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More than meets the Bay standards...
As anyone who knows me probably knows I am an avid and outspoken detractor of Michael Bay and all of his films. I've found them to be cheap exploitive and manipulative pieces of substandard film-making that appears to have garnered some attention due to his flashy style of directing. However, Transformers became one of the biggest movies of 2007 and, as such, I had to see the movie if only to have a merited opinion on the film. By the time the Autobots descended on Earth in the form of a meteor shower, one bit actor runs by the screen with a camera, yelling to it that it is "a hundred times better than Armageddon," I sat in the theater and wondered to myself if the actor knew how many volumes of honesty he was just speaking.
Transformers not only became the fun and exciting summer movie that I was waiting for all of 2007, but it proved to me that Michael Bay has it in him to make a movie that goes beyond exploitive and sociopathic tendencies, two underlying themes in all of his movies that I couldn't shake to the point where I couldn't enjoy them as passive fun. Here, the bitter angriness against the human race that is evident in all of his previous films has gone and we have a fun slice of juvenile entertainment that it seems that Bay has been waiting to make.
For anyone who grew up watching Transformers every Saturday morning, the plot needs no explanation. Autobot transformers battle Decepticon transformers on earth in a bid to protect humanity. However, this Transformers focuses less on the robotic characters than in the American government, a small band of army soldiers and one hyper-testosteroned yet socially inept teenager and his overly hot love interest, all of which sport some very strong and obvious spray on tans.
Sam Witwicky, played with youthful gusto by Shia LaBeouf, is given his first car, which happened to be a "robot in disguise" named Bumblebee, who was sent to protect Sam, who happens to be in possession of a map to find a key element for both sides of the transformers called the allspark. The autobots want to use the allspark to reignite their destroyed world while the decepticons want to use the device to create their own robotic army. Simple plot, not too hard to follow, but, hey, who needs to see existentialist character pieces in a movie about cars that become robots and fight each other? There are very cheesy moments and lines in the film, there are plot contrivances and there are some very over the top performances, but like I said earlier, this isn't a film that is meant to be scrutinized the way that a Scorcese or Bergman film was meant to be. So the best way to evaluate Transformers would be to judge the action and fun level. In both respects, the movie succeeds if only because it abandons the standard sociopathic Bay mentality and instead focuses on the entertainer that he has always strived to be. If I have a complaint with this film, it's that the camera needed to be pulled back more during some of the action sequences to get a better look at what was going on. Bay's style is very in your face, but there are points where I wanted to see more of the Transformer fights and get a chance to enjoy what I was watching.
And before I finish the review here, I have to give credit to the amazing visual effects that this film was able to accomplish. So seamless, on both the big and the small screen, where the effects where interactive machines would all of the sudden transform into the gigantic robots that they were. The very first time a machine transforms into another machine, the effect is so seamless that the movie shows the capabilities that computer effects have come.
Transformers is the fun summer film that hearkens back to a time when the blockbusters were entertaining and free spirited, much like Men in Black, Jurassic Park or The Mask. Not only that, but Michael Bay has also stood up to a very challenging task to me: making a movie that has actually made me excited to see his next film.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
A Disappointing Follow-Up
Watching Spider-Man 3 the other night simply reminded me of the old saying too many cooks spoil the broth. Such is the case with this movie, where there are so many plot lines that it would make for an incredible movie, but in the end, feels like there is really no balance to this outing.
In this outing, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has finally found a balance with his life, able to cope with being Spider-Man, a dutiful lover to Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), an excelling college student and a capable worker as a photographer for a newspaper. Yet this newfound balance has gone to his head as Parker starts to become self-focused, turning a blind eye to the suffering of Mary Jane, who's received some pretty scathing reviews from her first major Broadway production.
This newfound selfishness doesn't help much when Parker learns that his father's real killer wasn't the one who died in front of him in the first part, but was a man named Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church) who, through pretty bizarre circumstances, becomes the Sandman, a person who's genetic make-up is made entirely of sand. Thirsty for revenge, Parker leaves himself open to a symbiote that crashed down to earth and attached itself to him, amplifying his powers through his anger.
