Director: Sean Anders
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris
Stars: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine
Release date: December 11th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Running time: 108 minutes
Release date: December 11th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Running time: 108 minutes
Release Date: April 17th, 2014
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Running time: 142 minutes
At one point in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, pithy geek turned super-powered saviour Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), after fighting off the Sandman, empties sand out of his shoe and says to himself: “Where to these guys come from?”. Ideally, this question can be applied to every comic-book/superhero franchise. It’s a good call – pinpointing the absurdity of having super-powered ne’er-do-wells attack these superheroes one after another. Spider-Man’s latest offering, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, attempts to answer Peter’s question. Sadly, the final product is significantly less than amazing.
Obviously, the conflict between the original Spider-Man trilogy and Sony’s new Spider-Man saga is a major talking point here. With the 2012 reboot released five years after the much-maligned Spider-Man 3, this franchise contains a strong “too soon” vibe. However, for commercial success’ sake, the relevant studios have ignored pop-culture’s critical backlash. Unfortunately, these studio-fuelled quarrels hit The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro like one of Spider-Man’s wily punches. The plot, to put it simply, tangles itself into a convoluted and incessant creation. Here, much like 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is struggling to balance his personal and professional lives. Should he protect New York’s citizens as the wall-crawling arachnid or look after long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Aunt May (Sally Field)? Breaking his promise to Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), to stay away from her, Peter is torn between his life’s most important strands. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your relationship with Spidey’s comic-book saga, the narrative delivers several sub-plots and cartoonish characters. Some of these include Aunt May heading back to nursing school and Gwen being accepted into Oxford University. Believe it or not, eclipsing these already unnecessary subplots, the narrative throws even more strands into its already bloated and top-heavy structure.
Obviously, there’s way too much going on in Spidey’s latest cinematic endeavour. Notorious blockbuster screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek) spray their frustrating screenwriting ticks all over this sequel’s intriguing premise. Backed up by fellow screenwriter Jeff Pinkner, their needlessly convoluted and sketchy screenplay forms an inconsistent and cheesy web of plot-lines, character arcs, tragic moments, and predictable revelations. Sadly, it’s as if this particular universe means nothing to these infamous screenwriters (other than a hefty paycheque). This instalment, striving to overlook the now two-year-old reboot, is treated like yet another mindless and glossy jumpstart. Overtly, the narrative and Marc Webb((500) Days of Summer)’s direction are strongly influenced by preceding superhero/action-dramas. For the first third, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro strives to string Raimi’s trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe into its dense, labyrinthine structure. Despite containing several of the original’s foibles, I will give credit where it’s due. Unlike the original, this instalment doesn’t blatantly copy one of Raimi’s efforts. However, temped to make more web puns, I’m still perplexed by this movie’s flaws. With a $200 million+ budget anchoring this sequel, the movie’s tonal and pacing issues are more obvious than Spidey’s web-based “I Love You” signals.
Aiming to be bigger, broader, and ballsier than previous flicks, this instalment’s reach drastically exceeds its grasp. After mistreated dweeb turned freakish monster Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) and long-time confidant turned slimy adversary Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) are introduced, the story suddenly decides to crawl toward its explosive and miscalculated final third. Setting up conflicts for future instalments, the second half’s dour side clashes with its more over-the-top moments. Seeking a Tim Burton/Batman vibe, the kooky villains’ motivations, heart-wrenching twists, and bizarre alliances overthrow the first half’s light-hearted and comedically savvy tone. The movie, advertising itself as “the untold story”, almost immediately forgets about Peter’s missing parents. The movie’s emotional stakes rest on Garfield and Stone’s shoulders. Fortunately, their sweet-natured performances lend a romantic-comedy tinge to this laboured superhero-action flick. Despite their nonsensical roles, Foxx and DeHaan deliver fun performances as Spidey’s snivelling adversaries. Unfortunately, Paul Giamatti, Martin Csokas, Chris Cooper, B.J Novak, Colm Feore, and Felicity Jones suffer through thankless roles. Sadly, the characters, though likeable and occasionally sympathetic, are as inhuman and ridiculous as their superpowers. Peter and Stacy’s relationship flip-flops between cheerful exchanges and soppy admittances. Worse, however, is Osborn and Electro’s involvement in Oscorp’s shady wheelings and dealings.
