Monday, July 09, 2012

With this reboot, I thee web: "The Amazing Spider-Man"

I don't know what the big fuss is. Just wait until five years from now when Bieber is playing Peter Parker. Then we'll be wishing the Mayans were right ...

I won't say I was conflicted about our favorite web-slinger getting another big-screen version so soon. I was more meh. Sure, it didn't seem to make much sense, especially when the 2002 Raimi-Maguire version was almost universally praised. But hey ... if you think you can do the story justice again so soon with the right cast and enough tweaks to make it interesting, why not? Are we going to pretend the movie business is all about originality? Then someone please explain why both the "Resident Evil" and "Underworld " series are apparently going to outlive every last one of us. Seriously ... it's kind of scary.

Clearly we can dispense with the basic plot of the Boy Arachnid -- to wit, a teen nerd with a crush on the cute girl gets bit by an effed-up spider, suffers emotional distress and then fights a villain the police can't hope to defeat. And scene. With that, the devil is in the details, and let's go through them now.

The narrative is split about 50-50 from previous film versions and new stuff. Yes, Peter lives with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but we learn his parents left him in their care long ago. Yes, Peter likes a cute girl, but this one is Gwen Stacy, a police captain's daughter, vs. aspiring actress Mary Jane Watson. Yes, Peter takes pictures, but as a hobby, not as a Daily Bugle photographer. Yes, there's a brilliant man transformed into the main villain, but it's Dr. Curt Connors as the Lizard vs. Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin. So yeah ... not a remake by any means, but not a total reboot, either, especially since our guy still gets that famous spider bite, explores the wonders of his new powers and then faces an epiphany after tragedy that leads him to don a red-and-blue second skin.

Setting aside comparisons to 2002 for now, let's talk pros and cons. Among the positives is the cast, starting with our leads. Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man was solid. While everyone knows Andy from his Zuckerberg sidekick role in "The Social Network," I appreciated his chops in the little seen "Lions for Lambs." He doesn't do that much different here, and it will be interesting to see just how much range he has in the years ahead. But the attitude works fine in this case, even if I was distracted by his ever-poofier hair in the second half.

Even better was the often-winning Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Loved her in "Easy A," thought she was pretty good in "Crazy, Stupid, Love," "Zombieland" and "Superbad." Here she's quite natural as the pretty high schooler with a brain. Between her realistic rapport with Garfield and her family scenes, it's not hard to understand why Jim Carrey got starry-eyed -- albeit rather creepy.

Beyond these two, no real false notes. Rhys Ifans is a sympathetic Dr. Connors whose pursuit of healing drives him too far and into the land of scales. Denis Leary doesn't flex his muscles as Capt. Stacy but doesn't poop the bed, either. And old pros Martin Sheen and Sally Field carry their weight without breaking a sweat as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. So no harm there.

As for the action, it's perfectly good, but I have to admit in this CGI age -- and yes, I know not all of this was CGI -- I pretty much expect that. Nothing looked fake, but nothing blew my socks off. The fight scenes were nicely choreographed, and the swinging through the air was all well and good. I will give high marks for having Spidey use web shooters -- and explaining where the "web" came from -- vs. making the webs part of the spider bite aftermath. That's faithful to the comics, speaks to Peter Parker's smarts and is a big deal for me. It's the little things.

Add it up, and sure, this was a nice comic book movie and definitely watchable so soon after the last go-around. But here's the thing, in two parts. First, call it a wash with Version 2002. You can quibble about Garfield vs. Maguire, the special effects and other stuff, but in the end, neither of the movies is far superior to the other. If pressed, I'd probably got with Tobey and Sam, just because it came first and really moved the Spider-Man franchise forward. Hard to see this one doing that.

More important, I won't say Christopher Nolan is lapping these guys, but he certainly doesn't see them in his rearview mirror. Maybe this current Batman franchise is bleak, but it's both a huge departure from the overdone series of the '80s and '90s AND a poignant, thoughtful interpretation in its own right.