Throw in a story about a wanna-be photojournalist Eddie Brock, who is developing a hatred for Peter Parker, a model named Gwen Stacey who makes Mary Jane jealous, and Harry Osborne, who experiences a temporary memory loss (typical in most comic book story lines) and feels Peter is still his best friend, all vengeful thoughts put aside. Any one of these stories, heck, even any two of these stories, would make for a great and fun summer flick, but with the movie being a trim two hours and twenty minutes (I use the term trim loosely because for all the story lines, it should be longer for the audience to have a sense of closure by the end), feels a tad rushed and convoluted whereas it follows up a brilliant sequel that took it's time to develop it's story, relate all of it's characters and give them all a good climax for their stories by the end.
Here, Spider-Man 3 simply seems like a bad stew, many enjoyable moments, some funny scenes (particularly one with a maitre'd who everyone should recognize), and some convincing performances, most notably from Kirsten Dunst this time around, who brings a humanity to Peter Parker's love interest, something that seemed missing from the first two parts. But with all of these ingredients, they never really blend together and the movie simply collapses under the weight of it's numerous story lines.
While still a good slice of summer fun, Spider-Man 3 fails to live up to it's predecessor, which was near cinematic perfection, transcending the genre of super-hero movie to becoming a thoughtful character piece. Here, the movie is simply fun, but don't look for the emotional delivery the second one had. Just sit back, enjoy the ride and don't get too attached to any characters because by the time you do, the movie will sling to another one of it's layered story lines.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Rocky Horror for a New Generation
Let me just say that my experience seeing Snakes on a Plane was at a midnight screening on Thursday. Already, I was excited to see the movie, if only for the cheese fest that inevitably followed such a memorable title. By the time the movie started, there were already chants in the theater of the memorable Samuel L. Jackson line: "I've had it with these motherf***in' snakes on this motherf***in' plane!" And that is exactly what followed with this movie was something I had not seen since The Rocky Horror Picture Show: this movie became an audience participation midnight show.
And that is exactly how this movies plays. With the hokey acting from the supporting characters, the cornball script and the predictable storyline, the movie has already seemingly packaged itself in being tongue-in-cheek, which is actually a breath of fresh air from all of the overtly serious films that have come out of indie studios and the schlock that most modern blockbusters try to pass itself off as being something more (X-Men 3, Superman Returns, Kingdom of Heaven, etc.) Snakes plays out with a pacing like the movies we were always told were terrible, the horror movie sequels of the 1980s.
To describe the plot is basic at best: a man witnesses a murder at the hands of a crime lord who is nearly impossible to convict. Enter Samuel L. Jackson, who is in charge of bringing the witness into Los Angeles where he would be safe (which is kind of ironic if one sarcastically thinks about it). The crime lord finds out and dispatches the only kind of assassin he can get on board the plane: snakes. He has the Hawaiian leis sprayed with pheromones so the snakes will react viciously towards all of the passengers. Chaos ensues. Sam is the only man who can land the motherf***in' plane with the motherf***in' snakes.
The premise is very unique in the way that it allows the snakes to overtake the plane and wreak havoc on all of the passengers as well as the plane. As far as the horror factor goes, there are a few moments that will surprise you, but they are like snake attacks themselves: they're quick and jarring, but once it's complete, there isn't much more. But the ride itself is where the true fun is and that's where Snakes is truly in a class of it's own.
With some colorful, if not, generic, supporting characters like the rap artist who hates germs and being touched, the stewardess who is experiencing her last flight before she becomes a lawyer, the young child who has to look out for his younger brother, all of these characters add a degree of playfulness to the movie, even if they're character's never fully develop.
But let's face it, if you're spending you're hard-earned dollars to see Snakes on a Plane, you're not going in expecting to see The Constant Gardener or Finding Neverland. You're going to see some motherf***in' snakes on a motherf***in' plane, and believe me, you will. This movies has plenty of snakes and delivers them up in multitudes. How will this movie play outside of the fan base that has already clamored to see it? Only time will tell, but as far as I'm concerned, Snakes on a Plane is a very unique movie experience, one that's best had during a midnight screening with die hard fans who know what they're in for.
