Tag Archive: Emma Stone

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Review by C.J. Bunce

It always makes sense to be wary of movies that trickle out to the public in limited release.  If you’re not in the movie business, you may also want to be careful about seeing films about the movie business, especially shows about Broadway.  Sometimes knowing what is behind the stage door ruins the magic.  A Chorus Line, The Player, Barton Fink, are all about staging theater or film.  But it often seems like writers choose this topic as a crutch–these are the topics drama college professors praise, of characters full of angst, a script riddled with expletives and characters bantering long speeches full of dialogue and situations calculated to shock and surprise.  They hope the industry insiders will latch onto the movie even if the movie-going public could care less.  These movies come off as self-indulgent and trite, the stuff of drama school or Summer stock.  Birdman unfortunately is another one of those movies.

Michael Keaton plays an actor named Riggan.  You would never know Riggan was his name from watching Birdman as it sounds more like Reagan as uttered by the cast.  Riggan has some kind of schizophrenia, causing him to think he is being talked to by the Birdman, a costumed character Riggan played that once earned him fame.  There’s not enough of the Birdman in the film to understand whether Riggan simply has mental problems or he really has some magical power.  Or maybe it’s intended to be allegorical.  It’s hard to know.  Riggan is trying to produce and act in a play, doing something to get recognized, to make himself relevant, when in fact, he’s still a household name.

Keaton in Birdman

Behind Birdman is a variety of movie gimmicks, all arising out of an ambitious director.  Ambition is a great thing, to be certain.  Yet director Alejandro González Iñárritu throws too much at the audience at once, and although he is certainly getting noticed on the awards front, Birdman doesn’t have the balance to stand the test of time.  Slathered in tongue-in-cheek irony, Birdman relies on the misconception that Michael Keaton, who played Batman in real life, is a washed-up has-been who hasn’t had a good job in years and we will all have some nostalgic reaction to this.  (In fact, Keaton has hardly seen a year since he started in movies where he wasn’t in one film or another).

So the publicity folks want to spin this film as the next Sunset Boulevard, another story of a has-been actor struggling with self-worth.  It’s a mirror image of the New York film and theater industry looking back on itself.  A critique?  Poking fun?  Maybe actors care about that.  Maybe producers and movie moguls.  But why should audiences?  It just doesn’t come close to the subtlety and grand storytelling that made Sunset Boulevard so superb.

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Whiny teen bent on becoming a hero.  Check.

Supersuit that is true to the original.  Check.

Web-swinging across skyscrapers.  Check.

A good lead actress playing Spidey’s love interest.  Check.

New villains.  Check.

It’s the new trailer for next year’s The Amazing Spider-man 2, again starring Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker opposite Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy.  Relative newcomer Dan DeHaan as Harry Osborn seems an odd choice considering he’s taking on a role that was so well-played by the versatile James Franco, but he takes a lead position as villain in this second trailer for the movie.

Check it out for yourself:

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By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Let me tell you about this really great idea I have for an independent movie.  It opens with a six-year-old kid becoming an orphan because his parents die when they stand up to the local drug cartel after his father breeds a strain of coca plants that have poppy flowers.  Then, as he reaches the age of 17, he starts to rebel against the father that raised him and that father dies in the lawless streets of his hometown.  Then, lost and bereft of any father figures in his life, he listens to his girlfriend’s father for advice and instead of trying to get back at the drug cartels and innumerable criminals, he tries to protect the innocent, and in the middle of protecting people his girlfriend’s father ends up dying.  Lastly, he looks to his birth father’s botanist colleague for approval and the colleague tries to kill the boy and the rest of the city when he gets high on his new drug, herocaine.  I set it around Halloween in Mexico and call it “Dia de Los Muertos de Los Padres.”

