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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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
March 28's "Songs from the Singers' Idols" episode of American Idol was so enthralling, we can forgive Ryan Seacrest's awkward Hunger Games riffs at the episode's onset. The judges couldn't stop giving standing ovations (five in total) and it took every fiber of my being to not stand up in the middle of my apartment after some of these songs.
I've said this time and again, but this season's set of singers is just unfair. And then there's Heejun. There are nine singers left and if it were up to me, I'd crown five of these folks the 2012 American Idol this second. But alas, there can only be one and there are eight more potentially heated weeks to go before the finale. The Top Nine not only earned spots in the Idol mansion, but they made it to an even bigger milestone: the week in which the great Stevie Nicks provides mentorship. And Nicks follows up Diddy's turn as a candid, outspoken, brutally honest mentor with her own brand of comedy and genuine interest in each and every one of these contestants. Of course, Phillip Phillips got her special attention for resembling Lindsey Buckingham circa 1975. Translation: Stevie Nicks thinks he's a cutie. But from Nicks' emotional moment with Hollie Cavanaugh, to harmonizing with Elise Testone, to her constant jabs at her longtime friend and producer Jimmy Iovine, the best episode yet was presided over by the best guest mentor yet. And whether it was the inspiration of a legend like Nicks shaping their performances or energy drinks secretly slipped into their water supply, the Top Nine turned in some seriously phenomenal performances. And to top it off, they were all able to choose songs by their personal idols, meaning they knew these songs inside and out. Every note means something, every word has been sung in front of a mirror with a hairbrush a thousand times. How is a voter supposed to choose? The Best of the BestBy this point, we've come to expect greatness from Phillip Phillips, Jessica Sanchez, Joshua Ledet, Skylar Laine and Colton Dixon. March 29 found each of them getting nice and cozy in their sweet spots, delivering performances that actually made me squeal in amazement. These singers, in case you hadn't guessed already, are the five contestants that deserve to win this whole competition right now. The problem is, there's five of them. Skylar Laine broke out of her comfy, solid routine to get a little more boisterous and lot more sultry with Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder & Lead." She riled herself up into that tizzy we experienced during her Top 24 performance, giving us a little reminder of why we liked her so much back then. She's a little firecracker and she works the stage like a teen sensation country crooner performing for a sold out stadium. Colton Dixon continued on his alt-rocker path to greatness, giving a tearful rendition of "his favorite worship song of all time" "Everything" by Lifehouse. Say what you will about his genre (or his hair, which Nicks told him to hang onto for dear life), but Dixon has got it down pat. There were some pitch issues that none of the judges seemed to notice, in fact Steven Tyler even told him he had "perfect pitch," but as a total package, Dixon's performance proved one very important thing: this guy can and will sell records. Phillip Phillips has remained a favorite throughout the competition. At the outset, his official Idol Twitter page even had the greatest number of followers, whatever that means. As the competition has progressed, he continues to dig his feet in, refusing to make wardrobe changes and put down his beloved guitar. Usually, that sort of stubbornness plays out badly for Idol contestants, but Phillips defies the stereotype. The more he dresses down and hangs onto to his bluesy, gritty, gutteral sound, the better he gets. This week, his choice of Johnny Lang's "Look Out My Window" couldn't have been any more perfect. Whether or not he's left standing, we'll see more of Phillips. He's the rare Idol picture of an artist's artist. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet are our soulful powerhouses. They're head and shoulders above everyone else, regardless of genre. You just don't encounter voices like these. Sanchez' choice of Beyonce as her mentor had me cheering; the R&B diva is the perfect example of how to turn a giant force of a voice into a pop music powerhouse. And while the slow arrangement of "Sweet Dream" killed the song's momentum for me, despite what the judges said about it being "beautiful," Sanchez has music flowing through her. She doesn't make conscious decisions onstage. She just is, and she is nothing short of phenomenal. Ledet, too, is simply phenomenal. What he has on Sanchez is an emotional connection. Sanchez sings beautifully, but perhaps its her maturity that hasn't quite caught up with her. When Ledet sings, his tone and lyrics work their way into our souls. He's not tugging on heartstrings, he's rocking us to our very cores. It's