“You know what it is I love about being Spider-Man? Everything!” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro).
Ultimately, apart from telegraphing certain events, these interactions stall an already disjointed and vacuous tale. Fortunately, Webb injects his signature style into several sequences here. In fact, some scenes, when judged on their own, come off like acclaim-worthy highlights lifted from this shoddy misfire. With this instalment being a compilation of disparate concepts and set pieces, Webb’s style heightens its interest factor above tedium. Certain sequences, charting Peter’s descent from misguided simpleton to mischievous and miserable vigilante, add class and charm to this overcrowded extravaganza. Several montages, depicting changing seasons and super-heroic acts, track Peter’s bizarre life story. In addition, saving certain sections from becoming laughably earnest, Webb’s action-direction vastly exceeds his previous efforts. With Spidey flying through the sky, his web-swings deliver gloriously thrilling adrenaline rushes. Overcoming the under-utilised villains, the stakes are raised with each sprawling action sequence. Spidey’s first action sequence pits Peter against a car chase and his graduation ceremony. This conundrum, complete with Spidey’s sarcastic wit, commendably kick-starts this instalment. Meanwhile, Spidey and Electro’s showdown in Times Square almost rectifies this antagonist’s inclusion. However, nowadays, this whiz-bang stuff is expected of every big-budget tent-pole. Despite the movie’s glossy sheen and thrilling moments, its major issues intrinsically poison an otherwise enjoyable blockbuster.
Today, we expect our blockbusters to entertain us and re-shape the Hollywood system. Fresh ideas and brilliant minds keep audiences coming back to these exhaustive and over-long adaptations (thank you, Joss Whedon). Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro is a case of too many cooks, and crooks, spoiling the broth. With plot-threads, character arcs, and Easter eggs clashing with tonal shifts and tiresome pacing issues, this sequel, fittingly, gets stuck in its own gargantuan web (last one, I swear).
Release date: June 28th, 2013
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 131 minutes
Hollywood has become an industry that will recycle any concept for a quick profit. I know I’m repeating myself when I state this claim, but, for some reason, studios have no problem blatantly copying one another. Famous Hollywood double-ups such as Deep Impact/Armageddon, Dante’s Peak/Volcano and Mirror Mirror/Snow White and the Huntsman are frequently mentioned whenever someone goes on a tirade against big-budget movies. This year, Olympus has Fallen and White House Down have formed the paranoia inducing and jingoistic double-up to end them all.
These blockbusters have stretched the bonds of societal comfort and plausibility by destroying one of the world’s most important landmarks. White House Down may cause fatigue, primarily because it was released after Olympus has Fallen, but it’s a popcorn flick with brawn, laughs, and gusto. This extravaganza starts out with a comparison between two commendable and ambitious characters. Washington D.C. Capitol officer and single father John Cale (Channing Tatum) achingly wants to impress his precocious, politically motivated, tech-savvy daughter Emily (Joey King). Taking her on a White House tour, Cale hopes his corresponding job interview with the Secret Service will go as smoothly. Meanwhile, US President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing world leaders to sign a peace treaty which could pull all troops out of the Middle East. This controversial plan runs into resistance from Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), the military, and the media. While these events take place, suspicious figures, led by Stenz (Jason Clarke), waltz around the White House and Capitol Building dressed as janitors. These figures, of course, turn out to be psychopathic mercenaries with a reckless distain for Sawyer’s time in office.
