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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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Deadline reports that English actor Jamie Bell has signed on to join Cillian Murphy (Inception) and Thandie Newton (Crash) in the British psychological thriller The Retreat, which begins production next month in Wales under the direction of newcomer Carl Tibbets.
The Retreat centers on a married couple vacationing on a remote European island to work on their relationship after they are affected by a personal tragedy. But the couple's world is thrown into chaos when a soldier in a biohazard suit washes ashore and tells them everyone on the mainland is dying of a highly contagious airborne virus.
Bell is most likely replacing the previously attached David Tennant to play the dying military officer. The young actor, who got his start playing the titular role in the acclaimed Billy Elliot (2000) and was a finalist to play Spider-Man in the Marc Webb reboot, just wrapped production on Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and will be seen next February alongside Channing Tatum in the Roman period drama The Eagle.
The Retreat was written by director Carl Tibbets, and will be produced by Magnet's Gary Sinyor, with David Frost executive producing.
A recent short-list of candidates pertaining to the starring role in Marc Webb's anticipated Spider-Man reboot put young talent like Frank Dillane, Andrew Garfield and Josh Hutcherson at the top of the order, but according to a new report from Bleeding Cool, the coveted role may already be cast.
The site suggests that Jamie Bell, who will be seen next year in Kevin MacDonald's The Eagle of the Ninth and Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, has emerged victorious and will don the red-and-blue spandex in the 3D tentpole, due July 3rd 2012.
Bell, who danced his way into Hollywood in 2000's acclaimed Billy Elliot, has worked his way around the industry quite successfully in the past decade, getting the chance to work with A-list filmmakers such as Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson and Edward Zwick while honing his craft. At 24, he's of the right age and has displayed the charming awkwardness necessary to play Peter Parker before in films like The Chumscrubber and Dear Wendy. Of all the candidates in the running, he's got the most varied, impressive and bankable resume to back up his ability.
As a long-time fan of Spider-Man across all media, I'm happy to see the production gain an actor of Bell's caliber. In just ten years he's gone from playing nebbish, Peter Parker-like characters to larger than life roles in Jumper and King Kong and has always brought gravity and grace to his work. Based on looks alone, I'd probably have gone with Hutcherson, but given Bell's extraordinary range I think that Sony has picked a winner. The bigger question at hand would be: how could he balance two gigantic franchises (Tintin is a planned trilogy, as one would assume the new Spider-Man film(s) will be).
Columbia Pictures has neither confirmed nor denied the rumor, so as of now we'll have to wait to see how this story pans out. Should it turn out to be true, it would be the first piece of positive news to come from the world of America's favorite web-slinger since Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 was scrapped - a move that may or may not have cost the studio dearly.
Source: Bleeding Cool
Spider-Man Casting Showdown
It's been a three years since the Spider-Man trilogy came to a close, and since Hollywood seems to be working in dog years, someone has decided that it's time for a remake. While the first Spider-Man series was a commercial success, fans were less than enthused about Spider-Man's transformation from wise-cracking, nerdy high schooler into a generic angst-filled superhero. And let's not even get started on Spider-Man 3. Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios have brought on indie director Marc Webb and scriptwriter James Vanderbilt for the pared-down project, but the casting of the titular webslinger has been kept under wraps, until today. We'll walk you through the choices and our take on who should play your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and who's got the nerdy essence of Peter Parker down pat.
The Stage Star
Bio: English-American Andrew Garfield is one of the most critically acclaimed actors on our list. He's won a number of awards for his stage acting, and was named one of Variety's "10 Actors To Watch" in 2007. He's also had some big-screen success, appearing in The Other Boleyn Girl, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, and Boy A, for which he won a British Academy Television Award. He's next appearing in the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's bestselling novel Never Let Me Go due out this fall, and The Social Network which tells the stories of the founders of Facebook.
Nerd-O-Meter: 5/10 - Garfield may look a bit gangly, but he's still a put-together professional.
Our Take: Garfield seems to be the best actor of the bunch but is virtually unknown in the States, which is a liability to the would-be blockbuster. While having older actors play high schoolers is a time-honored Hollywood tradition, at 27 he would actually be older than Tobey Maguire was when he first took the role. Garfield looks young, and cute (and kind of like Neil Patrick Harris and Seth Green's lovechild), but by sequel time a thinning hairline could catch up to him.