But, you’ve probably already seen it in its American incarnation as The Amazing Spider-man and I think all those deaths are the reasons that led to me noticing the music in this film.  It is also the first time I remember thinking, “Why is there so much music and why do I hate it?” (I felt that during Katy Perry: Part of Me as well because that title didn’t tell me that all I would see was the bad parts.)*

* Before you think less of me, I didn’t really see that movie. I will probably never see it.  If it was called Katy Perry: All of Me Covered in Whipped Cream, well, I’d be tempted a little bit.

By the time that Peter Parker becomes Spider-man there’s already been the death of two fathers.  In a two-hour movie, I’d call that routine.  To make us feel the betrayal that Peter feels as Dr. Curt Connors becomes The Lizard and to make us feel sad when Gwen Stacy’s dad dies, the movie has to rely on music.  The music keeps building and soaring and popping up at every single moment possible and it finally got to the point that I just longed for a touching moment of silence.  I even started rooting for prayers.** Unfortunately I didn’t get either wish.

** Think of me as an atheist and then you see how strange that sentence would be.

Whenever I think of movie music, I think of my favorite movie quote, “Bah, bum, bah bum.  Babum babum babum.”  I think it’s one of the most memorable movie quotes of all time and brings to mind immediately what is happening on the screen in Jaws. (I have reread this a few times as I edit it, and I can’t help but mouth a few bars of that piece of music.)  There’s also the best use of a single note as played by a four-year-old on a piano in Eyes Wide Shut.  Then there’s the music as a summation of character history in Once Upon a Time in the West.  All add to the story, but aren’t the only thing.  There’s “You’re going to need a bigger boat,” and crazy masked sex parties and the childhood images that go with the music of Harmonica.  The music is just an interesting part of those movies and my remembrances are how the music added to the story, not because it stuck out more than a severed human limb in Pixar’s Cars.

Music can also create a feeling of era.***  Though it sometimes feels like a shortcut, it can work if used correctly.  Hey, there’s A Flock of Seagulls and we’re in the 80s.  Hey, there’s Elvis Presley, we’re in the 50s.  (Maybe the 60s, but the 60s usually means a Beatles song.)  If you want a primer on this type of shortcut, just watch Forrest Gump.  I don’t mind it because the car and the car radio has been a part of my life and so many other people’s lives that those songs do evoke images and nostalgia in us easier than any line in a movie like, “You know what Donnie, I love the 80s” as a guy flicks out the hair in his mullet. In an independent movie the line would be, “You know what Brecklin Sarpord, I hate the 80s because of White Lion.  They caused my parents to divorce and I’ve been sarcastic toward hair metal ever since” as Jenny Kolt puts on a black shirt before Brecklin’s wide eyes at seeing his first bra on a girl.  In both cases, I would expect a chuckle from the intended audience.

*** As far as I know, this is not a score, but as I say later, I don’t know much about movie music.

I really wanted to love The Amazing Spider-man and instead I merely liked it.  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had amazing chemistry.****  I could have watched those two interact instead of most of the music-swelling action scenes.  (Really?  Cranes?  Can’t the writer just have Spider-man be closer to the Oscorp building?)

**** Feel free to boo me for that one.

I don’t like doing traditional reviews because the act of creating is a very personal act and just getting something creative finished is a major accomplishment.  I prefer reflecting on things that the movie inspires me to write about.  I wish I knew more about music scores so that I could just write about those some more as I’ve exhausted what I know in just two paragraphs.  I guess The Amazing Spider-man will just have to serve as my first major negative lesson on scores.  I learn from both good and bad and this will just have been one more movie lesson.

Review by C.J. Bunce

In the top 10 of superhero films, the original Sam Raimi Spider-man movies likely would not make the cut.  The first in 2002 was too preachy with it’s in-your-face “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra.  Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker seemed to have fun in the role, but the story was light compared to other superhero films.  The best feature was Willem Dafoe as a superb villain playing the Green Goblin.  I know many oohed and ahhed over the original cinematic web swinging across the city, but in hindsight it doesn’t really compare to Christopher Reeve’s Superman simply flying, Chris Evans’ flame-on as the Human Torch, or Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man test driving his armor.