I, Robot (2004)
Alex Proyas had a very impressive debut with his first film, The Crow, back in 1994. Instead of his career taking off, he took the death of the film's lead, Brandon Lee so hard that he would be slower to choose his productions than most directors, taking on two more productions in the interim, the barely noticed Garage Days and the grossly underrated Dark City. Something about these three films led Twentieth Century Fox to consider Mr. Proyas for their big budget endeavor, 2004's I, Robot.
The film's plot is about a newly designed robot who is either guilty of murdering the man who created his top of the line brand of robot, the NS5, or there may be more to the murder than it appears. That's as far as the loyalty to the source material lies as the movie delves into action sequences and special effects to drive the story along. Not such a bad thing as Proyas seems to be playing in territory that he is not just familiar with, but aptly comfortable as the sequences are very entertaining, particularly a sequence where two semi trucks of NS5s pull up to Det. Spooner's (Will Smith) car and inevitable hell breaks loose.
Will Smith, who is always an interesting actor to watch whenever given the proper material to work with (Ali, Six Degrees of Separation) is playing away in familiar territory as the wisecracking playful tough guy who seems to know more about the world he's in than the rest of the characters. However, Smith's character of Det. Spooner has a prejudice towards artificially intelligent robots, which gives him a discernment towards living in a society that seems to welcome letting robots take over for them. One would hope that in the future, society would be a bit more adept towards their way of life and not be so uniformly inclined to all believe the same thing about comfort.
Now, this review will not examine the guilt or innocence of Sonny (an impressively scanned and captured Alan Tudyk), the robot accused of murdering the man who created him, but remain to examining the movie itself. Does this work as a summer film: yes. It's loud, exciting and boasts some of the best visual effects in computer captured imaging. However, does it work as a societal examination of letting machines and computers control our lives for us the way Assimov intended his novel to be? Not particularly. I, Robot doesn't take the time that it should in lingering in the society long enough to see the sociological effects of having a technology driven society. Such philosophies are sacrificed in favor of the summer film standards.
Proyas' touches can be seen in a few scattered scenes and one can tell where he fought to have his visions kept around. Alex Proyas is a man of unique vision, as his films like The Crow and Dark City have showcased. Here, only glimpses of his vision can be seen, but the screenplay from Akiva Goldsman and apparent pressures from the studio (something that Proyas has stated left such a sour taste in his mouth that he may never do a big studio production again) are the biggest hindrances that hold I, Robot back from being more than just a piece of summer entertainment. In an ironic mirror, studios seem to be the NS5's to Proyas' society in that they seem to have integrated themselves so much that they are the direct result of a loss of individuality.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
The New X-Men: All of the Powers, None of the Personality
When Brett Ratner took on X-Men: The Last Stand after Bryan Singer backed out, many fans were in an uproar. Would Ratner have the knowledge to stay loyal to the beloved characters that Stan Lee created? Would he have the depth that it would take to bring these characters to life the way that Singer did by making them so identifiable that non-comic book lovers could understand them as well? The answer to both questions is no.
Deep characters have never been a strong point for Ratner (look at the disaster that was The Family Man) and, unfortunate for him, the X-Men comic books are full of interesting characters and deep interpersonal relationships. Ratner sacrifices such qualities in favor of over-the-top special effects that seem forced and fight sequences that are become too boring unless your characters have red electronic bars over their heads that decrease when they're hit.
The storyline centers around a genetics facility that has discovered a way to permanently suppress the mutant genes, making all mutants lose their powers. The pacifistic mutants (displayed in Professor Xavier's school) are wary about this new cure, some are excited while some are offended. Then there are the hostile mutants (led by Magneto) that see the cure as a means of genocide. Naturally, Magneto's mutants attack the humans and all special effects hell breaks loose.