Bio: Despite his youth, 17-year-old Josh Hutcherson is one of the most experienced actors on our list, and one of the most recognizable. Or at least, he would be if he hadn't been hit by the puberty truck recently and changed from a gawky kid to an actual hottie. Star of such kiddy fare as Zathura, Journey To The Center Of The Earth, and Bridge To Terabithia, he's begun to transition to more adult films with this summer's The Kids Are All Right.
Nerd-O-Meter: 8/10 - Hutcherson is an actual teenager, which is the kind of awkwardness that's tough to fake. No matter how many makeovers you get, we'll all still know about Firehouse Dog.
Our Take: Hutcherson may have experience, but there's a big difference between appearing in a film as the wisecracking child sidekick and having to carry a film by yourself. Since this Spider-Man will doubtlessly be following in The Dark Knight's "gritty" footsteps (sigh), he may not be up to the task of dealing with Spider-Man's often angsty personal life.
Bio: I'm sure that Frank Dillane is not actually creepy in real life, but when your only publicity photos are of you as a young Lord Voldemort that's the impression people are going to get. Dillane is the son of British actors Peter Dillane and Naomi Wirthner, but made his first acting debut in last year's Harry Potter film.
Nerd-O-Meter: 6/10 - Like Hutcherson, Dillane is still technically a teen, which helps him out, but his look seems less "dork" and more "serial killer."
Our Take: No one knows who Dillane is right now, but Potter has made plenty of people stars.
The Rising Star
Bio: Alden Ehrenreich may be unknown at the moment, but he's lined up to be Hollywood's next big thing. Ehrenreich's lucky break came from being "discovered" by Steven Spielberg, who saw him in a short film when he was 14. He made his big-screen debut in Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro last year, and will appear in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere.
Nerd-O-Meter: 1/10 - Ehrenreich looks more like one of those jocks who would shove Peter into a locker.
Our Take: Ehrenreich may not have a lot of experience, but straight out of the gate he's been marked for success, developing relationships with two of Hollywood's finest directors. But he is still virtually unknown, and you can't say that he really looks the part.
The Big Name
Bio: "Big" is very, very relative in this case, but Jamie Bell is probably the best-known actor on the list, even if it's just in a "hey it's that guy" sort of way. Bell made his name as the star of Billy Elliot in 2000, but has generally moved towards action films like King Kong and Jumper. He's also set to take the titular role in Spielberg's Tintin film adaptation.
Nerd-O-Meter: 3/10 - He may have gotten his debut in a tearjerker, but he's pretty buff these days. Plus, he danced like no one was watching, and that takes serious moxie.
Our Take: Bell's probably the front-runner at this point, as he's got that added "people know who the hell he is" appeal. But while Bell isn't as old as Garfield, he's still pretty old to be playing a high schooler, and could run into similar issues. Plus, his hair is disturbingly close to Tobey Maguire's infamous emo bangs from Spider-Man 3. Hopefully they won't take his Billy Elliot experience as incentive to insert another dance scene to the film.
The Heat Vision blog reports that Spider-Man director Marc Webb has been quietly meeting and reading actors to play the title role in Columbia's reboot for several months with the list narrowing in the past week or so. The candidates include Jamie Bell, Alden Ehrenreich, Frank Dillane, Andrew Garfield and Josh Hutcherson.
Bell, who made his film debut as the eponymous Billy Elliot, has already stepped into the comics world by portraying Tintin in Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, which hits screens in December 2011.
Ehrenreich was discovered by Spielberg, who saw a comedy video of him at a bat mitzvah of his daughter's friend. A couple of TV appearances followed and was cast by Francis Ford Coppola in 2009's Tetro.
Dillane, a Brit, had a role in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where he won notices playing a young Tom Riddle.
Garfield gained notices for playing a young reporter in the UK TV movie trilogy Red Riding. He will also be seen in David Fincher's The Social Network.
Finally, Hutcherson, who is the youngest of the candidates at 18, also has the most experience. He's scored key roles in Bridge to Terabithia and the upcoming Red Dawn remake. He also appears in the Sundance hit The Kids Are All Right and starred with Brendan Fraser in Journey to the Center of the Earth. The Journey sequel will see his character leap to the forefront as Fraser is likely to drop out.
The group of actors seems to fall in line with what Webb has been looking to do with his take on Spider-Man, which is to cast relative unknowns in a story that roots Parker back in high school, HV notes.