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Rental Corner: New “Annie” falls flat…dead flat

"By having grown-up humor, you make it more childish!  By modernizing the dialogue, you make it more dated!  And by changing the source material, you show how much you don't respect what's already perfect!"

“By having grown-up humor, you make it more childish! By modernizing the dialogue, you make it more dated! And by changing the source material, you show how much you don’t respect what’s already perfect!”

There’s an embarrassing story I must confess before I begin. A week into the new year, I actually tried to see the new “Annie” as part of a resolution but it didn’t last long. I was alone with no one in and by the time “It’s a Hard Knock Life” came on, I got up and left. 15 minutes was all I could last. But then, I thought maybe things would change when it would come out on home video. Perhaps I was in a different mood or atmosphere at the time. Well, I have to say that anything past those 15 minutes I don’t regret missing. Maybe a small thing here and there but the execution and everything else kills it to a beating pulp of crumbled screenplay paper.

Tempted to call it a remake, this new “Annie” is more of “remix” trying to be a contemporary take of the 1977 Broadway musical seeing it uses eight of the original songs and injects new score and lyrics to bring a modern style. I’m not against the idea of a modernization unless I feel its done good respect and justice. But in this case, next to nothing works. On paper, certain aspects could be salvageable but the choice in cast, the music and the overall delivery completely brings things to a lifeless and dull standstill. And this is coming from someone who wasn’t a big fan of the original musical or the 1982 film.

The better actress is on the left...

The better actress is on the left…

The movie literally opens with an Annie lookalike finishing a report on William Henry Harrison only to be greeted with groans and bored looks while the new Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) tries to hip her ad-libbed report on Franklin D. Roosevelt with class participation and false information much to the confused look of the teacher (who says “Good job, Annie” with the magic of ADR). On top of that, she is no longer an orphan but in foster care while she awaits the return of her parents who abandoned her years ago. Unlike the previous versions, we never learn their fate and thus left to guess they are dead or written out for a sequel.

But let’s go back to the previously mentioned scene on how they introduce this Annie but saying the old was annoying and cheery without any personality. But yet throughout this movie contradicts the “new look” by giving a personality that is cheery, overly optimistic and nothing but smiles. There’s not a single thing I remember that Wallis does new to improve this character other than giving Annie a literacy complex. She’s not feisty like Aileen Quinn nor clever like Alicia Morton. There are times when they try to show this Annie is not dumb as you think but its played up for the cute factor more often. I try not to hamper on child acting too much but when your told to look cute and smile a lot, that’s very much what you get here.

No words....that face says how much pain she brings

No words….that face says how much pain she brings

She’s under the care of Miss. Hannigan performed by Cameron Diaz in one of the worst roles I’ve seen her perform. I can’t say Hannigan is a moral character seeing she is supposed to have a huge hate for children despite living off the misery of orphans (oh, I’m sorry “foster”) and in return gets hit back. The Carol Burnett take was fun despite being floozy and dark while Kathy Bates went for a more manic approach. Diaz gets the drunk aspect but takes the cruel matters way too far making her portrayal so annoying and unbearable that looking at undigested vegetables in my colon were more fascinating than the countless pop culture references she spews out (“I never told you the time I was almost one of Hootie’s Blowfish”) or when she treats that foster girls like pure trash to the point she uses a spray bottle to get their attention.

Again...the face is what you see thought THE WHOLE movie

Again…the face is what you see thought THE WHOLE movie

Jamie Foxx achieves a new low as the Daddy Warbucks character; now renamed Will Stacks. Stacks is a tycoon that does a cellphone business but is pursuing to be mayor of New York City. Why? There is no clear reason. All we get is this cheap “work hard in life” motive but it doesn’t go anywhere. On top of that, how is it possible for a head in a telecommunications business be able to run for politics? Either way, Annie is brought in to soften his image especially seeing he rescued her from a near car accident that goes viral on the Internet (perhaps, too quick as the universe of this movie says that what Stacks does goes viral globally at the drop of the hat.) To add on, Foxx’s performance feels tiring and stiff. He barley cracks a smile and at times rarely shows an emotion. At least the previous Warbucks had an excuse for their grump complexion but had a change of heart. Here, Foxx doesn’t show this form of change and left yawning along with him as he goes out to a Twilight-style movie and try to bond with Annie. The only times he shows signs of life is during the songs but even they feel stiff due to the song style and lame lyric changes.

Bobby Cannavale replaces Hannigan’s scheming brother in the form of a slimy political adviser  (“I got them elected. Schwarzenegger, Kim Jong Il, that Blood Diamond guy”) who seems his only motive is to get Stacks elected and get paid for his work. There’s no other big motive than just get this guy mayor and get his name out. To describe the annoyance I developed with this character, picture someone from Jersey Shore mutated with a Republican and Cameron Diaz’s performance in this movie. The result is the migraine I got for the rest of the movie as he tries to bug in on Stacks to “up the polls” and act devious for no other reason. I get it! He wants to see Stacks mayor but what does that accomplish for this guy. Even when he tries to remove Annie from Stacks (even though it was his idea to adopt him) near the climax with fake parents, I kept asking just what is he accomplishing and what purpose does he serve. Even if you added a mustache, a top hat along with a back cape, he wouldn’t fit the standard cliche of a 1920s silent movie villain because there is no strong motive to support his actions. At least Rooster in the previous incarnations had a purpose even if he was a last minute conflict.

