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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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Each new year produces a handful of it-girls and men of the moment, and we here at Hollywood.com like to get ahead of the game by letting you, our loyal readers, know who’s going to be a big deal. 2012 sees a gaggle of films big and small hit theaters, and with them an army of actors working hard to make the most of their packed schedules. Some are big-screen veterans, others are relatively new to showbiz, but all of them are must-know names.
*This list was compiled based on the amount of films/projects each actor is a part of that will release in 2012, factoring in the size of the film(s) and their overall celebrity status.
Cooper had a hell of a 2011, with The Hangover Part II and Limitless proving him a major box office draw and those dreamy eyes helping him join the ranks of People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. So what does the New Year have in store for him? No less than four films: David O. Russell’s new comedy The Silver Linings Playbook, in which he works with an eclectic ensemble including Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles and more, the action-comedy Outrun, the dramatic thriller The Words (which co-stars Olivia Wilde and his new girlfriend Zoe Saldana) and The Place Beyond the Pines, the new film from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance. All the while he’ll be shooting Paradise Lost, an epic FX-driven actioner from I, Robot director Alex Proyas.
This Aussie became the superhero-du-jour thanks to his breakout role as the God of Thunder in Marvel’s Thor earlier in 2011, and he’s capitalizing on his newfound fame in a big way. He’ll reprise the part in May’s The Avengers, and has one-of-two titular roles in one-of-two anticipated Snow White adaptations (Snow White and the Huntsman) in June. Additionally, a pair of pictures he shot long ago will finally hit theaters – first the horror-thriller Cabin in the Woods, followed by the remake of cult favorite Red Dawn. Add in Ron Howard’s Rush, which he’ll begin shooting this January for an early 2013/late 2012 awards run and you’re looking at one of the most exciting careers to follow!
Tatum made our list last year thanks to a packed schedule including The Dilemma, The Eagle, The Son of No One and more, and 2012 is just as busy for the young A-lister. In January, Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire will finally hit multiplexes (in which he has a bit part) and we could see his ensemble drama Ten Year go wide at some point, but even if it doesn’t he’s got plenty of major motion pictures to promote. First will be the romantic drama The Vow opposite Rachel McAdams, followed soon after by Sony’s 21 Jump Street reboot. On June 29th, he’ll release a pair of very different movies – Paramount’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation and his second collaboration with Soderbergh, the male strip flick Magic Mike. But the best is yet to come, as he’ll star in Moneyball director Bennett Miller’s new drama Foxcatcher opposite Steve Carell, due in 2013.
As stated in the introduction, this list is about both seasoned cinematic figures and rising stars, and was there anyone who had a more impressive year than newcomer Ms. Chastain? I think not. With films as wide ranging as Texas Killing Fields, The Debt, The Help and The Tree of Life (among others) she solidified herself as a dramatic force to be reckoned with in 2011, and the future is bright for the 30-year-old starlet. She’ll reunite with director Terrence Malick for his new, untitled romantic drama and also has a role in John Hillcoat’s anticipated prohibition thriller Wettest County opposite Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. Additionally, she’ll star in a horror flick called Mama and a star-studded drama titled Tar with James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and more.
Here’s an example of a longtime film hero hitting it hard in 2012. While this isn’t the first fiscal year in which Willis has released multiple movies, it’s without question the busiest frame in his career. He’s slated to appear or star in no less than seven films, including big-budget blockbusters like G.I. Joe Retaliation and The Expendables 2, smaller action-thrillers Looper and The Cold Light of Day and more artful projects like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Stephen Frears' Lay the Favorite. He’ll also turn up in the 50 Cent-produced thriller Fire with Fire and will shoot the highly-anticipated A Good Day to Die Hard and videogame adaptation Kane & Lynch throughout 2012. Not bad for an elder statesmen.
Though he’s best known as a modern TV icon thanks to his Emmy-winning role in AMC’s Breaking Bad, Cranston has been incredibly prolific on the big-screen in recent years. He appeared in six films in 2011, including Drive, The Lincoln Lawyer, Contagion and Larry Crowne, and has five major productions on the horizon in 2012. In January he’ll play an authoritative figure in Lucasfilm’s long-gestating wartime action flick Red Tails, followed by a turn in Disney’s mega-budgeted John Carter. He’s also got a part in Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages adaptation and a villainous role in Sony’s Total Recall remake, and is currently filming Ben Affleck’s CIA drama Argo, set to hit theaters in September.
The former High School Musical star has been trying to establish himself as more than just a pretty face for some time, and 2012 could be a pivotal year in his career. He dabbles in commercial and independent fare next year, with starring roles in Universal’s Dr. Seuss adaptation The Lorax and Warner Bros.’ Nicholas Sparks adaptation The Lucky One as well as parts in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy and Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts. He’s also going to appear in an untitled ensemble drama alongside Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham and Clancy Brown.
