a far cry from the themes explored in his previous works, the application of his Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan ideas in this movie does not feel like a rehashing. Experiencing such modern, humane ideas in biblical epic is, in fact, a thrill-ride.
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Although Aronofsky accesses some highly guttural stuff inside of his title character, he lets whimsy and imagination take hold of the world outside of him. Jumping headfirst into the fantastical, the director lines his magical realm with rock monsters — "Watcher" angels encased in Earth-anchored prisons as punishment for their betrayal of God — and a variety of fauna that range in innovation from your traditional white dove to some kind of horned, scaled dog bastardization.
But the most winning elements of Noah, and easily the most surprising, come when Aronofsky goes cosmic. He jumps beyond the literal to send us coursing through eons to watch the creation of God's universe, matter exploding from oblivion, a line of creatures evolving (in earnest) into one another as the planet progresses to the point at which we meet our tortured seafarer. Aronofsky's imagination, his aptitude as a cinematic magician, peak (not just in terms of the film, but in terms of his career) in these scenes.
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With all this propped against the stark humanity of his story — not just in terms of Crowe's existential spiral, but in character beats like grandfather Methuselah's relationship with the youngsters, in little Ham's playful teasing of his new rock monster pet — Aronofsky manages something we never could have anticipated from Noah. It's scientific, cathartic, humane. Impressively, this age-old tale, here, is new. And beyond that feat, it's a pretty winning spin.
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Those keeping up with the continuous roll out of awards circuit nominations have, by now, come to notice a trend. Despite the wide variety of organizations offering recognition of film achievement, each year there are bound to be some mainstays: specific movies that top every venue's list.
So far, 2012's nomination championship falls in the lap of Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's beloved biopic about America's 16th president. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has revealed its nominations, cementing Lincoln as the past year's most impressive spectacle. The historical drama earns 10 nods from BAFTA, including the top honor of Best Film. In Lincoln's company are other unsurprising entries: Les Miserables and Life of Pi each take in nine nominations (both Best Film candidates as well), and Argo ropes in seven (another top honor hopeful). Check out the full list of nominees below.
LIFE OF PI
ZERO DARK THIRTY
OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
OUTSTANDING DEBUT BY A BRITISH WRITER, DIRECTOR OR PRODUCER
BART LAYTON (Director), DIMITRI DOGANIS (Producer) — The Imposter
DAVID MORRIS (Director), JACQUI MORRIS (Director/Producer) — McCullin
DEXTER FLETCHER (Director/Writer), DANNY KING (Writer) — Wild Bill
JAMES BOBIN (Director) — The Muppets
TINA GHARAVI (Director/Writer) — I Am Nasrine
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
RUST AND BONE
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
WEST OF MEMPHIS
MICHAEL HANEKE — Amour
BEN AFFLECK — Argo
QUENTIN TARANTINO — Django Unchained
ANG LEE — Life of Pi
KATHRYN BIGELOW — Zero Dark Thirty
AMOUR (Writer: Michael Haneke)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Writer: Quentin Tarantino)
THE MASTER (Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson)
MOONRISE KINGDOM (Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola)
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Writer: Mark Boal)
ARGO (Writer: Chris Terrio)
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (Writers: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin)
LIFE OF PI (Writer: David Magee)
LINCOLN (Writer: Tony Kushner)
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (Writer: David O. Russell)
BEN AFFLECK — Argo
BRADLEY COOPER — Silver Linings Playbook
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS — Lincoln
HUGH JACKMAN — Les Misérables
JOAQUIN PHOENIX — The Master
EMMANUELLE RIVA — Amour
HELEN MIRREN — Hitchcock
JENNIFER LAWRENCE — Silver Linings Playbook
JESSICA CHASTAIN — Zero Dark Thirty
MARION COTILLARD — Rust and Bone
ALAN ARKIN — Argo
CHRISTOPH WALTZ — Django Unchained
JAVIER BARDEM — Skyfall
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN — The Master
TOMMY LEE JONES — Lincoln
AMY ADAMS — The Master
ANNE HATHAWAY — Les Misérables
HELEN HUNT — The Sessions
JUDI DENCH — Skyfall
SALLY FIELD — Lincoln
ANNA KARENINA (Dario Marianelli)
ARGO (Alexandre Desplat)
LIFE OF PI (Mychael Danna)
LINCOLN (John Williams)
SKYFALL (Thomas Newman)
ANNA KARENINA (Seamus McGarvey)
LES MISÉRABLES (Danny Cohen)
LIFE OF PI (Claudio Miranda)
LINCOLN (Janusz Kaminski)
SKYFALL (Roger Deakins)
ARGO (William Goldenberg)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Fred Raskin)
LIFE OF PI (Tim Squyres)
SKYFALL (Stuart Baird)
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Dylan Tichenor, William Goldenberg)
ANNA KARENINA (Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer)
LES MISÉRABLES (Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson)
LIFE OF PI (David Gropman, Anna Pinnock)
LINCOLN (Rick Carter, Jim Erickson)
SKYFALL (Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock)
ANNA KARENINA (Jacqueline Durran)