Then we have a subplot revolving around the return of Jean Grey, who we thought perished in the previous movie and how her powers have now reached a dangerous state, due to a repressed personality only known as the Phoenix. Phoenix doesn't like to be restrained, so what does the Phoenix do? Yes, naturally, she lashes out as we are told in the movie that when you cage a beast, "the beast gets angry." So, how does one calm such a beast? The answer is never really brought out because we have no connection to the inner mind of Jean Grey since she has even less lines in this film than Arnold Schwarzenegger had in the first Terminator. Jean is not the only wasted character in this film, look at the new character introduced in the film in Warren Worthington III (known to the loyal fans as Angel or Archangel). His father develops the cure, but before he can give it to him, Warren escapes. And that is the entire story we get around Warren Worthington, even when he goes to Xavier's school, we never see him interacting with the other X-men or even the inner turmoil that goes through a child's mind when he is rejected by a parent.
Now, I have been a loyal fan of the comic books for over a decade. I have collected the bio-cards, numerous issues and spin-offs of the series, background history of each character. Watching this movie aggravated me as a fan to see how it treated the characters who have become so beloved to me over the years. Under Brett Ratner's direction, the movie is hollow, lifeless and boring, three things that comic book movie adaptations should never be, especially one with such a rich history that X-men has.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Mission: Impossible III starts out promising a great premise for the series: a deeper story with a realistic grounding. There was the first Mission: Impossible, which had a cool and slick facade, but left many feeling confused, even betrayed at the movie's treatment of Jim Phelps. Then along came John Woo's version, which stated that it would have a simpler plot with better action scenes, but the plot was so simple to the point of being non-existent. Now, TV wonderment J.J. Abrams (Alias & Lost) promised a healthy synergy of the slickness of the first part with the intensity of the second. Of which, we get both, but the MI:3's pace is so rigid in juggling these two premises that the movie seems to play out like a long television episode.
Not to say that a long episode would be a bad thing, as Mr. Abrams has created two of the best shows on TV right now, but the problem lies with the dialog and the delivery. In one moment, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his new fiancé (Michelle Monaghan) are on a rooftop as Ethan is trying explain to her that he is going somewhere, but can't explain where he is going. The actors speak so quietly for so long that the emotion of the moment is almost lost. There are moments where Mr. Abrams' style of dialog does come out, but one must wonder if the other two writers actually hindered his dialog.
The plot of the movie revolves around Ethan Hunt's secret that he keeps from his fiancé about his true job working for the IMF and whether or not an agent can actually have a normal life. Said theory is put to the test when Ethan is called for a mission to retrieve an agent that has been captured, who was Ethan's first trainee that he personally graduated. A mishap with her during the mission causes Ethan to want to dig deeper into the nature of her mission which led to her capture.
Enter our henchman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who does make for the best villain of the series (much like Blowfeld to James Bond) and Mr. Hoffman is an excellent actor, but when pitted against Tom Cruise on the screen, he does not come across as being threatening as much as he does a pawn in a much greater scheme (of which the movie begins starts to take more clever turns). Overall, the goal of the villains is never established except to come across that they are villains.
But audience don't go to Mission: Impossible for a coherent story or a balanced story during the summer, they go for spectacular action sequences. After all, this is the movie that is kicking off the summer season of blockbusters. This is where J.J. Abrams displays his talents as a director. This movie has many great espionage moments, the break into the Vatican is one of the best choreographed thriller scenes in recent years as well as the missile attack on the bridge scene one of the best action scenes of the decade. The action scenes are where this movie truly shines and it's a good thing there is an abundance of them in this film because when the film comes to meet one of it's more emotional scenes, it's such a jerky transition that the audience can feel like they're experiencing first hand what a manic-depressive goes through.