The second Spider-man was flat with solid character actor Alfred Molina doing his best as the bizarre villain Doc Ock.  The complete lack of chemistry between Tobey Maguire’s Peter and Kirstin Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson caused me to pass on Spidey 3.  Ultimately the original Spider-man efforts lacked heart and a triumphant spirit.  Supposedly the only reason for a fourth Spider-man film was Sony’s obligation to churn out a film in the franchise or lose the opportunity and money.  Switching away from Raimi and Maguire was also supposedly about money.

So is there any reason to see a reboot origin story in The Amazing Spider-man only ten years after the first origin story in Spider-man?  It probably depends on whether you have anything better to do on the Fourth of July.  It would be easy to pass on this one except for the fact that there were a lot worse movies this past year, and this Spider-man definitely has fun moments and not even one groaner that makes you wish you stayed home.  It’s maybe not “amazing,” but it’s good fun.  The new Amazing Spider-man took some real thought to create, learned from mistakes of past superhero movies, and thereby nudges out the original.  Leaning in favor of this film first and foremost is the supporting cast.

The standout performance of The Amazing Spider-man is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.  Stone showed her potential for a lead role in Superbad and here she plays a very real, believable character as Parker’s friend and target of his affection.  Stone and young Brit actor Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker have a spark.  Their conversations are slightly silly (in a good way) when they are not talking serious science or in the process of saving New York City.  Stone’s career is ready to take off.

As Dr. Curt Connors, Welsh actor Rhys Ifans plays what would normally be a supervillain, in a typical superhero movie.  But here, Dr. Connors genuinely has a valid scientific goal.  He genuinely supports the work in his lab, which includes Gwen Stacy, and seems to really feel remorse for never contacting Peter after Connors’ partner (and Parker’s dad) died (or went missing).  His own act that turns him into a giant lizard menace is an attempt to prevent lab owner Osborn’s goon from using veterans as test subjects.  As a sort of Mr. Hyde (as in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) Connors is not in control of his actions, and therefore is more sympathetic than the average superhero flick antagonist.  Rhys Ifans played Luna Lovegood’s desperate dad in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, and Hugh Grant’s hilarious roommate in Notting Hill.  Here he has established a great voice and presence, someone who could take over the parts once given to David Warner or Alan Rickman and is an actor to keep a watch for.

Instead of being a one-note “girlfriend’s dad” Denis Leary plays police chief and Gwen’s dad as protective and savvy but also smart enough to know when a crazy story he’s being told may actually be true.  How many movies have taken this role into a routine “daddy doesn’t know best” place?  Parker’s own dad is solidly played, albeit for little screen time, by Campbell Scott (Royal Pains, Dead Again), who seems to only get better over the years with each new role.  Martin Sheen and Sally Field lend a bit of classic Hollywood nostalgia and authenticity to the picture as Parker’s aunt and uncle.  A surprise, slightly bigger than a cameo role, was C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy Curtis from The Outsiders) as a crane worker who helps save the day for Parker.  The only missing classic Spidey element was Parker as newspaper photographer and more specifically JK Simmons’ feisty performance as his editor, J. Jonah Jameson.  And Spidey creator Stan Lee has his own Marvel cameo as you’d expect.

We all know that Peter Parker is a nerdy kid who gets bullied.  He is physically always a weaker kid, then after he gets bitten by a spider and possesses amazing spider senses he gets to have the scene where he confronts the bully.  In Superman 2,Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent doesn’t make the bully bleed so much as make him regret his bullying of Kent earlier in the story.  Garfield’s Parker is even less vindictive, choosing instead to poke fun of basketball star Flash in front of Flash’s friends.  A nice move that helps establish this Parker’s good guy character.  Andrew Garfield is more bumbling, a little more modern dark hero like Anakin Skywalker as compared to the 1960s clean-cut boy-next-door Peter Parker.