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Beatrix Aruna Pasztor)
LES MISÉRABLES (Paco Delgado)
LINCOLN (Joanna Johnston)
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (Colleen Atwood)
MAKE UP & HAIR
ANNA KARENINA (Ivana Primorac)
HITCHCOCK (Julie Hewett, Martin Samuel, Howard Berger)
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Peter Swords King, Richard Taylor, Rick Findlater)
LES MISÉRABLES (Lisa Westcott)
LINCOLN (Lois Burwell, Kay Georgiou)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Mark Ulano, Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Wylie Stateman)
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Tony Johnson, Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Brent Burge, Chris Ward)
LES MISÉRABLES (Simon Hayes, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Jonathan Allen, Lee Walpole, John Warhurst)
LIFE OF PI (Drew Kunin, Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton, Ron Bartlett, D. M. Hemphill)
SKYFALL (Stuart Wilson, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Per Hallberg, Karen Baker Landers)
SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Peter Bebb, Andrew Lockley)
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White)
LIFE OF PI (Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer)
MARVEL AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (Nominees TBC)
PROMETHEUS (Richard Stammers, Charley Henley, Trevor Wood, Paul Butterworth)
HERE TO FALL
I’M FINE THANKS
THE MAKING OF LONGBIRD
THE VOORMAN PROBLEM
Click here to read about BAFTA's Rising Star Award nominations, which include Elizabeth Olsen and Juno Temple.
[Photo Credit: David James/20th Century Fox]
Next Up, Oscars? Spielberg, Affleck Crack the Directors Guild's 2013 Nominations
'Amour' Named Best Picture By National Society of Film Critics
'Zero Dark Thirty', 'Lincoln', 'Argo', 'Looper' Among WGA Award Nominees
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The latest movie in the Step Up franchise aims for a politicized message behind all the flashy moves but it could do with a lot less plot and a lot more dancing. In Step Up Revolution the Miami dance group "The Mob" takes to the streets (and other random locations) to perform intricately choreographed routines with their own DJ a camera guy who uploads their videos to YouTube and a graffiti artist who leaves their signature behind. It takes at least that much effort just to get hipster New Yorkers to ride the subways without any pants on once a year; it's hard to believe that The Mob could pull off their elaborate schemes without getting caught but that's the magic of movies.
The Mob represents the more diverse working class side of Miami a young multiracial group of friends who create incredible works of art that disappear before they get shut down. One of the Mob's leaders Sean (Ryan Guzman) earnestly explains to newcomer Emily (Kathryn McCormick) that the group's reason is to give a voice to the voiceless or to be happy or to dance or something. It's not really clear but they have a lot of fun and look amazing doing it.
Once Sean and his friends find out that a greedy developer plans to raze their neighborhood to make way for another South Beach-style hotel monstrosity they have a reason to rally but until then they're just trying to win a cash prize by getting clicks on YouTube. The typical Step Up twist is that Emily is the developer's daughter. Mr. Anderson (Peter Gallagher) doesn't approve of Emily's love of dancing or other frippery and he certainly wouldn't approve of her hanging out with the people causing such mayhem in the streets of Miami.
Step Up Revolution biggest misstep is trying to give the movie more of a hook than the franchise's typical Romeo and Juliet-style love story and tap into "the Zeitgeist" (I swear that's from the studio-provided press notes) of flash mobs. The film could have cut out most of the plot and characters and still have a completely intact film insofar as the point of the film is its multimedia dance routines. The sort of productions The Mob pulls off are more akin to carefully planned art installations or music videos in terms of scope; it would have been better to at least make that somehow feasible in terms of the storyline. Yes we are here for a spectacle and we surely get a spectacle but it needs to have some roots in reality.
The dance scenes are fun sexy and occasionally a little sappy but overall quite enjoyable for people who enjoy "So You Think You Can Dance" type of shows. Kathryn McCormick and Stephen "tWitch" Boss both appeared on "SYTYCD" and their costar Misha Gabriel is a classically trained ballet dancer turned pro back-up dancer for folks like Beyoncé and Michael Jackson. Guzman doesn't have a dance background but he is an MMA fighter who obviously took his training very seriously. The entire outfit is pretty damn entertaining to be honest.
As far as the 3D goes it makes most of Miami look overcast and grey. The extra zings added in to make sure we get our money's worth like sand flicking out at us or a breakdancer whose foot seems to be aiming for our face only serves to distract from the real show at hand. There is also an awful lot of ramping and generally spazzy editing tricks that look cheap. The screenplay by Amanda Brody is definitely not its strong suit.
Step Up Revolution is the cinematic equivalent of a trashy beach novel. It's embarrassing to be caught actually enjoying it and you'll forget about it almost immediately but it's a decent way to spend a summer afternoon.
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.