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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

Check out my other column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me onTWITTER under the name: Stipp

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN - REVIEW

220px-the_amazing_spider-man_theatrical_posterThe problem with Marc Webb’s reboot of a comic property that needed a new lease on its comic book shelf life isn’t that it’s somehow unfaithful to the web head’s past. Rather, Andrew Garfield is placed in a role that just doesn’t have the much of a spark. Sure, the love interest that Peter has with Gwen Stacy flirts with some genuine heat the two seem pushed together way too fast, too soon, and without so much of that certain bit of romance that we felt between he and Mary Jane in previous films.

Where the movie excels, though, is in its effects that make this a true summer blockbuster that deserves to be seen on the big screen with its action set pieces and more than obvious set ups that barely even hide that these are needed in order to move the plot along at such breakneck speed there is no time for introspection or even a little bit of character development. We have plot points that need development. Dad Parker needs to get rid of his son, Uncle Ben and Aunt May need to show how old they are and Ben needs to die, Peter needs to know what it is to have that kind of responsibility which comes with having the power to scale walls, Peter needs to avenge his uncle’s death, but, wait, therein lies another problem with the movie. We spend a good amount of time in this film waiting to find out what Peter is going to do to the man who killed his uncle. It’s the revenge fantasy and even Uncle Ben himself chides the boy for getting a cheap shot in at Flash, who previously humiliated him in an over-the-top ridiculous schoolyard bullying scene that I haven’t seen played that straight since CAN’T BUY ME LOVE, when Peter has the chance to do so. It’s that sense of revenge, of getting even, that really does define Peter as a character and as a hero. That plot point is left to wither and left unanswered as the movie does with a lot of its previously raised questions and problems. The most unsatisfying resolution is no resolution at all and when the movie wants to skirt these issues only to end on a 3D spectacular that involves the last remaining fight Peter has in him there is nothing left to do but wonder why, if you make a movie about Spider-Man and have to retell everything all over again, do you leave out the very thing that could have redefined the man behind the mask? As it stands, we have an unmade man, a hero who doesn’t yet deserve the mantle of one just yet.

SAVAGES - REVIEW

savages-poster1Make no mistake, this is a B movie. C movie, more like it.

Not that it’s a bad movie by any means, OK maybe a little means, but the movie only reaches a certain amount of thrills before reverting into a production that is filled with scene chewing villainy from Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek that really makes this a fun film. Outside of them, however, we have two drug dealers, played with diametrically opposite aplomb by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson who play best friends John and Ben, respectfully, who share a common cooze: Ophelia, played by Blake Lively. As Ophelia, she is our sometimes narrator, imbued with the kind of hippie sensibility that is reserved for the kind of individual whose ideals aren’t grounded in a reality other than the one they’ve created in their own head. As a weed business, John and Ben are at the top of their game and they’ve proven that they’re good at it. Why they choose to also live in a candy coated nirvana, sharing the sexual affections of one girl, isn’t really explained so much as it’s shown. It’s their relationship, actually, that sags this narrative down.

The only real excitement comes in the form of the nasty feud that dusts up when Hayek’s entreaties to go into business with the weedies is rebuked and a kidnapping ensues. It’s this plot line, and it’s not especially a new one, that proves to be one thing that makes this movie palatable. Outside of a few chases, a few shootouts, the material that Oliver Stone is working with just comes off as flat and uninspired. Whether or not he has something to say about drug policy or the current state of the war on drugs, it’s irrelevant as he’s either distracted by having to push forward a plot that has our anti-heroes turning the tables on the cartel that seeks their obedience or trying to put a pretty bow on a movie that only has one honest conclusion. A conclusion, mind you, that completely upends itself and renders the story in a dreamlike haze. It’s an ending that doesn’t earn it and it certainly doesn’t deserve anything more than a passing glance or a one-and-done viewing. It’s best left to sit there as a fairytale that doesn’t need to be revisited once you consume it.

