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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Warning: This post contains minor spoilers from Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers.
"Every time I try to fly/ I fall without my wings/ I feel so small/ I guess I need you baby." For anyone who was young in the early 2000s, those lyrics evoke the twinkly, yet disheartening innocense of Britney Spears' song about loss and heartbreak. The light quality of the piano on "Everytime" evokes a sense of youth and inexperience, something we can chalk up to Spears' musical style and the wide belief that this song was a response to her breakup with Justin Timberlake, whom she'd known since she was a child. But when this song makes its debut in Harmony Korine's dislodging film Spring Breakers, courtesy of James Franco's Alien, and it takes on a whole new life.
RELATED: Should James Franco Get an Oscar for Spring Breakers?
Alien sings the song as he tickles the ivory on his outdoor piano, three corrupted young spring breakers twirling around him in pink ski masks adorned with unicorns, sparkly pink tiger bathing suits, sweatpants with "DTF" on the rear, and shotguns in hand. Eventually, the song transitions from Franco's growly version to Spears' sweet original; the scenes flash from the waltzing teen deviants to scenes of them assisting Alien as he ties up and tortures other vacationers while he steals all their earthy possessions. It's jarring, it's terrifying, it's heartbreaking. It's a technique that appears often in film, but in Korine's raucous movie, the concept of soundtrack dissoance is used to such perfection, that "Everytime" practially takes on a new meaning for those who've witnessed the extraordinary scene.
The video from the film isn't available online, but for some context, here's the song itself:
It's no surprise that this moment takes place in Spring Breakers, a film that relies on music just as heavily as it does on visual elements. But, it's not the first to make use of the counter-intuitive practice of soundtrack dissonance. From A Clockwork Orange, to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, to every Tim Burton movie, and even Disney/Pixar's Up and ABC's Lost, the selection of the "wrong" music has served to force out an emotion, be it sadness or laugher or some other feeling. By forcing a distance between the viewer and the subject, a greater emotional reaction is achieved.
RELATED: Lots of Dudes Had to Rub Up on Selena Gomez for 'Spring Breakers'
The most similar example to Spring Breakers' Britney ballad comes courtesy of A Clockwork Orange, when Alex leads his droogs into a robbery and eventual rape. The scene is violent, with the gang picking up and tying up their victim F. Alexander's wife while they merilessly beat Alexander himself and prepare to rape the woman. The whole time, Alex (Malcom McDowell) is cheerfully crooning "Singing in the Rain." (Be warned, this clip is very NSFW.)
With even greater brutality, but slightly more humor, comes this scene from American Psycho, in which Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) switches on "Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News before hacking Paul Allen (Jared Leto) to bits with a sinister grin on his face. It adds an element of comedy, but one that still has us so disturbed, we're a little afraid to actually laugh.
And you can't talk about violence paired with cheery music without including this scene from Reservoir Dogs, in which Vic Vega (Michael Madsen) rips up his victim while singing along to "Stuck in the Middle With You."
RELATED: 'Spring Breakers' Clip Introduces Us to James Franco's Alien
The trope exists on television too, where "Mama" Cass' "Make Your Own Kind of Music" became synonymous with the terror of the unknown on Lost. We first encounter the song when Desmond makes his first appearance as the mysterious threat in the hatch. He's got food, running water, some sort of terrifying vitamin injections. And as he's waking up with his mysterious routine, his very existence threatens our heros Jack and Locke as they peer down into this strange, unnerving new setting. Suddenly, the happy morning tune is one of imminent danger instead.
In Tim Burton's films, it's almost always certain that something terrible is about to happen when children begin cooing in his Danny Elfman-scored soundtracks. One example exists in this Sleepy Hollow scene, which showcases a moment of calm between young Ichabod and his mother before the nightmares of her awful torture come back to the grown Ichabod (Johnny Depp).
The use of singing children, of course, isn't unique to Elfman and Burton. A classic use of the innocence of children juxtaposed with the danger of an agressor comes from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, in which Tippy Hedron witnesses the deadly crows gathering on playground equipment in front of a schoolhouse as the children sing a school days tune together. There's virtually no action, but the suspense born out of the children's song is incredible.
Then, there's the use of terror-to-pleasant-music juxtoposition that influenced so many films after it: the scenes of exploding nuclear bombs set to "We'll Meet Again" at the end of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
And while this technique is most often used in situations of terror or violence, it can also be used for a laugh. In Up, after the first few minutes of the film render us weeping balls of mush, we're given a little comic relief at the hands of Carl in old age. The famous aria from Carmen, "L'amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle." The pairing of Carl's stale, boring old man routine with the oppulence of the iconic tune evokes a sense of sad comedy, but one that helps us get into the lighthearted action of the rest of the film.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: A24 Films]
You Might Also Like:Topanga's Revealing Lingerie Shoot: Hello '90s! Stars Who Have Lost Roles For Being Too Hot (Celebuzz)
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.