From the origin story in "Batman Begins" to just about everything with the Joker in "The Dark Knight," those movies have been a hell of a lot more interesting than this latest Spider-Man. And while I've always thought Spider-Man as a comic book character was more interesting than Batman, it's a safe bet the upcoming "The Dark Knight Rises" will make just about everyone forget Eduardo Saverin flinging his body among the skyscrapers. Maybe that's not fair, but that's the world we live in now. If you don't like it, go cry to Aunt May.

Monday, July 02, 2012

So you're saying you WON'T bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan?: "Haywire"

Come on, boys ... can we all admit that we were hopped up to see an attractive, fit woman getting rough with the fellas? And can we agree that when all was said and done we were left wanting?

I remember the trailer for "Haywire" sneaking up on me. What's this? Some kind of spy/assassin movie with a chick beating up on people? And what's THIS? Steven Soderbergh is the director? Yes, you have my attention.

I had no idea who Gina Carano was, but she wasn't hard to look at, and this looked to be of the Jason Bourne ilk. That there were some familiar faces (Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas) and a few in-their-prime actors (Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and, yes, Channing Tatum) didn't hurt at all, either. So I jumped on board.

Our story is that most classic in the realm of spies and assassins: A top dog finds him(her)self on the wrong side of an assignment, betrayed and ultimately looking for revenge. The twist here, of course, is that our agent has breasts. And you know what? That's interesting ... for about 10 minutes. After that, I found myself thinking this was a mediocre actioner at best. Sure, it's different to see Fassbender mixing it up with Carano vs. Damon. But once you get past the idea of a woman punching and getting punched -- and I know some people didn't, despite the equality vibe Soderbergh was going for -- the story is kind of weak, and Carano doesn't have the acting chops to make up for it. (Not that the script helps.)

In the end, "Haywire" is novel but not special. Put Jason Statham in the lead role, and Soderbergh would have to carve out an hour of each day answering calls from people asking, "OK, Steve ... tell me again why you bothered to make this movie ... "

Sometimes I hate myself for not seeing the obvious ideas: "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil"

Because really, this is just short of genius. Think about it. What if all those "college kids terrorized by backwoods hillbillies" stories were told from the hillbillies' perspective? And they were NOT trying to kill those kids but just on vacation themselves?

That's the quite clever premise of "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil," and while not a masterpiece, the movie definitely lives up to its promise. Tyler Labine and the always fun Alan Tudyk are a couple of Southern boys heading to their cabin for the weekend who happen across a group of well-scrubbed college kids who, in classic "Three's Company" fashion, mistake our dynamic duo for murderous rednecks. This may sound somewhat forced, but director Eli Craig and our two leads, especially Labine, somehow manage to make it plenty believable.

Even after one of the kids -- Cerie from "30 Rock" -- ends up in the clutches of Tucker and Dale, the misunderstandings persist and build, with deadly consequences. And I'll say it again ... it all kind of makes sense. And made me laugh. A lot. If you don't mind blood and can appreciate some wink-wink genre-twisting, you could do a lot worse than this one.

Unbalanced: "Equilibrium"

Or the answer to the question "How can a movie be dumb and interesting at the same time?"

I vaguely remember when this film came out, thinking, "Hmmm, Christian Bale not exactly chalking up the Capital A actor role." The story is fairly intriguing: In the future -- it's always the future, isn't it? -- society has outlawed feeling. To enforce this, they have "clerics" who are trained in a martial art called "gunkata." If you think that's karate with guns, well ... just exactly where did you get that doctorate degree, anyway?

Bale is a cleric, who, in the wake of colleague Sean Bean's odd behavior, begins to question this whole not feeling thing. Emily Watson helps him on this path as someone busted for appreciating the emotional things in life. Taye Diggs is Bale's new partner, who we are to believe is ruthless and uncaring and yet can't keep a slight sh!t-eating grin off his face throughout.

The first half-hour of this sets the stage and is largely boring. Things get mildly interesting as Bale gets all touchy-feely, and we also get to see more gunkata in action. But while we get a couple of nice twists en route to denouement, the bulk of the story is a bit hard to swallow, even if you accept that this is the standard "everyone put on your gray clothes and don't smile, at all, EVER" version of the future. The action makes up for this a little, but not enough. Still, if you want to see Batman get all up in people's sh!t while wearing an overcoat, get crazy.