Average User Score: 7.1Jul 3, 2012This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Does The Amazing Spider-Man usher in an exciting new chapter in the franchise or signal yet another reboot?
I have joined millions of moviegoers in condemning the horrid Spider-Man 3, a film that put the once-proud franchise into a coma with a single dance scene. But there were more issues to that film than just the sidestepping: the product felt tired and bereft of imagination, as if our hero needed a partner or a major shakeup. Throwing too many substandard enemies at one hero never solved anything, but that's exactly what we got. Something needed to change, but was a reboot really necessary? That was Sony's call; and so five years after Tobey Maguire and company were shown the door, the lights dim for The Amazing Spider-Man.
Sadly, The Amazing Spider-Man is too drawn out, uninspiring, and downright boring. Its disappointment is so profound that it's a far cry from Spider-Man 1 & 2 and the worst superhero movie since Green Lantern. You all know the story: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a genetically-enhanced spider and wakes up with enhanced abilities. Yet, this is where the similarities between Sam Raimi's films and the current one end: webbing emanates from a man-made source, Mary Jane has been replaced by Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and even Parker's biological parents are Oscorp doctors who pass off young Peter to Aunt May (Sally Field, Norma Rae) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) before meeting an untimely end. Fast forward several years, and both Parker and Stacy are high school classmates, not twenty-somethings as were portrayed in the Raimi films. Stacy has inexplicably landed a cushy internship with Oscorp and its chief researcher Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who is seeking to reconstruct severed human limbs (including his own) in an effort to prolong human life. Connors worked with Parker's father (Campbell Scott) on the same recipe, only to see his work stifled with a missing formula that Peter discovers in dad's old briefcase. And just like the comics, Connors tests the newly-completed serum on himself, turning into the superhuman monster The Lizard. Rattled by the death of Uncle Ben and the news of Connor's transformation, Peter must balance his new powers with the realization that everyone close to him is at risk of the same violent ends if he remains Spider-Man. On the surface, it seems many of these resets would signal a new-found respect by Sony to remain faithful to the Marvel universe. But, consider this blasphemous alteration: almost everyone in the city knows Spider-Man's true identity, from a young boy stuck in a burning van to the police captain running the manhunt for the webslinger (Dennis Leary). There's even a suggestion that Aunt May herself has put two and two together after seeing Peter return home bruised and battered near the movie's ending. Why screenwriter James Vanderbilt would at first show such respect for canon then throw grenades like this into the middle of his script is beyond me. Either he assumes we're not fully vested with the character to begin with, or we're just ignorant moviegoers who consume and forget when the lights kick on. Either way, this insult doesn't help indie Director Marc Webb, who tries his best to paint pretty action scenes (such as several first-person views of Spider-Man slinging his way through the city) but fails to achieve anything new or exciting. And while our promising cast does its best with Vanderbilt's sub-par script, bad screenplays always trump good acting, a fact which is demonstrated in some of the cheesiest dialogue I've heard from the franchise ("I've been bitten - so have I," says our leads as Parker shares all). While capable actors, Garfield and Stone have little chemistry together and seem like an odd pairing from the start. Moreover, the story takes too long to develop, forcing audiences to wait 45 minutes before seeing any real action, none of which is satisfying or even inventive even in 3D. In fact, many of them feel like retreads of Raimi's efforts, demonstrating the incredible command he had of the character.
