Monthly Archives: July 2012

Summer Movie Slam: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

Our hero is Peter Parker, a young teenager that lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in Queens, just outside of New York City. Peter is just like any other high school kid; he loves science, has a crush on a girl in his class, and is occasionally picked on by the local bully. But Peter’s normal life is turned upside-down when he is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, and he begins to transform into a super-powered, masked-vigilante: Spider-Man.

Wait. This all sounds familiar. Haven’t we seen this one before?

We have. It was about ten years ago that the original ‘Spider-Man’ was released. It starred Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, was directed by Sam Raimi, and, at the time, had the largest opening weekend box-office gross in movie history (slightly over $114 million). Everyone thought it to be a pretty good movie; no doubt a cookie-cutter summer blockbuster, but entertaining in every way.

So, why re-boot the saga? Why should we again tell a story that has already been told? Well, it’s pretty simple.

1) The last film wasn’t well received by critics and audiences alike.

2) This movie tells a different side of Peter Parker’s story, an origin story that the filmmakers must have felt was vital to the character of Spider-Man.

3) This is the most important reason, the real reason: Spider-Man is not only a human web-slinger, he is also a costumed cash-cow that made ridiculous amounts of money for everyone who was smart enough to get in on it. Sony was looking to get every ounce of money out of this character that they could. In the end, though, it’s a win/win situation. Sony gets our money; we get another Spider-Man movie. It’s that simple.

So enough of me whining about how it’s too soon to start making new Spider-Man movies (and it was way, way too soon). Let’s talk about this movie, trying our best to block out the ones that came before it.

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ tells us the story of Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield) from another perspective. The film opens with Peter as a young boy, revealing to the audience the mysterious disappearance of Peter’s parents. It is this event that is the driving force behind our protagonist’s actions in the first half of the film. He wants to know what happened to his family, and more importantly, wants to find answers to who he really is.

It is while on this search that Peter has his encounter with a tiny, mutated spider that bites him in a laboratory. We know what happens after this; Peter gets fantastic spider powers; strength, agility, incredible reflexes, and hyper-sensitive awareness (“spider-sense”). Oh, and he can also climb walls and do other amazing spider-things, like dunk a basketball and catch flies with his bare hands.

Nerd-Out Time: But this movie does bring one new change to the powers of Spider-Man; his web-slinging ability is not a part of his biological makeup, but is developed with technology from Parker’s mind of science-fair tricks. The wrist mounted web-shooters, to me, is a good change. The webbing coming out of Parker’s skin in the previous films never made a whole lot of sense (how did he release the webbing from his body? Does anyone know how that even worked?). Plus, it makes him more human, more vulnerable, and therefore more relatable to the audience.

Peter, while discovering his new found abilities, forms a relationship with Dr. Curt Connors, a former colleague of Peter’s father. Connors is working on a project involving cross-species genetics, which is the study of other species for the purpose of using their genetic markings to cure human weakness. Connors, being an amputee, also hopes to cure his own ailment. When Peter meets Connors, he gives the doctor the missing piece of the equation, and allows him to finish his work. But, like in all Spider-Man stories, the science goes horribly wrong, and Connors is transformed into a fearsome, killer monster. A worthy adversary for the Amazing Spider-Man and possibly the best villain in the Spider-Man story to date (though I did like Dafoe’s Green Goblin.)

Another thing that ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ has going for it is the ever so lovely Emma Stone in the role of Gwen Stacy. Stone gives another solid performance as the girl next door who falls in love with the quirky Peter Parker. She is also my current Hollywood crush, so for me, the girl can do no wrong.

In general, the cast of this film is solid, and in general, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is better cast than its predecessors (especially Spider-Man 3… Topher Grace as Venom? Yikes.) I believe that I’m not alone in thinking that Andrew Garfield is a much more believable and likable Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire’s take on the character. Garfield’s Parker isn’t a wimp; he never was a wimp. He was just somewhat of an outcast that didn’t have the muscles to back his passion. But, more than anything, he’s a good kid trying to be a better man. Within Garfield, you see much more internal struggle and growth, whereas with Maguire the character remains relatively stagnent throughout three whole movies. I mean with Maguire, you like Peter, but there’s still part of you that’s thinking “Goodness, you wuss, would you just kiss her already!”