Still, the Mission: Impossible movie franchise has yet to find it's feet and by the third part of the series, it can seem a bit exhausting as the audience waits and compares the style. After three films and nearly $350 million spent on all three, you'd think it would be time that the series found a reliable foundation to fall back on to the way that James Bond or Indiana Jones has. However, the movie churns along like a giant tree without any roots: all display and grandioso, nothing grounding it.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
"Mountain"-ous achievement for some, "Broke" for me
Brokeback Mountain is arguably the most controversial film of 2005. No matter which end of the morality spectrum a person was on, they were talking about this movie long before it was ever released (roughly around the time that it won the Venice Film Festival award). Now that it is finally out, people can now see it and make up their own minds about the movie. Having seen the movie, my moral objection in the film lied not within the homosexuality, but in the romanticism for the affairs committed by the Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, which I strongly object to more so than the homosexual themes.
There was always something that bothered me about The English Patient when I saw it and after seeing it again, it hit me that I was a person who was offended by seeing affairs glamorized on the screen, that the notion of meeting someone who is either attached to someone else or that character is themselves is a scandalous, yet enticing because of it's forbidden attraction. Shakespeare in Love was another, same with The Piano and now in Brokeback Mountain. To me, when a person ignores their commitments to someone, gay or straight, it speaks a lot about their character, that they would choose to ignore their word to indulge in a momentary decision.
Now, that's just my personal feelings about the story, as far as the rest of the movie, it is near flawless. The entire cast is pitch perfect, more specifically Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams. Ledger is incredibly restrained and offers great depth to his character of Ennis Del Mar, a man trying to conform to society's standards, but tries desperately to repress his thoughts and feelings so he can fit in. Then there's Jake Gyllenhaal, who acts as the broken hearted, love lorn Jack Twist, which he plays to achingly perfection, allowing the audience accessibility to his pain and yearning. Both Heath and Jake marry two women to fit in, Jake marries Anne Hathaway, who shows remarkable acting credit over her Princess Diaries klutziness, but the stand out between the two actresses is Michelle Williams, who plays Heath Ledger's cuckolded wife. She tries desperately to make Heath lover her, but she doesn't quite know how to reach him.
The movie says a lot about two people wanting to be themselves in a culture and time that won't let them be who they want to be, but in doing so, it not only captures the heartbreak of what it is like to be a homosexual in unaccepting times, but in the shallowness and fascism of the culture of that time. The true heartbreak of the story lies in the victimization of Jack and Ennis, how the cultural standard for living leaves them feeling like they can't live their lives how they choose.
Then there's Ang Lee's direction. His work with actors, his composition of shots, how a single frame of the film seems like a work of exquisite beauty, Lee was the perfect choice to make this film. He adds the appropriate depth as well as the right sentiment for repressed emotions amid stifling society standards. Who better than the directing of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to tackle such a sentimentality? Lee was a perfect choice to direct and he makes the film a worthy addition to his stellar and colorful credits.
As for the romance during the cattle drive, that's fine, if not a little off-setting in how abrupt it seems to come on, there's nothing wrong there. It's when the movie decides to glamorize that Ennis and Jack decide to continue their romance while they are both married that I drew the line. It would be the equivalent of the person who gets married, then pines about an old high school romance they had. Truth is, they are married. Whether they are gay or not, that is not the issue, but when someone agrees to be someone else's spouse and they break that agreement, then that shows the true value of a person and that is the moment the movie ceased to be a love story for me.
Then there's the matter of the character of Heath Ledger. Not that Heath doesn't do a good job in acting, it's simply that the movie seems to spend a lot of time trying to reach out to him and never succeeding, whether it be his wife or his lover (or his children, or his second wife, etc). Now, there is a great scene in the movie that shows off why he is so reluctant to let his feelings out, one that makes the audience wonder what kind of abuse he went through as a child. So through the whole movie, everyone spends all of their time trying to reach out to Heath and he never lets anyone in. On a character level, it's relatable, but for a love interest, you keep wanting to shout to Jack that he could do better.