almost impossible to say one singer stands above everyone in this fantastic competition, but Ledet does, albeit by a very small margin. The Comeback KidsElise Testone and DeAndre Brackensick have been hovering on the lower brackets of the finalist set, and with her weak performance during Billy Joel week, Hollie Cavanaugh's potential dropped immensely. But what a difference a week makes. Testone earned the best performance slot of the night: the finale. Yet, week after week, she's continued to confuse us. Who is she? What's her genre? What's her thing? She's been all over the place, and her ability to ham it up for the camera was practically nonexistent. She's been the vegetable we're supposed to love, but just can bring ourselves to enjoy. Perhaps its the magic of being the last performer of the night, or Testone finally found her sweet spot, but her rendition of Led Zeppelin's "A Whole Lotta Love" was the ultimate comeback. Robert Plant created a sound that no singer should ever attempt to recreate, and Testone didn't do that. She Elise-d it. But it might not be enough. Is this really who she is? Is she the rocker chick leading a brash band? If this sweet spot is where she belongs, her chances could be on the rise, but weeks of indecisive performances are hard to undo. Brackensick also upped the ante, finally picking a song that highlights his fantastic falsetto. Eric Benet's "Sometimes I Cry" is right up there with the sweet spot Brackensick hit when he sang "Woman's Work" by Maxwell. His passionate, flawless rendition of the R&B song was exactly what he needed to stay a bit long in the competition. Unfortunately, he still has an issue with truly connecting, though he certainly tried this week. Perhaps his 17 year-old mentality is just a bit too green to truly connect to the weight of the songs he's singing, but unless he figures out a way around that, we'll be saying goodbye very soon. Cavanaugh finally broke away from her usual schtick: the little pixie girl with a big voice. She always moved around the stage like a small child carrying a heavy box; her voice is fantastic, but she was constantly trying to wrangle it. When she took on "Jesus Take The Wheel" by Idol winner Carrie Underwood, she appeared to have significantly more control over the song and herself. And as emotional as she was able to get thanks to Nicks' candidness during the mentoring session, Cavanaugh still lacks the put-together element that others like Sanchez and even Laine possess. She's got the chops, but she lacks the polish. And Then There's HeejunThe topic of Heejun Han is a bittersweet one. I rooted for him all through Hollywood Week and Las Vegas groups. He's the sweet, funny kid who kept us entertained while the other drama queens had mental breakdowns over singing a Blu Cantrell song. And, his voice has a velvety, beautiful tone that draws us in. Unfortunately, every time that voice draws us in, it doesn't deliver on its promise. It's a nice one, and Han's performances consistently feel right technically. He hits the right notes, he sounds pretty, and he appears to connect to the song, but he's not a performer. He's a good singer. That's it. There's a disconnect between Han and the audience and among his fellow singers, who are all performing as if they're drawing energy from the Earth's core, his simple, sweet performances just aren't cutting it. Are you done with Heejun? Can he compare to singers like Jessica and Joshua? Did Elise and DeAndre do enough to stick around? Let us know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler. More:American Idol Rankings: Top Nine Keep The Judges on Their FeetIdol: Is Colton Dixon TV's Tim Tebow? Idol Recap: Colton Dixon Becomes the Piano Man
S10E11: While last night definitely proved that the judges have found quite a few talented people (though some are just very capable karaoke singers), it also proved that the people at Idol sure know how to stretch what should be an hour of television into two dreadfully long hours of waiting. They also proved that they can, in fact, fit in about a million references to The Beatles' Love show in Vegas into an hour. Have they been taking cross promotion lessons from Britney Spears or something?
Last night was actually two episodes. The first was a second group round supposedly invented because there were just too many good contestants this year, but really invented because Idol wanted that extra Beatles cash. Duos and trios sang (in a many cases butchered) Beatles classics on the stage at the Mirage in Vegas, where they were cut from a group of 61 to 40. Then they all traveled back to L.A. to go to the hangar of doom (seriously, it looked like the end of Raiders of Lost Ark if you replaced top secret government stuff with broken dreams and diva tears) for their final elimination and what we thought would finally be the top 24. Oh no, it’s not that easy. Cut to the end of those two hours when the screen went black and the dreaded “To Be Continued” screen came up. Really, Idol? I could have done this in 10 minutes – and I wouldn’t have allowed Clint Jun Gamboa to get through, that’s for damn sure.