At times Garfield’s Parker seems a little too real–a struggling teen who in real life probably needs someone to tell him to “get with it.”  He’s not a typical actor for a part like this, and yet, Peter Parker is not the typical superhero.  His performance doesn’t dazzle, but he fills the shoes very well.  Do we care whether the web comes from his hands or techno-gadgetry?  Probably not.  Are the best action scenes someone else in costume with Garfield voiceovers?  Probably.  Had this been the first Spider-man film, we all might be more excited about this Peter Parker.  Because of the many stunts and CGI, you wonder how much screentime Garfield gets in the supersuit.  The end credits state that the suit was “manufactured by” Cirque de Soleil, which makes you think maybe there is more stunt trapeze-type swinging than CGI.  Either way, the Spidey swinging takes the roller coaster ride of Spidey’s movements to a fun, new level.  And a focus more on spider abilities and creative web use surpasses the use of this key Spidey element as compared to the earlier movies.

The original Spider-man story is known by everyone.  Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, then he gets these powers.  The Amazing Spider-man now has a combination of  classic sci-fi story elements not found in the source material, with warnings of playing with science as a bit of The Fly meeting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Jurassic Park.  There is, or may one day be, a downside for Parker’s newfound powers, for playing with and expanding the realm of science, which may be fleshed out in later films.  And Parker doesn’t try to get rid of his powers as other superheroes in their origins.  He uses them for fun until he becomes wise enough to use them for good purposes.  An odd mid-end credit snippet shows a cloaked Osborn speaking with an imprisoned Dr. Connors, suggesting a return of Green Goblin in a fifth Spider-man film.  Based on this week’s box office, no doubt that sequel will be coming along in the next few years and we’ll soon enough be comparing it to Spider-man 2.

[Editor’s note:  To see our opening week review, click here.]

If Peter Parker was anything throughout the years, he was a wimp.  Whiny even.  It’s that wimpiness that counter-balances the heroics after he gets stung by the spider.  Tobey Maguire (Pleasantville, Blossom, Seabiscuit), who played Peter Parker in three Spider-man movies (three?! I must have missed the last one) had his “innocent” act down pretty well, but never seemed truly pathetic.  On the other hand, Andrew Garfield (Doctor Who, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go) may be perfectly cast as the new Spider-man.  And it’s not just the glasses.

Wow, does this guy look wimpy, with a voice that sounds like it was changing as they were making the movie.  Check out the new trailer for the movie coming this summer…

That accent when he is ranting while wearing his suit is hilarious.  And check out Emma Stone (Superbad, Medium) as Gwen Stacy.  She looks like she may be a great choice to replace Kirsten Dunst as Spidey’s ongoing love interest.  I had no desire to see yet another Spider-man movie, and with all the other genre movies coming this year I figured this was the one to skip.  I’m not so sure now.  His new suit looks great, too.

The swinging scenes look much better than the last film versions.  I love watching Denis Leary when he is in prime form and you can tell here he will be a major foil for Peter.  The other Spidey films were so serious, that it will be some welcome relief to have some humor thrown in this time around (great “unitard” line by Leary).  Other interesting actors in this film are Annie Parisse (Law and Order) as Martha Connors,  Campbell Scott (Dead Again, Royal Pains, The Love Letter) as Richard Parker, and big names Sally Field as May Parker, and Martin Sheen as Ben Parker.  And check out the Lizard.

If there is one thing I don’t like, it’s the bland “The Untold Story” logo on the posters.  Sorry, but if it is one thing we can pretty much bank on with a Spider-man movie, it is a story we’ve probably read or seen before.  That said, there seems to be a lot more to like than not in this trailer, and I for one am pleasantly surprised.

Like the poster says, The Amazing Spider-man is scheduled to hit theaters July 3, 2012.

July 4, 2012 update: Check out our opening week review of the movie here!

C.J. Bunce

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