You can pretty much guess what happens next. In fact, this entire movie is based around plot-points, character arcs, and clichés from other, more inventive, action-dramas. Its ‘Die Hard in the White House’ premise has been trodden on tirelessly throughout modern action movie history. Thankfully, this mash up of Air Force One, The Rock, The Siege, and Taken is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. Despite the tired narrative, White House Down‘s many zippy and unique aspects make for an enjoyable explosion fest. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012), gladly, avoids the tropes and ticks that make several of his previous efforts nigh unwatchable (God knows how both he and Michel Bay made tolerable movies within the same year!). Known for blowing up monuments and wiping out large populations on screen, Emmerich’s work is normally drowned in cartoonish humour and nonsensical plot strands. Here, despite the film’s exhaustive run-time and cheesiness, he applies a more subtle yet enrapturing approach to silly material. It was baffling to see the first 30 minutes of an Emmerich film being based around witty banter and noticeable character development. I was enjoying each interaction and plot strand before the inevitable shoot outs and explosions kicked in. To begin the necessary comparisons with Olympus has Fallen, I’ll state that the Gerard Butler-led action flick works better as a whole. However, White House Down does contain many awe inspiring and applaudable moments. Thanks to the brisk pace and baffling twists, this slightly satirical and excessive action flick is one of 2013’s biggest surprises (ironic, given its disappointing box office performance).
Emmerich, however, doesn’t pull back from making preposterously stupid links between the plot and the heavy-handed messages. It’s right wing, fascist agenda is glaringly obvious and beyond inappropriate. Despite the shout outs to republican craziness, NRA, military injustice, Government conspiracies and preachy journalists, Emmerich can’t pull anything together to say something meaningful. Thankfully, the terrorists aren’t defined by race or ‘religious’ creeds. I know I’m asking too much of an action-disaster flick, but Emmerich should’ve stuck to the courage of his convictions. Where he does excel, however, is in the explosive action set pieces. From destroying New York with a mutant lizard (Godzilla) to obliterating Earth with freak winds and intelligent tornados (The Day After Tomorrow), Emmerich continually puts the pedal to the metal. His video game-esque apocalyptic-disaster movies push the boundaries of believability and filmmaking technology. Here, we go room by room as the world’s safest residence is torn apart. He finds inventive and baffling ways to tare chunks out of famous buildings and American ideals. Though lacking the grit and intensity of Olympus has Fallen’s invasion sequence, the White House takeover here is gleefully swift. The camera moves from one kill to the next as the punchy and kinetic action set pieces thrill and spill. Emmerich delivers one stupefying moment after another. I threw my hands up when Cale and Sawyer pulled donuts on the White House lawn with the President’s suped-up limo (aptly titled ‘Ground Force One’).
“Can you not hit me in the head with rocket launcher when I’m trying to drive?” (John Cale (Channing Tatum), White House Down).
James Vanderbilt(Zodiac)’s screenplay elevates a movie packed with tension inducing set pieces and brutal murders. The hilarious dialogue and zany winks and nudges come thick and fast. A White House tour turns into a pacy back-and-fourth between several wacky individuals. These moments, gladly, boost the archetypal characters. Cale, fit with a white singlet and point to prove, is a pretty yet emotionally damaged John McClane clone. Despite the laughably predictable plot and character turns, Cale comes off as a sympathetic and courageous hero. Butler may be a more charismatic presence, but Tatum still establishes himself as a charming and beguiling action star. His physicality and snappy delivery push him through each set piece and conquering speech. His rapport with Foxx highlights the sheer talent flowing between these popular performers. Foxx, though miscast, delivers an enjoyable and intriguing turn. Whilst bringing out his inner Barack Obama, Foxx urbanises the all important Leader-of-the-Free-World role. With his can-do attitude and Air Jordans in tow, Sawyer is a Political character by way of youth marketing and focus groups. Unfortunately, the supporting cast members, though talented, are stuck in bland, two dimensional roles. Gyllenhaal, though effective in her early scenes with Tatum, is left to simply yell orders over the phone and look mildly concerned. Jenkins can only draw a mild shade of life from his tiresome role. Meanwhile, Clarke, James Woods, and Jimmi Simpson go overboard as the sociopathic and vengeful villains.
With its talented cast and punchy action set pieces, White House Down is a surprisingly engaging action flick. Emmerich, thankfully, has crated a ludicrous, explosive, and funny extravaganza. I’m now trying to figure out what the next blockbuster double-up will be. ‘Taken on a cargo ship’, anyone?
Release date: December 25th, 2012
Distributors: The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures
Running time: 165 minutes
One of the most advanced languages on Earth has to be ‘Tarantino English’. Everyone in Hollywood would kill to speak it on the big screen. The dialogue of one of Hollywood’s greatest Auteurs has sky-rocketed him and many actors into the A-list. The director’s work has inspired film buffs and makers alike, while washing the modern film-going audience in a wave of blood and expletives. His latest, Django Unchained, proves that an ageing genre can be brought back to life.