Now that I’ve told you the basics of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, we are now at the point of my internal dilemma involving what to really think of this film. The real problem is this: I will concede and admit that this is actually the best Spider-Man movie to date. It is better than the original, and really that was the only one it really had to compete with. The performances are better, the story is better, the action is better, as well as the direction by Marc Webb (who also directed ‘(500) Days of Summer’). It’s a much cleaner, much smarter movie.

BUT, I can’t simply abandon the first movies. When I was 11 years old, the first ‘Spider-Man’ came out, and when you are 11 years old, ‘Spider-Man’ was the best movie on the planet. I must have watched it 30 times, and that still wasn’t enough. So, I still shout at the top of my lungs “Too soon!” Regardless, here is the verdict.

My Note: The best Spider-Man movie to date, but it was still about 5 years too soon for a re-boot of the saga.

My Grade: B+

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

Remember when you were young and in love? I know it’s tough, but think really hard.

I’m talking about when you were just a kid and you fell in love for the very first time. It was three parts romance, two parts awkward, all mixed together to make a magical cocktail that made you feel like you were flying. As simple as life is for a child, first love was the thing that made it seem whimsical, like the stories that you read in a book.

“We’re in love. We just want to be together.”

Did anyone else get married for the first time when they were about 8 years old? We had the ceremony in the backyard of her house. My sister acted as the ordained minister and the aisle we walked down was a Slip-‘N’-Slide. After we said ‘I do’ we ran and slid down the hill into a pool of muddy water. We figured out the service would be much more exciting if we included the things we both loved about water parks.

What brought back this flood of memories, you ask? It was this line spoken by Cousin Ben in ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’

“I can’t offer you a legally binding union. It won’t hold in the state, the county or frankly any courtroom in the world due to your age, lack of license, and failure to get parental consent. But the ritual does carry a very important moral weight within yourselves.”

‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is the story of two children that fall in love in the summer of ’65. 11 year old Sam Shakusky and 11 year old Suzy Bishop meet backstage at a church play. Sam is in town for scout camp, and Suzy is one of the many girls in the local production. Sam asks ‘What kind of bird are you?’ ‘I’m a raven.’ Immediately, Sam is smitten. As he leaves, Suzy’s friend whispers ‘He likes you.’

Suzy and Sam spend the entire year writing to one another, and over time they realize that the only thing that they have in the entire world is each other. When Sam returns to Suzy’s hometown for another summer of scout camp, he decides to be daring, and flees his campsite to run away with the girl of his dreams.

The film centers around the relationship between Sam and Suzy and their desire to be with one another, but it would be incomplete without the adults that surround these two characters. There is  Scout Master Ward (played by Edward Norton), who is doing is best to find his lost scout while also maintaining control over his remaining troop, Captain Sharp (played by Bruce Willis), who begins to admire the spirit of the escapees, and Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) who do nothing but worry about their “troubled” daughter. None of the “grown-ups” can understand why these two young people are acting so insane. That’s because they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a 12 year old and to be head-over-heels crazy about that someone.

Really, that is what Writer and Director Wes Anderson is trying to do through ‘Moonrise Kingdom’: remind us what it was like when we were young and foolishly devoted to one another, and that is really what makes it such a brilliant film. We are again placed into a world where the childhood fantasy seems alive within us.

In a world where we would normally be standing beside the authoritarian guardians, we find ourselves rooting for these two crazy kids to end up with one another. Why is that? Could it be that there is still something inside us that admires a child’s innocence and passion? I think Mr. Anderson is on to something here.

In reality, it’s one of the reasons we still go to the movies. We look to be amazed, to reminisce, to feel something we haven’t in a long time. We want to be a kid again, and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ let’s us do that.