Long Hot Summer in a Cold Dark Theater By Ray Schillaci

prometheusofficialposterI’ve been gone for awhile if you have not noticed. Not physically but mentally, although I would prefer to be somewhere cooler where small mammals are not threatened to explode with contact to the intense morning heat that greets the Phoenix residents on a daily basis. I finally figured out after eight years why the city was anointed with such a name; survive the fire and you may rise above it all. In the dead heat of this summer people either flee the state (they’re called “snowbirds,” flocking to cooler destinations), seek refuge hibernating in their air conditioned homes (if not working at their jobs), wolfing meal after meal at Golden Corral (where – if one listens very carefully – you can hear the faint musings of satisfied cattle among the mostly portly patrons) or converge to the nearest multiplex subjecting one’s self to the least expensive form of what we’ve been told is entertainment.

Without a thought, we reach into our economically tight pockets and pay anywhere from seven to fifteen dollars a head, not including the sometimes stale popcorn and other overpriced confections, to get us through these hard times we are facing. Movies, video games, entertainment news and reality TV happen to contribute to a saying dated back to the Roman Empire, “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.”

But every so often we do witness a ripple that disturbs the powers that be (at least in the studio system) for all the special effects, 3D and stunt work do not always add up to a good story. That is exactly what people want from their escape and time and time again many of the powers that be just don’t get it. As long as failed filmmakers continue to propagate the studios as bean counters/lawyers that morph themselves into studio executives we will continue to be subjected to countless cookie-cutter products that rarely meet expectations.

Many of these high powered decision makers churn through what they just view as product at such a rapid pace that release dates override the importance of good content. They are like children with ADD given tremendous responsibility with no idea how to properly take charge and place story first and foremost. Some of our favorite filmmakers are no better; having become lazy in their storytelling and substituting it with either homage’s to themselves or attempting to jar are senses with editing techniques that are best left for small screen commercials.

Ridley Scott’s, “Prometheus” has been sighted as an aggravating disappointment to many critics and audiences. It is not a complete failure, but it is an intriguing and gorgeous looking let down that is blatant in its storytelling flaws. There are those who defend Scott’s vision and feign daring to tell an original story that did not appear to be lifted from the rest of the “Alien” franchise, but something apparently got in the way.

The first hour appears to breathe new life, but eventually descends into familiar territory that feels too much like “been there, done that”. Jarring moments of the stupidity of characters are nearly laughable and are far more acceptable in a movie like “Cabin in the Woods” that pokes fun at the genre rather than a story claiming to take itself and its lofty notions of creation so seriously. Scott was also able to get away with putting a distance between us and the characters in such classics as “Alien” and “Bladerunner,” because the actors excelled over the underwritten parts. The characters that are sprinkled throughout Prometheus are not only minimally written but near vapid in their portrayal.

The only characters worth investing in are an android and a captain that seems to be nearly as down to earth as the original one in “Alien”. Unfortunately Idris Elba’s, Captain Janek is carried by the actor’s charisma and not what the writers provided him. Michael Fassbender’s android starts off interesting but with some of his suspicious actions we tend to distrust his character, leaving no one else to care about. Once we’ve lost our investment in characters the movie ends up like an expensive set piece. It’s cool to look at, but you’re never really sure where it is going and the tag-along ending nearly elicits a vocal groan from many. This leads me to believe that the “Prometheus’” box office take may end up being disappointing compared to it’s over inflated budget that did not have the story fleshed out to its fullest to warrant such a high dollar amount.

Continuing the grumblings of public and box office is Adam Shankman’s film version of “Rock of Ages”. Problem number one with this film is the limited audience appeal; hair band 80’s nostalgia fans. The film version lacks the darkness of the play that brought to light the luridness of the time while never quite capturing the all around joyous fun that director Shankman was able to convey in “Hairspray”. In the director’s earlier musical, he demonstrated a sure footing in his dance numbers, but with ROA Shankman substitutes hyper editing for dance routines that barely go anywhere along. “Hairspray” had quirky fun characters with some depth and soul. ROA barely scratches the surface with any investment in their characters. This musical outing is nearly peppered with wafer thin soulless creations that have us begging for the next musical number so we do not have to listen to them drone on.

