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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Ladies and gentlemen, you only have one week left. Yes, you only have one week before Labor Day, which means the end of summer and the start of the deluge of new fall programming that is going to demand your attention like two little kittens dancing around a linoleum floor playing with a ball of yarn (so cute!). But since there is nothing on TV this week except for the Republican National Convention (boring) and reruns of Jeopardy (boring but educational), now is the perfect time to binge watch one of the shows you've been meaning to catch up on all summer.
So, how do you get through a season of Homeland, two seasons of Downton Abbey, or the entire back catalog of Arrested Development without losing all of your friends and the circulation in your hind quarters? Binge watching is a fine art, and here are some tips we learned over the years.
Load Up: There are plenty of ways to binge watch a TV show: DVD, Netflix streaming, Hulu Plus, iTunes downloads, on demand, or just saving it on your DVR and waiting for the right moment. But, no matter how you choose to watch the show, make sure you have every available episode of the series at your fingertips. The best part of binge watching is you don't have to wait six months (or more!) in between seasons to find out what happens with all those cliffhangers. That is, if you were smart enough to plan ahead and get that next batch of episodes all queued up. Because once you find out that Don Draper is getting a divorce, you're going to need to see what happens immediately and you'll feel like a jerk the whole three days it takes for Amazon to mail you the next box set.
Gather Supplies: Here are things you will need while settling into your couch for the foreseeable future: water, snacks, wine, delivery menus, a computer (to IMDb random actors), a phone, a blanket, slippers, adult diapers (you never know), utensils, candy corn (really, it's the best), the cat (or dog), and your favorite caffeinated beverage. Maybe a pillow. Maybe.
Adjust Your Schedule: You know how long each episode is and what else is going on in your life, so make sure you rearrange events so that you will have time for complete episodes. Send the kids to bed 20 minutes early so you can get to the series finale of Friday Night Lights. Leave work before 6 PM so you can get in at least three episodes of The Wire. Leave the pooch at doggie day care all night so that you don't have to get up in the middle of Breaking Bad to address his selfish needs. The show must come first!
Be Strict: While you're trying to cram as much programming into a tight schedule as you can, don't deviate from the agenda. If you say, "I'm watching this until 11, and then I'm going to bed," then be sure you go to bed. Don't say, "Oh, just one more," because you will keep "one more"-ing yourself until it is 3 AM and you are still up and you may have to call in sick the next day. Then when you update your Facebook status with the Final Five Cylons, your boss is going to know what is up and you will lose your job because you had to find out just how Battlestar Galactica ended. That's not cool.
No Cancelling Plans: Your real life friends who talk to you are more important than the fake friends you are watching on the tube. Sorry, your best friend Madison's birthday will not wait. The next season of Deadwood can.
Find a Friend: Since you're watching the show after everyone else, it shouldn't be hard to find a friend who wrote her doctoral thesis on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or who has been posting GIFs of Community before it was even cool. Be sure to know who has watched the show and who hasn't so you can call them up and talk about your favorite episodes all over again. But be careful about spoilers. You don't want to ruin the good time of anyone who doesn't already know who shot J.R..
Shower: Seriously, no show is good enough to justify body odor.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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Director Rian Johnson teamed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for his 2005 feature debut Brick, a high school story rooted in detective and noir fiction. Now the two join forces once again for another genre exercise: the time travel movie. Looper puts the heady sci-fi concept front and center, using it as a catalyst for a fast-paced action movie worthy of Bruce Willis, Gordon-Levitt's opponent in the movie. The two play younger/older versions of the same character, Willis transported back in time to be assassinated by Gordon-Levitt's "Looper" (a hitman for future mobsters).
"I came up with the idea 10 years ago," explains Jonson. "There was a point where I was reading a lot of Philip K. Dick." Further complicating the already heady story is the one job that Gordon-Levitt's character Joe (what a stretch!) can't execute: himself. Instead of overexplaining the scenario, Johnson set up a montage of footage from the film. It's hard to tell how it all connects together, but Looper sports a near-perfect blend of blood-pumping action and heady, compelling character work. Joe kills people without blinking an eye, walking away from the grim line of work to party in the nighttime. The perfect life is thrown into chaos when Joe's older self arrives and the chase aspect of the film begins. Joe's instinct is to go to his employer, played by Jeff Daniels. A bit of exposition reveals that Joe is youngest Looper ever hired. Age, history and time — reoccurring themes.
Looper doesn't look as overtly "epic" as Inception in terms of scope, but it's melding of ideas with innovative action scenes (Johnson's choice of angles and camera movement feels distinct compared to most Hollywood blockbusters) makes the comparison apt. A scene between Gordon-Levitt and Willis pulls on the brakes, allowing the two actors to get in each other's heads and spar with one another. Gordon-Levitt offered some insight into his characterization at the panel: "I thought an imitation would be distracting. I wanted something that felt real. I took the audio from his movies and put them on my iPod. Bruce recorded some of my voice over lines so I could listen to them." Gordon-Levitt's take on Willis is a complete transformation, and unlike the over-the-top style of late, the young actor has found the tapped into the legend's defining, quieter side. "What's striking about Bruce is that he's actually a soft spoken man." says Gordon-Levitt. "You know why? Because he doesn't want other people listening to him and he doesn't have to speak up. Big macho guys who talk loud and have a big presence in a room – they're scared. A guy like Bruce doesn't have to raise his voice, he doesn't have to let people know. That struck me."
The extended trailer concluded with a barrage of action imagery. Things get quite out of whack in the world of Looper by the second half of the film, events that only questions can describe. Why are things randomly floating in the air? What was that shockwave blasting through a corn field? How did Joseph Gordon-Levitt get his hair to do that amazing single strand thing? When Looper rolls around later this year, we'll hopefully see a few of these questions will have answers and they'll be found on the edge of our seats.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]