Django (Jamie Foxx) is released from slavery by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Charming the inhabitants of America while hunting down criminals for the tempting rewards, Schultz makes a satisfying proposition with Django. If Django identifies Schultz’ next targets, then he will help Django free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Django, training promisingly in the art of gun fighting, is ready to meet his vicious enemies as a free man. Broomhilda’s owner turns out to be Plantation owner and Mandingo aficionado Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). On his luxurious ranch, ‘Candieland’, Candie must contend with his intimidating guests.
Django Unchained can be seen as many things. It’s an engaging and visceral mix of blaxploitation flick, revenge tale, black comedy and violent spaghetti western. Tarantino’s love of western tropes has lead to this anachronistic and lively experience (basically a mix of The Searchers, Blazing Saddles and Jackie Brown). The first act defines who these characters are and why we should support them. Breaking Django free in a tight first scene, Schultz and his new partner divide the land while eagerly searching for bloodthirsty wretches. The partnership builds overtime as Django stops being a stoic slave and becomes a fierce yet heartening anti-hero. The beginning moves at a cracking pace. This largely linear story is a much more reserved choice for Tarantino, known to be a director obsessed with subverting any storytelling style. However, when DiCaprio’s character enters the film, it slows down to focus on Tarantino’s fierce dialogue and tension-inducing conversations. This is Tarantino’s first film without his regular editor Sally Menke, and it shows. At 165 minutes, this already gritty and epic revenge fantasy is extended longer than required. This also proves Tarantino to be a better director than screenwriter, in need of Roger Avary(Pulp Fiction co-writer)’s cautioning hand in the script-writing stage.
His directorial flourishes liven up the sprawling landscapes and action set pieces. Tarantino has never been one to back down from excess. Thankfully, Django Unchained is a master-class in excess, but done in a particularly inventive way. Never willing to downplay this already expansive story, he livens it up with anachronisms, spicy dialogue and gore. Each setting adds a distinctive harshness to every scene, while His rush-zoom effect adds a comic-book like affectation to this burgeoning western universe. This version of the american plains is an anarchic mess. Tarantino loves to splatter exaggerated amounts of blood across many shots. The Sam Peckinpah-esque gore becomes harrowing to watch, but it wouldn’t be a Tarantino flick if it didn’t. When Django and Schultz aren’t putting giant bullet holes into baddies, then a black man is getting ripped apart by dogs, mandingos are fighting to the death or someone is brutally tortured. Combining elements from contrasting time periods, Blackly comedic moments balance out the gruelling intensity. Some viewers, however, may find the comedic, and painfully excessive, use of the ‘N-word’ discomforting. Much like in his previous film Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino uses his characters as weapons against racism and prejudice. Times have clearly changed, and he wants this fact emphasised with as many intensifying slurs as possible.
“Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?” (Django (Jamie Foxx), Django Unchained).
This film should have been called ‘One Upon a Time in Tarantino’s Head’. He has done his research as far as capturing a disturbed and rounded depiction of the wild south. Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone both get their dues here. What also makes this adventure so compelling are the nasty characters and enigmatic performances on display. Foxx plays the smooth-talking Django with a unique range. Despite delivering greater performances in Collateral and Ray, he still a true acting force here. Sporting slick attire and quick moves, Django quickly becomes a better shade of bad-ass. Waltz steps back into Tarantino’s world after his revelatory performance in Inglorious Basterds. Charming his way out of any situation, his character is a welcome presence on-screen. DiCaprio provides a revelatory turn as the sadistic and cold-hearted Candie. His character’s blackened teeth and trimmed beard illuminate DiCaprio’s steely persona. His character will surely be added to the likes of other classic Tarantino creations. Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t been this entertaining in years. As the true soul of Candieland, his character is a heartless and vivacious individual.
It may seem impossible, but Tarantino has done it again! He has created a controversial yet rambunctious story of the American heartlands. With his trademark flourishes, this enthralling and delectable western becomes a gleefully hilarious bloodbath. As Candie would say: “Adult supervision is required.”
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