There are some people that have to be given credit for making ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ such a great film. The first of these is Wes Anderson. In my mind, this director who has been known for a strong cult following from Indie-film fans, has truly made a masterpiece, and his best film to date. Anderson’s vision for every aspect of a film, the writer, the art direction, the cinematography, and the performances, unite harmoniously in a creative movie with one common purpose. We see aspects of his previous films (such as “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “Rushmore”, and even “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”) throughout the film, but he has taken all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses, putting all the nuggets of Indie magic into a delightful hour-and-a-half.

What I’m trying to say is, I hope Anderson gets some serious recognition this time around. I’m looking at you, Academy.

The next group of people that deserves to take a bow are all of the seasoned veteran actors that play the supporting characters within ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’ Norton, Willis, Murray, McDormand, Swinton, Schwartzman, and Keitel are all pitch perfect in this movie, walking the tight-rope between absurdity and authentic emotion. I have no problem in saying that this is the best ensemble performance of 2012 so far. I mean what’s going to compete with it? Magic Mike? Please.

Finally, and this cannot go without saying (and many have written reviews on this film without saying it) but the young actors in this movie are fantastic. Suzy, Sam, and the members of the Khaki Scouts of North America take this movie from good to great, and they are the catalyst that makes the film both authentic and special. I don’t know where they found Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, but I’m sure glad that they did, because these two actors are truly gifted (especially Hayward. Gosh, she was good.) But the scouts of Troop 55 are so funny and so sweet that you can’t help but love them.

“Can we loan them the nickels? I’m concerned about their future.”

My Note: This is the best movie from the first half of the year. Go and see it before they pull it out of  your local theater, because it is truly a hidden gem.

My Grade: A+ (the second film on The Sorkin Notes to receive this honor.)

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘Men in Black III’

Well, if you had told me 3 months ago that ‘Men in Black III’ would end up being a better movie than ‘Prometheus’, I would laugh and just assume that you have no clue what you’re talking about. But, here we are.

Thinking in retrospect, I really do love the first’ Men in Black’ movie. Wildly entertaining, original in every way, full of satire and dark comedy, and it took the “Buddy Cop” relationship to the realms of Sci-Fi with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones at the helm. ‘Men in Black’, along with ‘Independence Day’, really made Will Smith a star and eventually allowed him to become one of the most successful actors of the 2000’s. It killed at the Box-Office, making over $250 million (and in a pre-‘Titanic’ world, this number was ridiculous), it also garnered respect from both the critical audience and the public at large. It had all of this, not to mention the “Noisy Cricket”, an “Edgar-suit”, and Frank the talking dog.

Then ‘Men in Black II’ happened… Goodness. I feel that there’s no need to go into further detail, because it would just be several sentences of mean, and no one would want to read that.

‘Men in Black II’ was so bad, that I, like many others, just assumed that the franchise was as a dead as disco. Not only was the sequel bad, but franchise director Barry Sonnenfeld went on a long streak of making really awful movies, including (but not limited to) ‘Wild Wild West’, ‘Big Trouble’, and ‘RV’. Yikes.

However, the powers that be decided to make a third installment, bringing back both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (which I assume were paid incredible amounts of money in order to be convinced that it would truly be better than the second) to reprise their roles as Agent J and Agent K. They even signed on Sonnenfeld for another crack at it. Talk about believing in a guy that no one else would.

Surprisingly- scratch that- Shockingly, ‘Men in Black III’ was not only better than the awful sequel the preceded it, but it is also one of the best movies that I’ve seen this year. As funny and entertaining as the first, with a new twist on the story, ‘Men in Black III’ takes all the good from first film, heats it up in the microwave, and served it all over again. Some people don’t like leftovers, but it tastes delicious when you’re expecting garbage.

‘Men in Black III’ opens with the lunar prison break of Boris the Animal (played by Jermaine Clement), a savage alien killer that was put away by Agent K back in the 60’s. He travels back to earth to exact his revenge K, and decides to do this in a more roundabout way: by going back in time to kill his nemesis.