Anyone who tells you this film is exciting or even a well-drawn character-driven story has obviously not seen The Avengers. Had The Amazing Spider-Man debuted sometime in the spring, perhaps my reaction would have been different. Once again that was Sony's call to make, and their product is so much the worse for it. Why they decided it was time to reboot, rather than reload, will confound moviegoers until one considers the contract, which requires the studio to produce a film every so many years, or lose the rights to Marvel. Therefore, The Amazing Spider-man is essentially a contract extension, doomed by a boring and plodding script and a post-credits scene that felt incomplete and largely ineffective. Let's hope Marvel can someday wrestle Spider-Man away from Sony, because very little about this version is inspiring or even worth the time.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.0Jul 3, 2012This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Ted is unapologetic, raunchiness to the extreme, and the best comedy of the year so far. And, it's got a teddy bear behaving badly. In my youth, I enjoyed the company of my very own Winnie the Pooh bear. I cannot remember if he ever had clothes, but he did have these sewed-on eyes that eventually fell off. I took that bear everywhere: it flew with me on vacations, helped to bag fruits at the grocery store, watched Star Trek:TOS, and basically kept me company through all those nights of being an only child. Pooh was always there for me, kinda like a brother I never had. But, what would happen if Pooh could have talked, becoming a live person with emotions and a personality to boot? What if your favorite toy could talk, but unlike the dolls in Toy Story, yours cussed or misbehaved while you looked on and laughed? That is the premise behind Ted, an absolute raunch-fest that's adorable, yet incredibly anti-PC at the same time, and the best comedy so far of the year. As a result of his childhood wish, eight-year old Johnny Bennett gets the dream of a lifetime fulfilled: his teddy bear begins to talk and act with real human emotions. Ted becomes an overnight phenomenon, appearing on Johnny Carson and confusing Ed McMahon, who refers to him as the puppet alien Alf. Fast forward 27 years, and Ted (Seth MacFarlane) is a forgotten, jaded, foul-mouthed former 80s celebrity who is drinking (yes, drinking) and smoking bongs (yes, it is true) with the now older John (Mark Wahlberg). And just like his Thunder Buddy, John is a manchild loser, working the counter at a Boston rental car company with no interest in moving up. John and Ted are connected at the hip, and their antics (including a great sequence where John rattles off all the 'white trash' girl names he can think of), only makes his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) hope that he will someday marry her and lose the bear. But the two are content to hang out, quoting lines from Flash Gordon, with Ted inviting strippers to the apartment while Lori and John celebrate their four-year anniversary. When the party goes awry (and I mean bad in a seriously stinky way), John kicks Ted out and makes him get a job. Viewed as a mere speed bump, Ted still drags John over to wild parties at his place, and encourages him to ditch work so they can watch the cast of Cheers on DVD talk crap about each other. Lori wants that kind of camaraderie with John, but instead must have jokes explained to her and ultimately learns that John has made her ringtone The Dark Vader Theme from The Empire Strikes Back. Eventually, the line is drawn: ditch the bear, or lose the girl. MacFarlanes feature debut is filled with sharp and terrific one-liners, as well as a teddy bear-human fight that might go down as one of the best throwdowns ever. Wahlberg and Kunis have great chemistry and believably carry off the relationship part of Ted. While too sleazy to be called a classic romantic comedy, our human actors do an excellent job of pouring on the schmaltz in the serious scenes, leaving audiences to wonder whether they should be laughing or crying. MacFarlane's dialogue is so crisp and its execution so flawless that this 106-minute film could have succeeded whether Ted was a CGI bear or not. Ted is also filled with some terrific and well-placed cameos, including the appearance of Flash Gordons Sam Jones.. There is a short but funny kidnapping subplot involving a psychotic dad (Giovanni Ribisi) and his overweight son (whom Ted refers to as Susan Boyle), as well as a house party gone seriously wrong, along with plenty of tips-of-the-hat to those of us raised in the 80s and remember TJ Hooker camping out on car hoods nearly every week. But do not think this is just a romp through 80s raunch: Ted also shines in its ability to lend human traits to fuzzy childhood pals in a way few films can. John's connection with his Thunder Buddy is real and flat out touching at times, especially near the film's end. And while that ending feels rushed, the overall effect is none the worst for wear. Again, let me be clear: Ted is definitely not a heartwarming, feel-good film about children and their stuffed companions. It is way too perverse and definitely not for kids, and (without giving it away) the end will honestly be too traumatic for them. That should not keep anyone of age from skipping the most hilarious film I have seen since The Hangover. Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg, take note: this is how raunch is done right. Ted reminds us of the strange habits of our youth and the unswerving connection we had to our childhood toys. But, it also takes us back to a time when we took everything for granted, when our bears and dolls protected us during thunderstorms and laughed with us on the swing set. And while my Pooh Bear is still in a plastic bag in the garage, it might be time to dust him off, although I doubt I will catch him dry-humping a counter or doing cocaine in our bathroom.… Expand
