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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
A Punk Peter Parker
What makes Spider-Man, or rather Peter Parker, such a great character is that at heart he's just a kid. But what this kid, this Peter Parker, more than any other, emphasizes is what a lonely, angry, frustrated, horny, punk teenage orphan he really is. And Garfield does a nice job presenting him as such.
But after screening it, I can't help but feel empty... that it's all just icing. There's no overarching message that preaches 'with great power comes great responsibility'. It constantly undercuts the significance of a promise. Its position on vengeance and vigilante justice is left ambiguous...
For all the visual wonder, especially in IMAX 3D, I can't help but note how it seems so shallow.
The Damned South
Leave it to a Russian to paint American history with such accuracy. This is not an historical drama, nor does it purport to be, but it bears more stinging truth then the whole of the History Channel.
The Southern Confederacy, desiring to hold on to the last vestiges of gentility lest they get their white hands dirty, declared itself free from the Union in order to retain the right to own people as if they were property. The parasitic white slave owners fed off of the blood of the workers like vampires. Bekmambetov simply takes this allusion to the next logical step. Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, did not merely take up arms against the act of slavery but against the very thought of it, the idea that it is somehow acceptable.
Abraham Lincoln, played by Benjamin Walker -- a young Gary Cooper who astoundingly triumphs in an iconic role that could have failed so easily -- learns quickly that his town of Springfield is rife with vampires: the pharmacist, the blacksmith... because you never know where your neighbours' loyalties lie. But where the metaphor that the southern states are best represented by the living damned is most outspoken is when the vampires take up the Confederate Gray and join the Civil War.
This not-so-subtle allusion will, no doubt, anger the staunchly southern states that fly the confederate flag with pride. But pride cometh before a fall, and Lincoln fells with one chop.
A Palimpsest of Dreamscapes
Inception is a heist film of a different breed and wrapping your head around the details takes some effort, considering writer/producer/director Christopher Nolan has interwoven 5 different tiers of reality (one wakened, and four dreamscapes arranged like concentric circles). It takes effort but it's not impossible, because the framework that motivates the dreamscapes and the action therein acts as a guide a safety rope to keep you tethered to comprehension. Otherwise, you're lost in a daze of dizzying visuals and intercut realities, each with their own unique measure of time.
The framework is this: Saito (Ken Watanabe) is the CEO of a Japanese power company that wants to corner the market. Impeding this is a larger British company owned by the dying magnate Maurice Fisher (Pete Postlethwaite) and his son and heir the to the empire Robert Fisher (Cillian Murphy). Saito needs to convince Fisher Jr. to break up the empire (thus allowing Saito's corporation to regain its control over the world market) and hires Cobb (DiCaprio) and his team of subconscious commandos to infiltrate Fisher Jr.'s mind in order to impregnate him with that very notion. This is inception planting the seed of an idea in someone's head but making it appear self-inspired. Thus the brouhaha of the dreams within dreams.
Nolan does provide us with some helpful signposts to keep us oriented, however, and the tiers can be deduced by their unique locations: a plane, a van, a hotel, a mountain bunker, and a crumbling city. And it is an extraordinary ride on the whole. However, despite the vast amounts of creativity Nolan puts into weaving this tale, I was disappointed by the creativity the characters employ within the dreamscapes. Early in the film, Cobb explains to newbie Ariadne (Ellen Page) that dreams aren't held to the same physical laws of existential reality. Yet three of the four tiers in Fisher's mind are nearly identical to Newtonian physics. Why don't the characters, in facing Fisher Jr.'s mental defenses, adapt by taking advantage of the freedom in defying the properties of the natural world? Why don't the characters pull up trees from the roots or grow extra arms? Certainly each dreamscape adheres to its own internal properties but I would think a little room for play would have ramped up the visual and narrative intensity even further. That quibble being said, Inception is a great ride of a film, and it's rare that a movie forces the viewer to think to this degree for this long. It's a wonderful mental exercise and I look forward to my next screening.
The People vs. George Lucas (2010)
'Daddy, please love me!'
The term 'documentary' is a difficult label to affix to 'PvGL' but sadly, for lack of a better word, is one that must suffice. I say this because the film does not shed new light or impart new information so much as it distills and summarises what we already know. Director Alexandre O. Philippe condenses and intercuts massive amounts of amateur videos, conversations, and first person tirades with pseudo-authoritative interviews in an effort to douse the acclaimed titular director with a bucket of icy water and wake Lucas from his delusional God-complex so that he will own up to the serious missteps he's made with the 'Star Wars' franchise (as well as 'Indiana Jones'). Make no mistake this is a film made by disillusioned fans, for disillusioned fans, and the issues that irk the most are well-covered: the erasure of the 1977, 1980, & 1983 originals by the CGI-altered 1990s reissues; the character change in Han Solo by firing AFTER Greedo; the inherent ramifications of quantitatively defining the Force with a microbiological organism; the erasure of the Star Wars Christmas TV special; Jar-Jar Binks; and so on.