We've had to wait until 2012 to finally see Baldwin's return to TV, and, lucky us - we'll also be treated to about five film roles from the beloved entertainer. He’s got parts in all kinds of movies, from indie comedy AmeriQua to indie drama Lucky Them, and even big studio flicks like Rock of Ages and DreamWorks Animation’s CGI spectacle Rise of the Guardians. But his most interesting project in unquestionably Nero Fiddled, Woody Allen’s new Rome-set romp, which will likely premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
Biel is best known as a maker of mainstream movies (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The A-Team, Valentine’s Day), but 2012 will see her release a diverse slate of films. She’s got one of two female lead roles in summer actioner Total Recall, and will play a pivotal part in Gabriele Muccino’s new dramedy Playing the Field. In addition, she’s got a horror thriller titled The Tall Man in the can, and is preparing to film a pair of pictures that could screen next year – The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. With any luck, we could also see the long-delayed David O. Russell political rom-com Nailed (in which she plays the female lead) release, but I’m sadly not holding my breath. And if she ends up wedding Justin Timberlake (as engagement rumors started swirling around the web earlier this month), it’s going to be a landmark year for the former 7th Heaven star.
This young talent has been on the rise for awhile, and with a resume that includes work with Robert Zemeckis, Jon Favreau, Paul Weitz and Lisa Cholodenko it’s a wonder he hasn’t been propelled to the spotlight sooner. In 2012 he has five films to release, and by the time the year is over he’ll likely be a household name. First he reprises his role from 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, then appears in an anthology film that sports a directing roster including Benicio del Toro and Gaspar Noe. March sees him starring in one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year – The Hunger Games – while he’ll then appear in the art-house drama Carmel opposite Alfred Molina and Hayden Panettiere. Finally, he’ll star in MGM’s Red Dawn remake in November, and by that point he’ll probably have already cornered several major films for his future.
When is Franco NOT one of the busiest entertainers in showbiz? The Oscar-nominated actor and noted workaholic has been laboring at ludicrous speeds as of late, and his 2012 schedule is packed with somewhere between five and seven films that you'll probably never see including drama Maladies (with Catherine Keener and David Strathairn), thriller The Stare (opposite Winona Ryder), the fore mentioned ensemble drama Tar, the Linda Lovelace biopic Lovelace and another porn-centric drama called Cherry. All the while he’ll be shooting a documentary and filming projects for release in 2013. The man is a machine.
Finally, here’s yet another example of career resurgence. Goodman’s been working incredibly hard over the past few years and has been a part of some of the most acclaimed pictures of 2011 – Kevin Smith’s Red State and awards’ hopefuls The Artist and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Next year, however, is a whole other animal, as he appears in five movies including indie dramedy Thicker, dark comedy Spring Break ’83, Focus Features animated fantasy ParaNorman, and a pair of important dramas from Ben Affleck (Argo) and Robert Zemeckis (Flight). In between pushing those pics, he'll be shooting the Coen Bros. new flick Inside Llewyn Davis and Pixar's anticipated prequel Monsters University. Walter Sobchak is back in the building people.
In order to save the life of her father an ex-mountain climber who needs a very expensive operation to repair an old spinal injury not covered by insurance 12-year-old Maddy (Kristen Stewart) a budding rock climber herself gets the idea to rob a bank for the money. Not just any bank mind you but the same one for which her mother (Jennifer Beals) has just designed a high-tech security system and the same one that refused to lend money to Maddy's family for Dad's operation. Ah so it's about a worthy cause and it's a revenge plot. Along with her climbing skills which she'll have to use in order to scale the 100-foot vault Maddy also enlists the help of her two best friends--the mechanically gifted Gus (Max Thieriot) and Austin (Corbin Bleu) a computer whiz and future film director. As the trio try to pull off the seemingly foolproof heist things don't go necessarily to plan (big surprise) and the kids must face the repercussions. Maybe it would have been easier if they just put on a musical show in the barn where neighbors could generously contribute to the "Let's Fix Dad" fund.
Catch's saving grace is the kids--Stewart Thieriot and Bleu are instantly likable. As the veteran of the trio Stewart (Panic Room) infuses Maddy with the right amount of empathy and determination while newcomers Thieriot and Bleu deliver charming performances not only as Maddy's friends but as her would-be suitors as well. The little competition between the two for her affection is sweet and unassuming and about the only compelling aspect to the story. As far as the adults in the film most fall into stereotypical roles. Michael Des Barres (Man From Elysian Fields) plays the megalomaniac president of the bank á la It's A Wonderful Life's evil Mr. Potter; Beals is Maddy's workaholic mother who promises to spend more time with her daughter while Sam Robards is the free-spirited dad waiting for his kid to save the day. And let's not forget a sadomasochistic yet bumbling bank security guard (James Le Gros) who "knows NUTHING!" about how to stop some wily kids from breaking into the vault. Borrring.
Catch That Kid is actually a remake of the 2002 Danish film Klatretøsen which is one of the country's more successful films a kid's version of the slick Ocean's Eleven. Doing a remake probably looked good on paper. After all bank heists are still considered the classier of crimes (providing no one gets hurt) stealing all that insurable cash from greedy financial institutions--and seeing kids do it would be fascinating. Unfortunately Catch fails to recognize its own potential. Screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas instead concoct the far-fetched plot so Maddy would have to have a good reason to commit the crime and indie director Bart Freundlich (World Traveler) doesn't even come close to capturing Ocean's Eleven's spirited fun and cleverness. There's no thrill. The kids show no joy in their high-tech and physical capabilities. They just dutifully plod through their mission. Even in trying to emulate the ultra-cool gadget-filled Spy Kids the film ultimately falls short in firing up the audience's imagination.