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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The Knocked Up star and her husband Josh Kelley have taken in two three-month-old German shepherd crosses, and she has asked her followers on Twitter.com to put forward ideas about possible monikers.
In a series of posts, the actress writes, "JK (Kelley) and I have decided to adopt two Shepherd mix puppies... I'd love some name suggestions! It's a boy and girl... We love ol' timey names. Thanks in advance y'all!... Wow! Love all the suggestions already! Gonna be hard to choose! Thanks guys!!...
"Ok so far JK's fav (favourite) is Mason and Dixon of course! Mine are Bonnie, Clyde, Betty, Clarence, Humphrey, Lucy... Oh and Mildred!... They are about 3 months and Shepherd mixes. Soooo cute!"
S10E12: Alright folks, this is it. The Idol top 24 have actually all been revealed and you know what, it wasn’t all that surprising. Maybe that’s because they’ve been showing us reels and reels of footage of them all season so that we’d get attached and feel compassionate towards their quest for superstardom, but in most cases it’s because they are legitimately talented and there’s not much to gripe about.
While American Idol took two hours to reveal all the finalists, I doubt it will take us that long. We all know that show could have been over in a half hour – I mean, they’re preempting Glee for Idol next week, how much time must we give? With the spirit of brevity in mind, let’s get down to business.
“You had me at ‘If You Had My Love.’” –JLo
First up was Karen Rodriguez from New York, who I called a wedding singer yesterday. Now don’t get me wrong, the girl has pipes; she can sing well, but the difference between a wedding singer and a recording artist is hardly ever ability. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s star quality, and I’m not sure Karen has it, but seeing as she was named one of the top 12 ladies, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
After Karen got the good news, one of my favorites, Robbie Rosen, received good tidings as well. The show took a moment to remind us of his miraculous past (he used to be in a wheelchair), which I had totally forgotten about but made me like him even more. The kid just oozes talent and he’s charismatic, yet unassuming onstage. This whole segment would have been even better if Steven had refrained from telling him he’d made it in that tricky, circular Chesire Cat-esque phrasing that he used ALL FREAKING NIGHT.
There were a few faces I wasn’t jazzed to see make it into the top 12, but I’m by no means livid about it. One of those folks was Tatynisa Wilson who has incredible range, but brings something awkward to the stage when she gets up there. I’m hoping it was just audition nerves, but we’ll see next week when she sings for the country’s votes.
Among those folks that Idol showed us getting rejected were Brittany Mazure and Jimmy Allen, two faces that managed to shy away from the cameras for most of the journey, so we had little reason to miss them when they left.
“Scotty, Scotty, SCOTTY. You make a Bronx girl love country music?” –JLo
I guess today I’m all about the JLo quotes, but I think Steven’s had enough time in the spotlight. Moving right along, we saw Tim Halperin, who sang his own original song in his final audition in the hangar of doom. He’s got a lovely voice, but he’s also got incredible stage presence, and folks that’s what you need to keep going here: the whole package. Of course, Halperin nabbed a slot among the top 12 dudes.
Julie Zorilla took the stage for her last audition, singing solidly and beautifully, but I share the same concerns as the judges. There’s not a whole lot of emotion behind her voice when she sings, but her beauty and voice won out for now because she also grabbed a spot in the final 24.
Scotty McCreery made it through as well, and while I’d like to say I agree with that, I’m not sure that I do. Maybe it’s the new Idol and he won’t have to try on other styles that will test his country timbre, but he’s a one note guy – even if that one note is fantastic. On the flip side, John Wayne Schultz didn’t fare as well. There’s only one spot for a country boy and it makes sense that Scotty would merit it over John Wayne.
“Thank you and God bless you, Ryan.” –Rachel Zevita’s 90 year old granny
Also making it into the final set were Jovany Barreto (who Ryan creepily keeps calling the “Latin Lover”) and Lauren Turner (who’s just recently started popping up in the show’s “random” footage). They’re both great singers with fantastic ranges. Turner’s been a bit inconsistent, but you don’t ignore a set of pipes like hers. Unfortunately, right after that good news came the news that Erin Kelley and Taiwan Strong would be marching on home. Once again, thanks to the editing on the show, we don’t really have a reason to miss them all that much.