Overall, I felt empty and untouched leaving the film. To me, the true greatest romance movies are Casablanca, Say Anything and The Princess Bride, movies that all show what good can come out of love. Love is truly a force of nature, as the movie's tag line suggests, but it is a force of good. What surrounds it is good and what is the result of it is good. But the pursuit of love in this movie is riddled with deceit, heartbreak, selfishness and anger (mostly surrounding Ledger's character). Why this movie didn't move me as a love story was for the reason that I feel whenever love is truly present in a relationship, then nothing but good comes out of it. While Brokeback Mountain succeeds on an artistic level, the story doesn't seem to elevate the characters anywhere past the cuckolding nature of the romance the movie roots itself into to expose the cultural bigotry of the times.
The Village (2004)
Wow, where to begin
It's a known fact that M. Night Shyamalan can make some truly scary movies. The Sixth Sense echoed Alfred Hitchcock, a comparison that is not tossed around lightly. Signs was an exercise of letting one's imagination fill in the horrific gaps of what the audience cannot see. But Shyamalan's latest outing dives into a new type of scary: That a filmmaker with such an accomplished resume, two Oscar nominations, and a very profitable background could create a film so bad that the audience would be more likely to find amusement hitting their heads against the seats in front of them in this movie.
The plot is sketchy at best, but "The Village" is about a village of people in an indeterminate setting have become threatened by mythical creatures in the woods who are beginning to invade the town. Meanwhile, Joaquin Pheonix says that he wants to venture into the woods to find some medicine from the outside towns. Pheonix and newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard share moments of fleeting love that is never truly defined. For that matter, neither is any of the characters' motivations. We are essentially watching people go through the actions, but the audience is left in the dark.
So essentially, Shyamalan is trying to show the dangers of hiding from one's past, but the story is so disjointed and poorly told that his message and story get lost in the chaos. A few more drafts or at least a ghost writer or two could have saved this story from incoherence, but it seems that Shyamalan saw this as his baby and wanted complete control over it. Since the film is now his own, he becomes the one who is to blame. Shyamalan should have known better.
This movie brought to mind an interesting riddle, what's a bigger crime: wasting a talented ensemble cast or framing a movie in a way that disconnects the audience from all attachment to the characters? We have Joaquin Pheonix, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Brendan Gleeson and the promise of a newcomer in Bryce Dallas Howard, yet this movie proves that no matter how much talent you may have, if there's no motivation to work with, no clear goals of the characters, and lines so out of place and distractingly bad, talented actors becomes no more than a mannequins for the director to manipulate. Shyamalan should have known better.
Obviously, there is a typical twist at the end of an M. Night Shyamalan has become expected, whether it be "I see dead people", "They call me Mr. Glass", or "Swing away," relying on such twists can be a treat for an audience, but "The Village proves that relying on twists too much can make the audience realize they are on shaky ground and make them watch every step the movie takes. By Shyamalan's fourth film, the audience already begins to expect such an ending and instead begin looking at clues instead of the film itself, which in the case of "The Village" may actually be a good thing, but in this case, the payoff is so juvenile that one expects it from a sixth grade creative writing paper rather than from the man who made us "keep the secret" of "The Sixth Sense." (You can find the twist in the paragraphs of this review) Shyamalan should have known better.
Directors carry most of the blame if the movie they make isn't clear or interesting to an audience and here, Shyamalan is the man to blame. He stages his shots so that we never see any reaction on the characters faces during critical moments in the film. And the staging of each of the actors is so dehumanized and impersonal that it does more to draw an audience away from a film than draw them in. If the atmosphere looks great, one can credit the greatest living director of photography: Roger Deacons and the always talented costume designer Ann Roth. But their efforts seems wasted as the photography or the costumes are never given the chance to breath on their own. Shyamalan should have known better.
Although, we could make the argument that Shyamalan needed a more accomplished film editor. People like Andrew Mondshein (The Sixth Sense), Dylan Tichnor (Unbreakable), and Barbara Tulliver (Signs) all knew how to handle Shyamalan's disjointed storylines and add a depth, using the cutaways to reactions. Here, Christopher Tellefsen is satisfied allowing the camera to hold on shots where the characters' backs are talking to the audience, never cutting away to show us reaction shots or giving the film a satisfying pace outside of sterile. If he had stuck with any of the other editors he'd worked with, the film might have worked better, but he chose not to. Shyamalan should have known better.