At the MIB headquarters, we find a frustrated J and an ever so disgruntled K. We learn that since the second film, Agent Zed has died and has been replaced by Agent O (played by Emma Thompson). But then, just as our fellow agents find out about the escape of Boris the Animal, K mysteriously disappears, not only from his home and his work, but he also disappears from the memories of the people that once knew him well.

Agent J realizes what has happened; Boris the Animal went back in time to kill Agent K. What is Will Smith to do but go back in time himself to stop the psychopathic extraterrestrial? Pretty cool, right?

Believe it or not, the best thing about this movie are not the performances by Tommy Lee Jones or Will Smith, but the performance of Josh Brolin playing the young Agent K. Some would say that Brolin is simply doing an impersonation of Jones himself, but what he really does is show a different side to a once very flat character, giving the audience a deeper look into who Agent K really is. Not only does this element of time travel allow J and K to connect like never before, but also allows us to connect with them more as well. Brolin does this with a masterful precision and control, making sure that the viewer never loses sight of the character at hand.

Side-note: Josh Brolin is not quite at “man-crush” in my books, but he’s definitely getting there. Still growing as an actor, I see this guy really taking off in these next few years.

When you really get down to it, the reason ‘Men in Black III’ was able to return this franchise to providence was it decided to focus its energy on what made the original one so good in the first place: original story telling, and a real relationship between our two lead characters. The second movie was no good because it had no story that grabbed us, no real goal that the audience was trying to reach with the characters. Heck, half of the movie was just everyone trying to figure out what’s going on, and in the end, we still didn’t get a clear answer. The latest film remedies this problem by giving us a story we can get into and characters that we can stick with from beginning to end.

Does anyone even remember an authentic moment between J and K from ‘Men in Black II’? Did they even speak to one another!?

Woah… ease up. Remember, we’re talking about ‘Men in Black III’, not it’s ugly step brother.

Brolin and Smith really do have a great contrasting chemistry that works, and it brings us back to the original formula that made this franchise work. Although it isn’t fresh this time around, it remains refreshing, and makes ‘Men in Black III’ a movie that is worth watching.

My Note: ‘Men in Black III’ is really just the microwaved leftovers from the original movie, but at least it’s edible.

My Grade: B

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘Prometheus’

“In space, no one can hear your utter disappointment.”

Me, like many other movie goers, head into the summer with a heart full optimism and excitement. Summer, although it is not typically where movies find Oscar Gold, it’s where movie magic happens. It is when the studios release their money-making machines and watch with anticipation as the box-office numbers come rolling in. It’s the movies that we line up for; we watch the trailers on repeat, waiting for when we can go see them at midnight; we mark our calenders, counting down until we actually go to the movies.

‘Prometheus’, for me, was one of those movies I couldn’t wait for. It was right behind ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ for my most anticipated movies of the summer. It appeared to have everything I love; solid cast, a proven director, and enough Sci-Fi action on an epic scale to make any ‘Firefly’ fan take notice. The night I went to see it, me and my buddy Michael went and grabbed some dinner, and we were pumped. We kept saying, “So excited to see this movie, it’s gonna be great.” Are you getting the picture here? I was hopeful. Excited. Looking forward to a killer experience.

Wow. What a heaping pile of lame-sauce let-down.

The general premise of the movie is this: A crew ventures out into space to search for alien life that some believe will answer questions regarding the origins of mankind. The crew hibernates during travel, and when they arrive to their destination, they enter the atmosphere of the secluded moon to begin their expedition. Almost immediately, without much effort at all, they find the home base of what’s left of an alien race, and what’s left are corpses and seemingly abandoned ruins.

While searching for the answers to what this means for humanity, the crew discovers that they are not alone in the abandoned catacombs, and the entire mission begins to fall apart when crew members begin to, unexpectedly, die horrible deaths. A couple are mauled by these tentacle things that are never explained, another one is infected with some disease that is also never explained, then one of the tentacle-victims comes back briefly reek havoc. Throw in a few lame twists, a couple CGI explosions, a perceived turning point that ends up being totally useless, and there you have it. That’s ‘Prometheus.’