There are guilty joys in Rock of Ages depending on the viewer. Some will absolutely love Alec Baldwin as the aging owner of the Bourbon Room and his daffy assistant played by Russell Brand. But I have found that it goes either way for these two. Some people enjoy their humor and liken it to the best SNL skit while others find them just as annoying and out of place as Tom Cruise in his role as the burned out Stacee Jaxx.

Those finding Cruise miscast do not seem to get the fine high wire act Cruise committed to in playing the aging rocker. He skirts just playing it for laughs and slips in a soul now and then showing a heart still aching to be relevant. For those who have cited Cruise’s “time to leave his shirt on,” his critics should be reminded that the actor was purposely not in tip top shape to capture the look of the wasted rock star.

Rock of Ages does not do well as a crossover movie. Today’s young generation has little interest in the 80’s culture and there is only a small segment of baby boomers that it caters to. It might have been a hit on Broadway, but the film’s story is uninspired and its characters are barely three dimensional, which may end up having Shankman’s latest musical opus experience a slow death at the box office unless it finds its way into the hearts of the midnight cult circuit that is kinder to such fare. I will admit that for me personally and my family it ended up being a guilty pleasure. I did laugh, found myself secretly rocking out and feeling good at the end even with its flaws.

Unfortunately, there have been few films worth seeing with strong stories and good characters. “Marvel’s Avengers” “Cabin in the Woods” and “Moonrise Kingdom” are refreshing compared to what the studios have had to offer us. Those films give us a reason to return to the theater. Whether or not “The Amazing Spiderman” will be amazing or “The Dark Knight Rises” will rise above the rest is a question still to be answered. Even turning one of our most revered presidents into a vampire hunter with the blood sucking crave in high gear may not be enough to lure its victims. If audiences even get a hint of a sub-par story, their patience may wane for this kind of entertainment and the hesitancy of dolling out their hard earned money may be reserved for the next video game to add to their collection.

In the meantime, there are some strong independent films still struggling to get a theatrical distribution deal and all of you should seek them out. Kurt Kuenne’s, “Shuffle” happens to be one of the most powerful films in many years. It strikes an emotional chord with its audience that is rarely experienced. Unfortunately, theatrical distributors are uninterested in small unless it involves nude nuns with guns (an actual title to a movie). The powers that be have cited small budget, a black & white presentation and no name stars as its hindrance. But Kuenne’s story about a man with narcolepsy who wakes up at different ages and has no control of his life shuffling out of order has fascinated its audiences who demand repeat viewings.

Aaron Rottinghaus’ “Apart” is also searching for a better theatrical deal. Having played in L.A. and New York in a very limited release, the teenage audience it attracts is dedicated and there is very little reason to wonder why. The film is part art/teen angst/thriller that never panders to the tweens. It treats all of us as intelligent viewers looking for some depth while not getting too high brow for its own good. “Apart” is reminiscent of “Donnie Darko,” “Memento” and “Rebel without a Cause” in mood and tone. It does all of this without ever being derivative while introducing a new director with a distinct and profound vision.

Both films mentioned have home video deals, but it is a shame that they take a backseat to high profile films that have little joy or substance that litter the screens with their 3D effects, aged toilet humor and simple-minded rom-coms. The only way to get the message to the infantile mind of the nukie sucking executives responsible for such dribble is to get them where it hurts – at the box office. Boycott manufactured crap with little if no human emotion and support good well thought out entertainment.

If you must see crap why pay the $7 to $15 price tag for air conditioning when many of us have the A/C on already at home, the candy, popcorn and beverage are far less expensive, and you can rent that regurgitated mess for a buck or borrow it from the library? It usually has less than a six month shelf life before reaching home video, but why should that matter when we know going in it ain’t worth it. We do this enough; perhaps somebody up there will care and start putting out better films and less by-products.

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