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Spider-Man vs. Peter Parker
For me this felt like two films - Spider-Man and Peter Parker.
The latter is the story of a geeky kid amazingly transformed into a superhero while pursuing a career and the girl of his dreams. It is the most interesting part of the duo. On the plus side it had the reliable Toby Maguire portraying convincing teenage angst, laced with wide-eyed humour at his newly adopted powers. On the downside, I found Maguire and Kirsten Dunst a bit laconic at times, though fault probably lies with the helmsman Sam Raimi for his static handling of their scenes. They basically just stand and talk to each other while the music tries hard to drown them out. Couldn't they have walked or something? Parker takes to his new powers like a duck to water without ever really questioning or having any doubts about them. It all seemed a little too pat. Also, one major plot point - the identity of the car jacker - was a real give away, then never really dealt with.
As Peter Parker the movie dissolved into Spider-Man the movie it got tangled up in its own webbing. The action scenes were functional but never engaging or thrilling. One main problem was that the hero and villain were masked and thus not able to exude emotion or personality. The director tried to circumvent that a couple times, including the final battle, probably realizing the problem. Also, the web-spinning scenes were very cartoonish and I never had a sense of danger or of "being-there". Whenever Mary Jane was going to fall it was obvious that Spidey would swoop in and save her, thus there was no sense of danger. There's also a plot device in a fire that was telegraphed, hence making the "predictable" line seem like a bad in-joke. Somehow Spider-Man zipping around the tops of buildings just wasn't exciting to watch. I would have bet that it would be, as I'm sure the filmmakers did, but some things just don't come off well on film. It's just the way it goes. I remember my favourite shot from the old TV cartoon - it was of a two-fisted Spidey coming right at the camera. I can't remember any specific shot from this film that had the same thrilling effect.
It was nice to have the story of Peter Parker come to the big screen and see what they could do to Spider-Man with modern computer technology. Unfortunately, the latter was "not much." Now that the story of the geek gone vigilante has been told, it doesn't bode well for the sequels.
About a Boy (2002)
More Hugh gold
Hugh Grant has become my favourite comic actor after films like Four Weddings, Notting Hill, and now About A Boy. I can't picture anyone else playing this role. I was a bit creeped out by how his life had similarities to mine, especially the whole breaking time down into units thing. Now if only I looked like him. Maybe if I got my hair professional messed. Anyway, this guy (or someone in his camp) knows how to pick a script, and while Hugh is pretty much just Hugh, like Cary was just Cary, there's no need for him to be anyone or anything else. And I've never seen anything funnier done with a loaf of bread!
The Sum of All Fears (2002)
Sum of All Fears adds up to Nil.
(this review contains many SPOILERS)
There's a scene about half-way through The Sum of All Fears where CIA Director Cabot takes a phone call from Jack Ryan while attending the Superbowl. He'd sent Ryan on an important mission concerning a potentially missing Russian nuke. Ryan is calling to tell him that "the bomb is in play." Now, perhaps the words (if he heard them) lead Cabot to believe that one of the QBs was going to toss a long one, because, unable to hear over the rowdy crowd, he hangs up!
The logic of the film had been steadily spiraling downward at that point, but that scene made it crash land harder than Ryan's helicopter in a subsequent scene. Why would the CIA director simply hang up? Ryan does call back, and is able to relay his message to Cabot, whose reaction is to look up at the dome ceiling as if the bomb is going to drop through - or perhaps he was watching the winning field goal being kicked.
The rest of Sum reminded me squarely of Thirteen Days, but only in content, certainly not in quality. Thirteen Days makes this movie look particularly inept. The story shifts between Ryan's completely implausible exploits - why does he go to a warehouse on the Baltimore docks expecting the bad guys to be hanging around after a nuclear blast, for instance - to the conflict between the President and his freaked-out staff on Air Force One. The idea in the latter was to show the panic and potentially bad decision-making that could result from such a crisis, but it was handled so poorly, with such ridiculous dialogue and unbelievable acting that it made no dramatic impact. At one point, someone has a heart attack (to which someone says he has a heart condition - no kidding) but the consequences of that are never known. In fact, no consequences are ever made known, and too many important details are mentioned but not shown.
Ryan's method of talking down the Russian President is comical, and an insult to the audience's intelligence, and is predicated by his having met the President during an odd photo shoot in the Kremlin. The Russian President doesn't trust the American President, but he trusts a junior CIA agent who once wrote a paper on him. Totally non-sensical.
Regardless of the current climate in the world, The Sum of all Fears is simply a poorly constructed film, with a bland leading man, banal dialogue, and preposterous situations trying to disguise themselves as intelligent and relevant.
No Man's Land (2001)
A fresh look
It's difficult to come up with fresh human drama, especially in war situations, but No Man's Land has managed to do so. Perhaps we've seen similar scenarios before, but this is done in a refreshingly realistic and forthright manner. There are no heroes and no villains - only scared, tired people who are cast a hopeless lot.
The film doesn't dwell on being profound, it just tells the story and lets the truthfulness of the characters and their situations speak for themselves. Top notch.
One note. The trailer for the film came off a little frivolous. If you think so too, ignore it and watch the movie.