You'd be hard pressed to find an enjoyable moment in this whole film. Watching this movie, one gets the feeling that Shyamalan should have written a few more drafts, made the film more clear, made the characters relatable or at least allow the audience in on their thoughts. For a director who has already displayed his own sixth sense for showing a depth of character (all together now): Shyamalan should have known better.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
A Flawless Super Hero Movie
This is what a good summer movie should be.
Spider-Man 2 transcends the boundaries of being just another comic book movie to being a richly character driven movie with a very conflicted hero. Here, for the first time, we see the actual emotion behind the facade of the hero behind the mask. Gone is the richly colorful look of the first part, here in Spider-Man 2, we are plunged into a world of shadows and off colors.
Picking up two years after the first Spider-Man left off, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has his hands full with three full-time jobs. He is going to school full time, he is working full time to pay off his rent, and he is a hero always on call whenever he hears a siren. Not to mention, we see the emotional toll that has been taken on him, his only surviving family member, his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), has become consumed with grief and loss over the death of her husband (incidentally, creating Spider-Man in the first part), Peter's friend Norman Osborne (James Franco) is now at odds with him since he has become consumed with revenge over Spider-Man killing his father (the Green Goblin), and his love affair with Mary Jane-Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is slowly being extinguished because he is never there for her to return the feelings she has for him. And this is all in the first fifteen minutes of the film.
As Spider-Man, Parker is even in danger of losing his powers as his exhaustion slowly begins to take over. Is it medical or is it because he has stretched himself too thin? Eventually, Peter decides to give up being Spider-Man to finally bring peace into his life. There is a brilliant sequence in this film when we see Parker returning to his alter-ego from the first part before the mutated spider bite as he puts on his glasses again, clouding his vision to the world around him. When he sees someone being beaten up in an alley, he turns around to walk away. When the familiar sirens fly past him again, he just eats a hot dog. In short, Parker has finally succumbed to being a New Yorker.
In the midst of all of this, we see the creation of a new villain, this time in the form of a deranged scientist named Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who has four frighteningly powerful arms welded to his spine after a disaster with his life's work. This disaster not only turns the Doctor into Dr. Octopus (Doc Ock as the papers call him), but the artificially intelligent arms seemed fuse to his id, placating his desires to not want his life's work to be a failure. Doc Ock will try again at the expense of anyone around him.
The standout here is Tobey Maguire, who can convey the film's entire heart with a look or a gesture, but is most heart-wrenchingly done in his hesitations. For a man so used to having quick reflexes, when he has to slow down and realize what is going on around him, we are instantly in his head. Maguire also has to command the screen as Spider-Man and convince the audience that he can stand up to someone like Octavius and not seem fantastic.
Sam Raimi also does a knock-out job as well, knowing when to hold on a character's face long enough or swinging the camera along with Spider-Man to give the audience the exhilaration of flight. Raimi is more than competent enough to give this movie the look and feel of a moving comic book and by utilizing his most signature camera shot (zooming into and out of the character's eyes), the audience is invited to live for a moment in the tights of a superhero.
Spider-Man 2 has so many great messages to be heard in this film, the best of which seems to draw both Peter and Octavius together in the end: In order for the right thing to be done, does it mean that we have to put away what we want the most? In both cases, there are some strong arguments and that is what makes this movie such a surprise is the depth that it possesses. Seemingly, we have entered the bizarro world of sequels, where they seem to surpass the original (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Toy Story 2, etc) and Spider-Man 2 definitely joins these ranks. Perhaps in allowing a series to expand rather than compliment the original, we can expect more depth out of movies, which has been as equally absent in this day and age as heroes as Spider-Man 2 also suggests.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
A Stunning and Perfect Motion Picture Experience
I fully believe that the end times are approaching. In the book of Revelations, it speaks of nation rising against nation and then all nations turning against the holy land. It also speaks of a time when those who believe in Christ and God will be persecuted. Outside of the seas boiling and the moon turning to blood, we are pretty close. With the media focusing on attacking Christianity (relentless focus on preacher abuse scandals and portraying religious people as thoughtless fanatics), we have fulfilled one prophecy and with the mess in the Middle East, another one is quickly being fulfilled. That's why watching The Passion of the Christ was such a powerful reminder for me of the passage: "Watch ye for ye not know when the master of the house will return."
