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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Movies may get most of the media attention at Comic-Con, but that doesn't mean the legions of costumed attendees aren't just as willing to geek out over their small-screen faves too. TV old and new is well represented this year, with panels dedicated to sneak peek glimpses of Game of Thrones' Season 4 and the new series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as classic faves like The X-Files. Click through our gallery to see what you can expect from TV at Comic-Con this year.
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Nobody tells a story like Vince Gilligan and his team. This week’s Breaking Bad, titled “Hazard Pay” for reasons obvious to anyone who holds attention past the first scene, is an especially proficient example of the show’s consistent triumph in furthering plot, building character, and establishing reality — something you won’t find to this same degree on any other program on television.
“Hazard Pay” offers progress to a few different plot structures. On the forefront — Walt, Jesse, and Mike in their new operation: the post-Gus crystal meth creation/distribution business. Via Saul, the team goes on a house-hunting expedition for the perfect venue for their illegal entrepreneurship. Fully armed with excuses on behalf of each, Saul takes his clients through factories and warehouses, even a laser tag emporium (director Andrew Bernstein does not forego his comedy background in this episode), until Walt has the brilliant idea to cook in fumigated houses… working in line with the exterminating company, and getting in and out of the tented homes before the poison is pumped in. Inconvenient, but feasible, and their best option.
But nothing can be simple smooth sailing for this team. Another standing issue is the line of former Gus employees who Mike now has to make sure won’t spill the beans on the dead boss’ secret operation. To do this, he has to continue their “hazard pay” — the profits Gus supplied in return for silence. Walt is none too pleased with this, as some of the money comes out of his shares; more than this, he’s never thrilled with being shifted back in the line of authority. This jar to Walt’s pride even commands a lapse in strategic poise from the chess master: at the end of the episode, Walt, beady eyes and all, implies to Jesse that Mike needs to be killed. Whereas most of Walt’s words are very carefully crafted and placed, he seems to be forgetting just how much Jesse cares for and looks up to Mike, and just how recently he escaped Jesse’s wrath in regards to the near death of Brock. But Walt’s pride often makes him blind. It makes him blind to the sick horror on Skyler’s face whenever he walks in a room — let alone when he tells her he’s moving back in at the beginning of this episode.
We see Walt take a few new plunges, in fact, this week. We see Walt betray Skyler’s secret affair to Marie in an effort to keep his own secrets more firmly hid: Marie wonders why Skyler breaks down and throws a fit at work — Walt credits the episode to Ted Beneke’s hospitalization, revealing that Skyler had an affair with him a few seasons back (he obviously doesn’t say “a few seasons back,” although that’d be pretty funny if he did), and swearing Marie to secrecy. We see Walt in his first interaction with Brock: Andrea and Brock drop by Jesse’s while Walt is over; the quiet young boy is duly ill at ease around the strange man, who unbeknownst to him, almost killed him. Walt telling Brock how brave he was in the hospital, sitting side by side with the boy on the couch, and calmly explaining that he has “two of his own,” reassures the viewer that we’re dealing with a monster. Still, there seems to be some discomfort in Walt when Brock is around. So much so that it might even contribute to his wry manipulation of Jesse that leads him to break up with Andrea — although, this could be fueled entirely by the interest of keeping Jesse’s loyalties dedicated to the job.
The show drops a few other hints in the episode that Walt’s darkness is all-encompassing. He chuckles when he comes across a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass — a nod to his victory over Gale Boetticher and the law enforcement’s pursuit of “Heisenberg”… and also a nod to one half of Bryan Cranston’s character’s namesake, (with the other being Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs). Also in the meta-references department, a late scene has Skyler walking in, grief-stricken, to Walt and Walter, Jr. (when is he going to start going by Flynn again? Does anyone else miss that?) heartily enjoying a viewing of Scarface. Fans know that Vince Gilligan’s M.O. for the character arc of Walter White was to turn him “from Mr. Chips into Scarface.” Obviously, this is a nod to the end game being right around the corner.
And that’s apparent by Marie’s mention of Walt’s upcoming birthday. The opening scene of this season’s premiere episode depicted Walt as a lone drifter, scruffy beard and full head of hair with a fake ID in tow, eating in a Denny’s on his 52nd birthday, just before purchasing a gigantic gun from a shifty character. Granted, Walt is presently 50, making the Denny’s scene over a year away — a fact I hadn’t truly recognized until Marie’s comment about his upcoming birthday. Seems to me that Denny’s felt much closer to the present action.
As mentioned above, “Hazard Pay” is an extraordinary case of the establishment of Breaking Bad’s world, both tangibly and in the realm of mood. The illustration of this interconnected world, wherein Saul knows all of these crooked businessmen, wherein hired muscles like Mike and Huell cross silent paths, wherein the people we haven’t seen in ages are still proven to exist — the triumphant return of Skinny Pete and Badger earns this episode so many points — proves just how much Breaking Bad cares about its reality. Furthermore, “Hazard Pay,” and every Season 5 episode so far, proves that Breaking Bad is invested in making its story feel as much like real life as possible. Even in a world of deceit, drug theft, and murder, there can be laughs. The show is never exclusively dedicated to one mood or another. It’s not a strict thriller or a strict drama insofar as being unwilling to become something else entirely for a line, a scene, or even an episode. The show knows that life is extremely versatile, and so it becomes such.
“Hazard Pay” is a near perfect episode of television. With the exception of some of the dialogue delivered by the inmate visited by Mike (a little hokey), and the heavy-handed delivery of the Scarface scene, everything feels organic, emotionally dense, and exquisitely enjoyable.
[Photo Credit: AMC]
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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.
The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.