Finally, we have Rachel Zevita, who Ryan says he feels like he’s grown up with because she’s auditioned before. The girl has truly got a great voice, though her performances are a little bi-polar and could use some guidance. She brought her 90 year old grandma with her to get the news so it’s a good thing they finally gave her the green light to make it into the top 12 girls.
“You’re mean! You’re so mean!” –Lauren Alaina
“No. Randy’s mean.” –JLo
Another questionable lady made it into the top 24, Kendra Chantelle. Of course, she’s pretty, she’s got a sweet voice, and she has definitely improved, I’m just not sure how long she’ll last once the voting starts. I did however like her very smart song choice – “Falling” is the song she first auditioned with, and we definitely saw how much she’d improved.
In the category of “UGH, alright I GUESS,” Jordan Dorsey was given a spot among the top 12 dudes. Yeah, yeah, he can sing, but the guy is just straight up not likable. Some of you may disagree, but not everyone can be an arrogant asshole like Kanye West and still sell millions of albums. When you’re as talented as Kanye, go ahead and be a dick, but the fact is Dorsey isn’t THAT talented, so he need to knock it off.
Then we get to mini-Dolly Parton in her sparkly pink and purple cowgirl outfit. WOWZA. When did she become a My Size Barbie? Anyway, after a serious fakeout, Lauren Alaina found that of course she’s in the top 12 girls because DUH. She’s got an amazing voice. Done deal.
“I’ll take an order of that. I’ll have what he’s having.” -Steven
Of course one of Jennifer’s favorites, Stefano Langone made it through. The guy can sing, even if his original song may need a little work as far as the lyrics go, and his final audition proved that. Among other not-so-surprising top 24 picks were Jacob Lusk of the amazing old timey voice (and the best celebration dance ever on Idol) and Pia Toscano. Early favorite Jackie Wilson didn’t fare as well, but after watching her final hangar audition I doubt anyone was pushing for her to stay. She really fell from the heights of her original audition and it was just painful to watch.
Obviously James Durbin got a spot in the top 24. I get that the guy is talented, but his vocals are more suited for an entire rock band’s sound (like, hello, Steven Tyler in Aerosmith) not for a solo pop artist. However, it doesn’t matter what I think, because it’s up to Idol fans now.
“I’m here to prove that people like me can be sexy.” –Casey Abrams
You know, when he said that, I cringed; but when he started singing I backed down and realized that it’s totally true. Mr. Abrams is probably the most talented person ever on Idol. He’s a real musician who probably wouldn’t have had a shot going straight into the music business because he doesn’t look the part. THIS is what Idol should be for, not for a bunch of pretty good singers to show off their skills with old standards and Destiny’s Child songs. If he doesn’t get well in time to tape his performance for next week (he was hospitalized yesterday) I may actually shed tears OVER AMERICAN IDOL. THIS IS SERIOUS, FOLKS.
Finally there were five left and only two more spots. For the ladies it was down to Thia Megia and Jessica Cunningham (who’s tried out SEVEN TIMES). The talent lies with Thia so she got the final spot, but Jessica was understandable frustrated because it was also her birthday. But here’s the thing, you cannot be given a spot in the top 24 as a birthday present or a consolation prize. It’s time to return to your day job, sorry girlie.
Last but not least, Jacee Badeaux, Brett Lowenstern and Colton Dixon were brought out together to find that Brett was the one to take the final spot. I doubt I was the only one who was happy to see that happen, but it was hard to watch Jacee go. He’s a little sweetheart, but the fact is he’s 15 years old and he’d get swallowed up in the competition. He needs a few more years to work on his voice, and then he may be able to really take the competition by storm.
Well, there you have it. The rest of the top 24. Get your voting fingers ready, start doing those exercises (and practice your Facebook skills because you can use that now too) because next week, you actually have to start deciding who goes home and who stays. And we all know, if you don’t vote, you can’t bitch.