Average User Score: 5.9Jun 22, 2012Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a wickedly-fun, over-the-top vampire slashfest that requires total suspension of disbelief. Taken from the novel by author Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote the screenplay), Hunter is historical fiction on steroids, requiring total suspension of disbelief and a healthy appetite of the macabre to take it seriously. But once those barriers are removed, Hunter is a wild ride, almost challenging its audience with such a ridiculous plot that no amount of sane historical inquiry can be applied. After witnessing the murder of his mother by his father's former slave boss Jack Barts (Csokas) when he was nine, the now-adult Abraham Lincoln (Walker) decides to exact revenge by first getting drunk at a bar. There, he meets the European-stylized Henry (Cooper), who attempts to discourage Lincoln from carrying out such folly. Soon, Lincoln has Barts dead on the ground, or so he thinks. Barts is really a vampire, and the human trafficking he conducts represents food for the growing vampire population in the South. Henry steps in to save Lincoln's life, but only with the promise that he join Henrys campaign to slay the escaped Barts and the other night crawlers. Soon, the former rail splitter is doing just that, but not before several funny and well-done sequences with Henry 'training' Lincoln with his fists. An unconventional man, Lincoln won't use standard weapons to kill blood-suckers, instead choosing one of a rail splitter to carry out his task. Covered in silver, Lincoln's axe becomes the anvil for his war against those who killed his mother. The work of a vampire hunter is a night job, and Lincoln must maintain a low profile by working as a store clerk for friend Joshua Speed (Johnson). There, Lincoln meets Mary Todd (Winstead), quite against the wishes of Henry, who demands 'no connection, no children' from his disciple. Courted by Senator Stephen Douglas (the uncredited Alan Tudyk), Smith interjects a bit of historical irony, as Douglas and Lincoln will eventually debate the issue of slavery throughout Illinois in 1858. As Lincoln wins Todd's hand and begins to ascend through the ranks of political society, his vampire body count begins to rise. This merits the attention of head vampire Adam (Sewell), who sends his assistant (supermodel Erin Wasson) to stop Lincoln. As the Civil War begins and moves quickly to the critical Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln must decide if he'll continue to fight Adam, protect his family, or try to save the nation from a South littered with vampires and slaveholders.
Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) bathes Vampire in slow-motion visuals (think vampires meet 300),Matrix-like stunts, and a horse chase that might become an instant classic. Unlike some green-screen directors whose actors appear stolid, uncomfortable, and perhaps incapable of imagining the action, Bekmambetov's subjects flow through each sequence, carrying out bloody acts of aggression in a way that looks and feels like gruesome ballet. Walker plays a terrific Lincoln, as does Cooper's playboy Henry. There's not one miscast here, with the beautiful Winstead offering nice visual breaks from all the carnage. The 3D transfer (whether it was post-produced or shot in 3D) is easily one of the best of the year, showing off a possible new trend of creating lifelike depth rather than the totally unsatisfying in-your-face style of Clash of the Titans. Composer Jackman (X-Men: First Class) leads the audience through a soundtrack that's dark, pulsing, and serves the overall feel of the story very well. There are some bumps and misfires along the way, but the overall effect and look of the picture is highly entertaining. There's a lot left out from the Vampire novel that would have been interesting to see played out on the big screen, including Lincoln's meeting with none other than Edgar Allan Poe, who also received star treatment this year in the under-appreciated but better The Raven. However, given the fact that shooting to world premiere took only one year, it's amazing the 105-minute film looks as good as it does: credit Producer Tim Burton with helping to pull that off. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is presidential author Doris Kearns-Goodwin's worst nightmare. World-renowned historians like her might not want to watch the film, based on the way it selectively uses historical facts to advance the story, not to accurately depict significant events as they unfolded. But baring that small population of history enthusiasts, Vampire will appeal to fans of the book as well as newcomers who should be impressed by how unafraid it is of its own bombast. It's purely fun to watch, the acting is solid, and the 3D transfer is actually better than Pixar's Brave. It should more than make up for its paltry $70 million budget and outperform its bloated Battleship and John Carter competitors with a style that's completely over the top and proud of it.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.2Jun 22, 2012Brave is a visual delight that misses at too many key points and doesn't take enough chances.