Before I go on to the real reason why ‘Prometheus’ has issues, let me first say what the film does well.

Visually, ‘Prometheus’ stunning. Ridley Scott’s ability to create an other-worldly setting is a gift that he has not lost, taking the audience to a world that is both grandiose and eerie. The look of ‘Prometheus’ is really what initially makes it engrossing; we are placed right in the middle of this amazing spectacle of science fiction magic. Alas, if only the writing was as beautiful as the scenery, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Again, Michael Fassbender gives a good performance as David, the polite android that ends up having an agenda of his own. The only thing that keeps him from being exceptional is the script, but the guy can’t help that so he still remains on a win streak in my book. Although the film wasn’t great, it was a nice career move to do it. It keeps him relevant and allows him to explore new territory. After all, who would turn down playing the robot in the new Ridley Scott Sci-Fi epic? Look what it did for Daryl Hannah’s career… Yikes.

Now, let the ripping begin.

The most glaring problem with ‘Prometheus’ is the story, which is completing void of life or brilliance. When the movie begins, we are introduced with a handful of questions, and from this point on, it goes nowhere. Sure, a lot of events take place, but the audience is no more fulfilled at the end of the movie than they are at the beginning. This goes against the grain of true story-telling, that the characters go through conflict to arrive at a certain place, goal, or realization at the end. We walk out of the theater still pondering the obvious holes in the plot that were never truly answered, hoping there is something after the credits that could explain what the script had left out. At the end of it all, I felt as lost and abandoned as the crew floating through space. And imagine my surprise when I found out that ‘Prometheus’ was co-written by Damon Lindelof, one of the creators of ‘Lost’. Did this guy get a PhD. in making us feel confused and unsatisfied?

The other point that pushed me away from liking this movie was the manner in which it was trying to entertaining the audience. Instead of striving for authentic thrills and action, the director decided to make the tragic mistake of making the most exciting moments in the film be nothing more than gross-out shots of alien brains, space slugs, and loss of limb. ‘Prometheus’ isn’t trying to entertain it’s audience as much is it is trying to nauseate them, and it made me sick to me stomach in more ways than one. More than anything, I found myself annoyed that the writers reduced themselves to using old horror film gimmicks to garner a response. Specifically, there is a sequence in which our heroine, played by Noomi Rapace, becomes *SPOILER* inpregnated with an alien fetus and must use a surgical machine to pluck it out of her body. I felt like we saw this in ‘Alien’ over 30 years ago. Perhaps the writers forgot, but I know I didn’t.

Noomi Rapace is so flat in this movie, I feel like someone should check for a pulse. So far, I have not been impressed by the Swedish phenom. Granted, I’ve only seen her in this and ‘Sherlock Holmes’, but she was so forgettable in both movies. And to think of the outrage that some had in response to Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), that it paled in comparison to Rapace’s rendition. Give me Rooney any day of the week, twice on Sunday, because Noomi is simply a fad that will eventually fade away.

And my final beef with ‘Prometheus’ is this; to begin a film with asking questions about the origins of man, then it ends by saying our creators are nothing but vicious alien giants, is weak. It’s like meeting a girl at the party that doesn’t have anything nice to say about their parents; it just makes you really unattractive.

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, let me take a step back and close with this thought.

Ridley Scott has, yet again, come up short with ‘Prometheus.’ Has anyone looked at this guy’s filmography in the past 10 years? He has really been struggling to make a great movie since ‘Gladiator’ with only a few bright spots here and there. Really, I think I expected too much out of ‘Prometheus,’ and in a way I think we all did.

It was never going to be ‘Alien’ and it was never going to be ‘Blade Runner.’ It tough to strike gold twice in the same place. Three times? It’s nearly impossible.

My Note: So far, Prometheus is the biggest let-down of the year. On the bright side, it’s only June.

My Grade: D

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