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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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Ancient mythology tells of an incredible soldier named Samson: with shoulders 60 cubits broad and enough strength to tear a lion in twain, Samson reigned as one of his time's most immensely powerful forces — all thanks to his hair.
RELATED: 'Argo' and Other Movies So Unbelievable They Must Be True
As proven by many great men since the rise and fall of Samson — The Beatles, Uncle Jesse, Carrot Top — a vibrant, untamed mane can imbue a mere mortal with boundless superhuman capability, driving him to achieve victories beyond the denizens of his most uninhibited fantasies. Like Oscars!
You might have picked up on the Academy Awards buzz circling Ben Affleck's forthcoming hostage crisis drama Argo, which debuted at the Telluride Film Festival in August and releases nationally on Friday. Oscars chatter has involved Argo nabbing a Best Picture nod, Alan Arkin being a sure shot for the Best Supporting Actor title, and for Affleck himself in the Lead Actor slot. It's easy to see why the star/director might be graced with these premonitions: subdued but passionate CIA Agent Tony Mendez is a leap from the more expressive characters on Affleck's résumé; the high-stakes nature of the politically charged true story make for a moving performance from the actor; and most of all, that hair.
Affleck sprouted a particularly 'brow-raising pelt — both atop his dome and all over his face — for his Argo character. The kind of hair that could effectively remove the man from any "celebrity crush" lists posthaste... but might well place him at the forefront of another, comparably esteemed assembly: Oscar winners.
RELATED: 'Argo' Wins Oscar, Shout-Out from Michelle Obama
Whether Affleck owns the role or flops with a vengeance, he is a surefire bet to take home the Oscar for Best Actor at the 85th Annual Academy Awards. Because of his hair. Hair wins Oscars. "No it doesn't," you scoff (we can hear your scoffs). "Talent wins Oscars." Sure, talent is nice and all, and has probably worked for a few people over the years — Alec Guinness, maybe — but the biggest secret of the trade: it's all in the tresses.
Look back over the past decade at the men who have nabbed the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Awards, and you'll see what we mean.
Almost ten Oscars ago, Chris Cooper took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 2002's Adaptation., a role for which he grew a colossally unflattering mop. Three years later, George Clooney sacrificed his unparalleled allure for a drunk uncle-ian soup strainer in Syriana, earning the same award for this character. In 2007, Javier Bardem's No Country for Old Men bowl-cut guaranteed him Best Supporting... although, admittedly, it could have easily gone to Philip Seymour Hoffman's atrocious Charlie Wilson's War dye job that year. And finally, '08: the late Heath Ledger and his frenzied Joker 'do would take home the Oscar for The Dark Knight.
Now, I know what you're thinking (we can hear your thoughts, too). "These are all Best Supporting Actors. There's absolutely no science that might prove this pattern would transcend into the Lead Actor category. To suggest as such would be crazy!" Crazy, huh? Crazy like a Heart?
In 2009, writer/director Scott Cooper released the intimate character drama Crazy Heart, starring beloved actor Jeff Bridges as washed up country music singer/songwriter Bad Blake. For this role, Bridges nabbed the Best Actor Oscar, beating out the likes of Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). Three time-tested Hollywood legends (with Freeman owning the additional edge of playing Nelson Mandela) and a showbiz newcomer at the head of an immensely affecting war film. Bridges' Crazy Heart performance was excellent — no one is here to claim otherwise — but he won because of the hair. He had to... he was the perfect candidate...
RELATED: Ben Affleck Talks Filling His 'Argo' Cast with Comedy Legends — VIDEO
See, Bridges' hair has long flowed free, onscreen and off. His Bad Blake bouffant was barely a stray from his usual shoulder-length 'do. So nobody suspected a thing when the Academy gave Bridges the Oscar. Nobody gave any thought to what might have really been going on behind the scenes.
As far as the public knows, the annual victors are ostensibly chosen by the collective members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an esteemed group of accomplished men and women who have made names for themselves in the following fields: acting, directing, writing, producing, editing, cinematography, animation, art direction, documentary filmmaking, music, a bunch of other stuff, and finally, makeup artistry and hair styling. A group that has made its career on attention to detail, on the grunt work, on secretly pulling the strings on all the forefront players — controlling the masses from behind the curtains.
"But how can this be?" you ask (my, you're vocal today). "How can this single group of people control the entire outcome of the Academy Awards?" Simple, my inquisitive friend: when you control people's hair, you control their minds. Through the venue of brain-altering chemicals, and tonics, and shampoos, the hair styling community of Hollywood has managed to instill their perspectives into the minds of their Academy peers, and (in the rare causes of failure), into those of the actors and actresses slated with announcing the names of the winners at the awards ceremonies.
And of course they have quite the definitive horse in this race. In order to afford their brethren ample work, this dedicated secret society (known as the Folliclists) have elected to award the actors with longer, more elaborate, vividly distinct hairstyles, thus promoting the adoption of these styles for future actors. "Long hair wins awards!" aspiring performers will think. "I've gotta get me some long hair!" And so, the trend begins, and the hair styling industry flourishes.
It was easy to do this with the Supporting Actor category — nobody really cares about that one. But in order to stake a claim for Lead Actors, the Folliclists needed to be strategic: they needed to sneak their way in via the likes of Bridges, whose hair would invite no suspicion. But Bridges is only the seed. Next, it's Affleck. After him, who knows? Benicio del Toro as the Matterhorn Yeti? Martin Freeman for The Hobbit? Josh Gad as Cousin Itt? It could be anyone. And then... it'll be all of us. They'll have the world.
We're onto you, hair stylists of America. Your nefarious plan is a secret no longer. And we'd totally set out to stop you... except we really need a trim before the weekend. Not too short, please.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros, Miramax]
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After his Oscar-winning portrayal of Ray Charles turned him into a sought-after dramatic actor, one-time comedian Jamie Foxx followed up 2004’s Ray with a slew of serious-minded projects, including Miami Vice, The Kingdom and The Soloist. But on the eve of the release of his latest dramatic vehicle, the revenge thriller Law Abiding Citizen, the In Living Color alum is poised to return to his roots, with three high-profile comedies on the horizon: Valentine’s Day, Due Date and ... Skank Robbers?
Foxx confirmed the latter film, in which he'll pair up with funnyman Martin Lawrence, in an exclusive interview with us earlier today. “We’re gonna do [Skank Robbers] together and just really, really knock a hole in the game’s head right now with that type of big, broad comedy,” he revealed.
The project will bring together Foxx’s In Living Color character, Wanda Reid, and Martin Lawrence’s Martin alter-ego, Shenehneh, for the first time on the big screen. To gauge the public’s demand for a feature-length Wanda/Shenehneh vehicle, Foxx and Lawrence released a teaser trailer (see below) for Skank Robbers back in June. “We shot the trailer a while back to see what people would say because, you know, people might think this is corny, you know what I’m saying?” Foxx explained. “People went nuts. I’m like, ‘Yo!’ So we went to Screen Gems and Clint Culpepper, who is a friend of Martin’s, and we set it up. Now we’re getting ready to shoot that thing and get it on out.”
Lest you think that a movie like Skank Robbers is a too low-brow for a “serious actor” like Foxx, know that he’ll be joining a prestigious group of Oscar-winning actors who’ve dressed in drag for laughs, including Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot), Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie) and Robin Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire).
Click here for the rest of our exclusive interview with Foxx, whose latest film, Law Abiding Citizen, opens this Friday, October 16, 2009.