If there's one studio that's absolutely dominated in the past 15 years, it's Pixar. From their 1995 classic Toy Story to the equally heart-warming Up, the company has taken animation to new levels, pulling gems and instant classics with amazing consistency. While animation is their acumen, their key has always been in strong storytelling: who would have thought that toys, cars, rats, fish, and monsters would have such wide-ranging appeal. It's Pixar singular ability to breathe real emotions into their animated characters that makes everything they touch turn to box office cash. Well, almost everything: that road has recently been pitted with a few critical disappointments: Cars 2 was unappealing and Toy Story 3 was downright creepy (toys holding hands in the fiery hell of a compactor is weird). With the release of Brave, the animation juggernaut continues with the fun and visual appeal, but ultimately creates a plot that's too predictable, not exciting enough, and fails to take many chances The prologue introduces us to Scottish Princess Merida (Kelly McDonald, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows, Part 2), a wild and energetic girl who is given a bow & arrow for her birthday by father King Fergus (Billy Connolly, Boondock Saints). Merida's mother Elinor (Emma Thompson, MIB3) doesn't approve, and expects Merida to prepare herself to one day be queen. There's a quick action scene of a huge bear attacking their camp, resulting in the loss of Fergus' leg, but we're suddenly thrust into the present, as Merida learns that she must marry soon to an ineligible suitor. The medieval tomboy won't have it, sneaking away to run wild with her horse Angus, perfect her archery skills, and climb tall rock formations, all to her parent's chagrin. It's this independency which returns often in Brave, and ultimately what dooms Merida and the movie itself. After an argument with her mother, Merida runs away and makes a deal with a Disney-like witch (Julie Walters, Harry Potter series) who promises to change Elinor and thus Merida's fate. But, all of that goes wrong when the spell changes Elinor into a bear, who maintains the queen's heart and mind but leaves her without the capacity to speak. Together, she and Merida must find a way to reverse the spell and keep King Fergus The Bear Killer from accidentally murdering his wife.
There's lots to like about Brave: it is stunningly beautiful, showing off the Scottish Highlands and giving even more life-like movements to our characters. Test audiences viewed the film in 3D, and it too looks incredible. Filmgoers might also enjoy the funny short prior to the feature presentation, and should stay for a mildly entertaining post-credits scene. The soundtrack by Patrick Doyle (Thor) is minimal but filled with nice Scottish melodies, and there are genuinely touching and funny scenes as the clumsy Bear Elinor struggles to walk and carry on in her new body. But in matters of story, Brave suffers too much, missing key chances to meaningfully advance the characters, who come off as caricatures of previous Disney films (Think: Merida asAladdin's Princess Jasmine). There's also lost opportunities to address the theme of women in leadership roles, which Brave leaves on the table even as the film concludes. As the suitor's ships sail away, the only real lesson Merida appears to have learned is that she should not trust witches. There's plenty of time for this 93-minute film to stretch its legs, but it's these theme of change and forgiveness which continues to drag things down, never fully exploring them before bear attacks and other funny moments reappear. Some of this could be blamed on the merry-go-round of directors (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell), a recent Pixar trend that should be revisited.
In the end, Brave is a good example of the style-over-substance argument which unfortunately populates most summer films. The plot is easily the flimsiest I've seen from any of the 13 Pixar productions, with the film relying too heavily on action and comedy than addressing its initial interesting premise of the responsibility of women and the relationships between mother and daughter. It's doubtful any of these characters will be remembered a year from now, although Disney will no doubt find a way to keep them marketed beyond the theatrical and home release runs. In this scenario, Brave will be viewed as a failure. Mom and the daughters might find it fun, while Dad and the sons will be looking for the theater playing Avengers. No doubt it will draw large audiences and fill Disney's bank accounts, but with the critical failure of Cars 2, Brave is not good enough to quell insider rumors that Pixar's best creative days might be behind them.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.9Jun 22, 2012Friend is too timid, plays things too safely, and shows us why post-apocalyptic insurance policies have their drawbacks.