The film nicely establishes the original trilogy's place in history and in culture, and sets the tone for why we love George Lucas. But from there, it just gets ugly. As one interviewee put it, 'I love-hate George Lucas. I love-hate him a lot.' The anger and vulgarity that erupts from the wounded fans is unsettling but even more disturbing is the fact that I often found myself nodding in agreement with their arguments. Two-thirds into it, though, I just get the sense that 'PvGL' is acting like a neglected child throwing a tantrum at a parent, begging for attention and respect. Yet Lucas' betrayal of his fans through touting his authorial and divine right to tamper is not without merit. Attributing the disrespect to his secession to the dark-side (that is, entrepreneurship and big business), rather than remain the rebel filmmaker of his youth, 'PvGL' ultimately finds itself in an un-winnable spot, wedged between arguments of public (social and cultural) domain and artistic control. Does 'Star Wars' belong to the general public, or can those that originally penned it rewrite history?
Bearing this in mind, does anyone know where can I get one of those Tauntaun sleeping bags?
Shrek Forever After (2010)
Depressing end to a creative series
It's unfortunate that the Shrek series ends here. Not because it should continue, but because this film could've benefited from another year in script development and actually done the saga justice. Attempting to deconstruct the daily reality of a life lived 'Happily Ever After', this final chapter goes into some really depressing territory that is anything but kids' stuff and where the laughs are scant at best.
Shrek, finding himself domesticated and beloved by people, grows weary of the day-to-day monotony and wishes for the salad days of a pre-Fiona life. Enter Rumpelstiltskin, voiced by GENUINE VOICE ACTOR Walt Dohrn who, as the Machiavellian imp, is perhaps the ONLY shining light in the film. Shrek makes a deal with him to have a day where he was once again feared and free of responsibility, and gives him a childhood day in exchange as payment. Rumple takes the day of his birth, sending Shrek into a skewed reality in which he was never born (ála 'It's a Wonderful Life') and where Fiona leads a band of ogres against the tyranny of Rumpelstiltskin's rule over Far Far Away.
The film's bleak tone is made worse by its dark colour palate (since most of it occurs that night), seedy atmosphere (e.g. a 'cock' fight between the Gingerbread Man and a pack of animal crackers), and skewed characters beloved characters that just aren't themselves. Without the laughter or the love, 'Shrek Forever After' leaves half the family out of the equation. My kids were utterly bored, and sad to say, I don't blame them.
Since the post-WWII wave of neo-realism, filmmakers have been exploring the beauty within the recesses of the urban landscape. The Italians had Rome's 'any space whatever'; the French New Wave caressed Paris; Woody penned his love letter to Manhattan, Spike wrote his to Brooklyn; Jean-Pierre did Montmartre; John Hughes did Chicago; and now with 'L'illsionniste' Sylvain Chomet has Edinburgh. The film is, indeed, bestowed with loving detail upon Scotland's capitol. Sadly, the narrative providing the means for discovering the city imparts a final impression of cold disillusionment that starkly contrasts with the city that I've come to know in the last three years.
Chomet tells the story of an aging slight-of-hand magician -- a cartoon of an already cartoonish M. Hulot -- who takes his outdated stage act from Paris to Scotland's Hebrides isles. His magic and kindness inspires a naïve young maiden to tag-along with him and the two find themselves in Edinburgh. The remainder of the film is a coming-of-age story for both characters: a slowly paced, melancholy journey of economic hardship and broken enchantments. The city crushes the magic and mystery of life, leaving the viewer with an acute sense of doomed mortality.
Of course, glimpses of brilliance can be found. The animation medium befits the Jacques Tati character as well as Edinburgh itself, and Chomet's restrained style teases out the occasional smile from the ordinary moments of life. Unfortunately what is missing is the very thing I love most about the city: its people. Edinburgh is a city of extraordinary people and heritage. It seems then, that though Chomet's heartfelt intention was to show off the city he calls home, he failed to recognise its most remarkable asset. It's the people that give life to Edinburgh and without this city of endless stone does indeed seem cold. Had Chomet focused more on the characters' interactions with the residents as opposed to themselves, I think the film would have better communicated a stirring sense of hope and quiet pride that would have left the viewer with a greater desire for and appreciation of the city of Edinburgh.