“I’ve never even heard a Beatles song.” –Ashton Jones
Let me pause for a minute here. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Ashton wasn’t the only Idol hopeful who admitted on national television to never ever hearing a Beatles song. First of all, unless you’ve never seen TV or a movie or the radio or been to a Walmart on a Saturday, you’ve heard a freaking Beatles song. Trust me. Secondly, how can you call yourself an artist/musician/whatever and not know the Beatles? That’s worse than when Miley Cyrus said she didn’t know who Jay-Z was – and I thought THAT was bad.
“This is freaking me out because Beatleland is where I live.” –Steven
I love how insane Steven is. Never change, Steven; I’m begging you. Anyway, since we’ve got so much to cover, let’s get right into the groups. First up was the duo of Stefano Langone and James Durbin. They sang “Get Back” and while they’re both technically good, I stand by what I’ve been saying all season, which is just because you can hit those high notes correctly, doesn’t mean I want to hear them.
High school buddies Pia Toscano and Karen Rodriguez did “Can’t Buy Me Love” like a couple of wedding singers, but the judges seemed impressed. Jennifer even told them they were some of the folks who really “get it.” I have to disagree. The only thing they get is how their high school show choir taught them to act onstage, and you know what? There’s no way I’d throw down 50 bucks to see either of them.
Then the groups really started to prove why forced groupings isn’t always so hot. You’ve got all these unique voices and sometimes when you smush three together, the result isn’t that pleasant. Jacob Lusk, Naima Adedapa, and Haley Reinhart all have beautiful powerful voices on their own, but their version of “The Long and Winding Road” was just too discordant for my tastes. This truly isn’t because of any faults on their parts; their voices just don’t mesh.
“One hand clapping!” –Steven
Moving right along, we caught glimpses of Rachel Zevita singing “Elenor Rigby” like the total drama kid she is (yeah, we know you’ve been saving that little hat for this for years), Lauren Turner who gave a solid turn at “Let it Be,” and finally Julie Zorilla and Tim Halperin with “Something.” I like Zorilla well enough, but why has Halperin not had more attention? He is such a lovely, lovely singer. (Plus, he’s cute as a button.)
After a few conspicuous shots of the American Idol red phone booth (really?) we moved on to Jerome Bell, Lakeisha Lewis and Tatynisa Wilson with “I Saw Her Standing There.” The judges were split here, saying that the performances were so-so while Steven cried foul. He thought they were fantastic – clearly he needs to get his ears checked. Lakeisha does have some serious pipes, but it’s clear she hasn’t learned how to use them yet and the other two were just alright.
I can’t stop quoting Steven, but someone needs to put down a record of all this. (Plus it’s fun.) The groups dragged along, with Kendra Chantelle and Paul McDonald giving us their pretty little version of “Blackbird.” Kendra’s voice is pretty, but a dime a dozen, while Paul once again showed us why he’s still here. He’s got this sweet, wonderful, honey-soaked rasp that I hope sticks around once the voting starts. He really is a breath of fresh air in the competition.
“Guess what, you’re going to die on stage in front of all those people. I’m going to be lying in my bed watchin’ you croak.” –Peggi the vocal coach “From Hell”
Melinda Ademi and Thia Megia were getting railed on by their vocal coach (that’s right, they had that much help and people still messed up this round) for their version of “Here Comes the Sun” and once they hit the stage it was obvious why. Thia’s got it down, but Melinda (as sweet as she is) was the weak link, fumbling her phrasing and lacking the strength that Thia has.
Also fumbling were Ashley Sullivan and her partner Sophia Shorai. They’re a clear example of those who have technical talent – meaning they can hit the notes correctly – but none of that extra something that makes someone pleasant to watch. Needless to say, they both went home.