If the world were to end in three weeks, how would you spend it? Would you go to work to keep consistency? Maybe spend time with family? Seeking a Friend For The End of The World doesn't delve into that question too deeply, but instead lumbers rather weakly through a script that wants to be quirky/serious, yet never finds its rhythm and fails to convince audiences it's worth their time to bother. An asteroid named Matilda is about to hit the Earth, and insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell, 40-Year Old Virgin) has just witnessed his wife leave him to indulge herself in the final days, literally getting out of the car and running off. Dodge's boring life is immaculate and pristine, yet he's never taken the big chances, opting for safety and security in his job and marriage. He meets the spirited 26-year-old neighbor Brit Penny (Keira Knightley, Pirates of The Caribbean series), who has just broken up with her boyfriend. Her character seems peeled off from John Cusak's High Fidelity: a pot-smoking vinyl record collector and a headcase who suffers from hypersomnia (can't wake up once she starts sleeping), which is conveniently used as an eighth-inning plot point. Dodge learns that his high school sweetheart Olivia is trying to reach out to him, and so with Penny in tow he sets out to find her. There are some funny scenes along the way, including a couple of cameos and a journey to a local restaurant where everyone seems tripped out on drugs, serving unique combinations of dishes on the menu. It's a funny scene, but we don't have time for laughing as the dower Dodge has to find his lost love. Eventually, he mysteriously realizes that he must make a choice between Olivia and car-mate Penny, who he has fallen for along the way. Like we didn't see that one coming - the couple's "opposites attract" exchange midway through arrives just in time set to address this seemingly large plot hole. Dodge knows that Penny would like to see her family in London one last time, and so the two make a trip to see Dodge's father who left the family 25 years ago (cue cameo #2) but owns that plane to get Penny home. These scenes with dad are fairly touching, but it's just a play for the end of the film with no real closure for son and father. As the world comes to an end, audiences will no doubt debate the end of Friend, which I suppose is the point, but it won't make you feel any better to do so.
Friend suffers from several avoidable but critical errors which ultimately ruin the film. Our improbable leads give off zero chemistry, with Carell arriving with nothing more than a mix of his characters from The Office and Crazy, Stupid, Love. He's really a black hole, sucking all of Knightley's high energy and charm with his blank stares and boring comments about the world coming undone and the choices he's made. Director Lorene Scafaria, who makes her debut with Friend, can't seem to wake Carell out of his melancholy funk, leaving us to wonder if she should have chosen a more dynamic male who could play boring to Knightley's quirkiness. But it's not the only thing that betrays Friend: the ending is so clearly established that our leads will fall in love from the First Act that it's simply a matter of how they will get there. Granting the audience such clairvoyance is not a bad thing, so long as you keep them invested in the characters. Sadly, this fails to happen, as there's not enough time in the 101-minute movie to form a real bond between Penny and Dodge, opting instead for the ease of falling in love because the world is ending rather than seeking a real partner to die with. Friend also suffers from other storytelling snafus: minus a few riots, the world seems strangely low-key in preparing for the end, with people still mowing their lawns and trying to maintain order. We're left with a montage of oddly low-key and emotionally peaceful events of happy people celebrating the end of the world as Carell limps his way through the script before settling on the girl next door. Once that happens, these intended touching scenes merely come off as more uncomfortable than destined. I didn't realize that the end of the world would be so soft, gentle, and boring; but Friend doesn't have the wherewithal to suggest more than that. I have to admit that Scafaria shoots a nice scene and will probably go on to make good films, but she's not there yet as a writer, as Friend never finds its voice beyond the standard and silly WTF moments of a world about to end. Friend betrays itself with an uneven story and the miscasting of Steve Carell. The enormous possibilities which Scafaria has at her command become lost fairly early, turning funny quirk to dreary and to an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.… Expand