The film chronicles the last twelve hours of Jesus' life, from his betrayal in the garden of Gethsemene to his conviction at the hands of society to his eventual death. This is all done in a brutal and graphic display. We see his captors physically abusing him in custody, we see everyone around him mocking him and his word, we see the horrific punishment that he was originally sentenced to, we see his journey to the top of Mount Golgoth, and then his crucifixion. All of this is pretty graphic to watch because of the depth of the cruelty and some may argue that this is a bit excessive, but the bible does support this display, both in the book of John outlining his sentence of forty lashes and even noting that when he was presented, he was beaten so badly that he was unrecognizable. So this vision that Mel Gibson has chosen to portray may be difficult to watch, but is a vision from the bible that has been looked over for many years.
And the violence is shocking. How shocking, you may ask? Shocking enough that in a society desensitized to violence and cruelty that it still managed gasps, tears, fainting, even in a few cases in this country, death. So this is one movie that is not for the squeamish. Yet, the film's primary focus isn't on the violence. It is juxtaposed with scenes from the last supper to scenes with the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus talks about loving one's neighbor, despite the abuse you receive. It is through these scenes that the audience shows both reasons for Jesus' life on earth.
And Mel Gibson himself has crafted this movie to perfection. The scenes are dramatically powerful, yet never overplayed so as to feel ostentatious or exaggerated. The emotions are overpowering and the drama of each moment is played perfectly, so an average audience, not accustomed to reading subtitles, can see the story vividly on the screen. Yet, the subtitles themselves are perfectly played, coming straight out of the bible and not feeling cheesy. And the brilliant photography by Caleb Deschenel paints the film like an old renaissance painting, bringing to mind the works of the Sistine Chapel.
Some of the best moments in this movie occur without any words whatsoever. The sight of Judas being plagued by his demons, the moments Mary has in remembering her son and watching the reactions on her face, the betrayal in the garden, all of the scenes take place without one word, showing that images on the screen are infinitely more powerful than the words spoken on the screen. Not to discredit the script in anyway which does take a little dramatic license, but overall follows the exact words in the Bible perfectly.
Faithful people believe that Jesus was brought to this world for two purposes, one is in his life be a living testament to God's love and power and the other was in his death to die for our sins. In his life, Jesus performed his Father's miracles, he spoke his Father's words, and lived his life avoiding sin to set an example for us on Earth to live a more heavenly life. Because Jesus was born a man, he bore the folly of all mankind since he was a divine figure who took the appearance of a mortal, which is why his death was so symbolic. For Jesus to suffer as much as he did at the hands of man, he took on the sins of mankind. So his death allowed the opportunity for man to be redeemed through Jesus' sacrifice.
Overall, this is the finest film that I have ever seen. A movie has never moved me and influenced me that way that this film has. What this movie sets out to accomplish is to create a curiosity about religion. It makes people wonder the accuracy, the power, the affect it could have on those who watch it, and cause people to make a decision about their own faith, which I believe should be the goal of all art. As an audience, we take out of this film what we want. Some see it as anti-sematic, some see it as a film of tolerance, some will see it as a violent excessive film, some will see it as a peaceful film. That to me is a true success that a film can allow for differing viewpoints in such a debatable topic like religion. Gibson has accomplished just that with this film, bringing to life his interpretation of the crucifixion and even leaving much for the audience to wonder for themselves. So with fine form, this movie and Mel Gibson succeed.
I'd rate this film higher than a ten because I believe this is one film that actually transcends ratings and belongs to the ages. My words could go on forever, but I don't think I have enough to express the true greatness this film.