“It’s like the Marx Brothers put out a fire thing.” –Steven
When Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery, and Denise Jackson hit the stage, they’d already been hit hard by the criticisms from big time producer Jimmy Iovine, but it didn’t seem to help. Though they’re all good singers, they just did not work together. On that same note, buddies Carson Higgins and Caleb Hawley also hit a sour note (literally, OUCH) in their duo performance. Chris Medina and Casey Abrams were actually a great pairing, but it was obvious that (as much as I like Chris) Casey was shouldering the weight in the song.
Finally, Robbie Rosen (love him!), Aaron Sanders, and Jordan Dorsey finished it off with “Got to Get You Into My Life.” Overall, they actually worked well together; it was a little boy bandy, but it worked. Robbie was fantastic as always, but Jordan really seems unable to put the money where his mouth his. He talks big, but he’s not that great. Aaron was fine, but he doesn’t really seem to stand out – then again, that could just be clever editing.
“You win some you lose some, and I just lost a big one.” –Caleb Hawley
Alright, here they are, the first cuts. From what Idol actually told us, we lost Caleb Hawley, Denise Jackson, Ashley Sullivan, Carson Higgins, and Molly DeWolf. It’s tough to see people go, but I can accept that these folks just weren’t the best of the best. Now for the real cuts – well, half of them anyway. Seriously, two hours is a whole lotta Idol.
“I used to watch In Living Color and want to be a fly girl too.” –Naima Adedapo
(Me too, honey.) Now that all that Vegas nonsense is over, we get down to business, forcing the contestants to take the impossibly long, terrifying walk towards a stark stage with four white chairs and a video loop of their last performance in the background. What kind of freaky science fiction movie is this? Naima Adedapo and her impossibly sparkly blue dress were the first additions to the top 24 while the sweet, talented Hollie Cavanaugh was sent home. Jennifer made a point to tell Holly that she was outvoted, but that if Hollie came back in a few years, she’d be strong enough to win, not just make it into the top 24. Wow, I never thought I’d agree with Jennifer Lopez on anything.
Also on the chopping block were Lakeisha Lewis and Alex Ryan, though we could have guessed that after seeing how little screen time they’ve each had. Clint Jun Gamboa was all choked up about Lakeisha’s elimination, but I’m still not buying his emotions. (Yep, I’m holding onto that Jacee grudge.) He actually made it through to the top 24, to which I offer this: WHY? He’s a karaoke host and that’s exactly what he sounds like. His voice is just unpleasant, his personality is unpleasant, and I really don’t want to have to see his face on my TV anymore. America, you know what to do. It’s up to you now. SEND HIM HOME.
“We’ve been watching you and I’m really afraid to say…it’s a yes.” –Steven
Knock that shit off, Steven. The contestants don’t like it and neither do we. Anyway, next to get the go-ahead was Haley Reinhart of the crazy eyes. I’m not sure how I feel about her; her voice kind of seems like it’s too big for her body, which is a bit bothersome, but we’ll see how it turns out.
Crowd favorite Deandre Brackensick was sent packing for his lack of consistency (but he’s young, so he’s got time to improve) while Paul McDonald was ushered into the 24 because Idol’s apparently trying to find “artists” this year. I hope they mean that because Paul is really fantastic and I want to hear as much of his singing on this show as I can. (Even is he resurrects that awful white jacket.) Ashton Jones, who rocked “I’m Telling You” last time, also earned a slot in the top 24. Once again, she’s someone I’m not totally sure of, but I’m willing to see what she brings next week.
“It was honestly a pleasure to meet you, someone like you.” –JLo
Now for the really hard part. Because this is a singing competition, no matter how wonderful and saintly the infinitely likable Chris Medina is, he frankly doesn’t have the chops for the competition. I’ve been afraid to say it all season because I love his story and I want him to stick around for that reason. Sadly, they made Jennifer deliver the news. Thanks producers, you know she was going to have the hardest time with that. Of course she’s concerned she didn’t say it right, but the problem is, there’s no right way to tell someone like Chris that they have to go home.
Boy, tonight’s going to be fun won’t it? No, no it won’t. Get ready for another hour of torture in the science fiction/ Indiana Jones hangar. Damnit, Idol.