They are happy....I'm not

They are happy….I’m not

Other than forgettable and tiring performances, the songs are just standard and sound the same. When I mean “sound the same,” they attribute with the same style of pop tempo and constant auto tune. There’s never a moment when I stopped and thought, “wow! they are singing!” like in Les Miserables or Into the Woods. Every note that is belted or every word that is sung is enhanced with electronic voice and it goes so tiring that it becomes a drinking game. Even the new lyrics that are added to “Hard Knock Life” and “Little Girls” feel lazily written with no clever spin or twist. “Little Girls” being the worse of the batch as Diaz’s Hannigan whines about being famous and not surrounded like little girls saying she is locked away like a princess which contradicts her character seeing she drove herself to this point of living and no one else. Choreography is beyond stiff without any inspiring use of set as musical numbers are shot from a far distance with tons of empty space as the camera moves around trying to do something interesting. As bad as “Little Girls” is, it had an interesting idea by having Hannigan hallucinate her furniture and clothing into little children which at least did something but that’s the only thing I can remember that I thought was close to clever.

In fact, a lot of this new “Annie” didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I barely remember the other foster kid’s names or what they did in the movie. Even by the big climax with her parents found at about 90 minutes in, I still felt things were dragging on to a dead creak. There’s already so much you have done, what else is there? Wrap up and get to the “super mega happy ending.”  I want to compare it to something like The Wiz but even that journey down the Yellow Brick Road had more flare and effort. This comes off as a heartless and “slap-dash” feeling that feels more half-arsed by the end when red balloons from the celebration finale keep bouncing off the end credits to no end as if they want us to find something to enjoy from it desperately. I want to say they tried, but I sense not much of an effort when you have boring to annoying performances, stiff dancing as well as song “re-scoring” you can find on any “Kids Bops” CD and painful pop culture references that try to modernize but end up dating the movie as opposed to be a timeless affair. And I swear, if anyone tries to convince me other wise that this WAS a good movie with effort and grace, then do me a favor and never speak to me again. Please?

Rental Corner: “The Amazing” underwhelming, overstuffed “Spider-Man 2”

They said it was big...we expected better....it was a lie just like this poster

They said it was big…we expected better….it was a lie just like this poster

There has never been a movie that had such a diverse audience than “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” When ever it came up in conversations, many were willing to praise it while others dismiss it as a fluke. This entry in the web-head franchise got such a huge backlash on its reception, that even the studio Sony is second thinking about the future entries. However, between the leaked plans that were revealed in December and after seeing this entry that my thoughts on this one didn’t surprise me. I actually felt that is worse than the first one. At least the first “Amazing Spider-Man” was a footstep into a new franchise and while I wasn’t all for the new directions, it was establishing itself. A sequel should have a chance to mend those problems behind from the first one. “Muppets Most Wanted” still shared most of the flaws of its predecessor but at least made up for it but focusing it story and humor on the Muppet characters. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” blew my socks off with its complex characters and smart storytelling that made Rise look soft in comparison. Even “X-Men: Days of Future Past” felt like a breath of fresh air after the lame and mediocre entries. The only thing “Amazing Spider-Man 2” proves is that its own studio doesn’t know how to grasp the idea of a franchise and not only repeats similar mistakes but (what I also feel) make bigger ones.

Andrew Garfield returns as the gawky Peter Parker whose alter-ego is a web shooting and wall crawling superhero named Spider-Man. I didn’t think Andrew was a good pick and this sequel doesn’t convince me other wise. He’s just doing what the script is telling him to do without giving air for him to establish an identity. When he’s Peter, he’s obnoxious when it comes to feuding over his Aunt May (Sally Fields) in order to avoid spilling his identity and even uninteresting. I feel that so much story is rushed that we don’t get a good understanding of his portrayal of Peter Parker. And don’t get me started about what happens when he is Spider-Man. Not only do they push the limits of his powers, but his wise-cracks and sarcasm get so old to the point I’m grinding my teeth to dust. Even a scene when he helps a kid fend off bullies feels like it was taken out of cheap PSA. Moments like that come off as forced even considering they do it again at the tail end to establish Spidy as a hero and not a menace. It just got old for me even considering this was already done in the first film.

Worse of all is when Peter is interacting with his friends and loved ones. At least give Sam Raimi some credit for developing the relationship of Peter and Harry Osborn. Here, Harry just appears out of the blue like he was meant to be established in the first film. The relationship is developed at a rush pace that we don’t even give two cents. They keep adding in exposition and talks about how they used to be best friends but I don’t feel that. We never see them do things together as friends other than share one scene and that’s it. Even later when Harry tries to get Spider-Man’s blood for some bizarre disease he has, there is no feeling of tragedy to the character. Dane DeHaan’s performance comes off as so cold that we get no human factor. He’s like a cross between a stingy Richie Rich and Donald Trump. His line delivery is some of the worse I have ever heard in a movie for a long time. Dane says his lines in a way that shows he doesn’t care. There’s no emotion or even a bit of weight. Even worse is his transformation into the Green Goblin for the end. Couldn’t do something better with the make-up? He looks like Evil Ed from Fright Night melted in the microwave with a Beavis doll. Its such a horrible design that I ended up laughing at it whenever he was on screen for the “big finale.”

Speaking of which, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey is a good writing 101 on how not to make a romance. Most of the critics who saw this, and viewers alike who liked or disliked, praised the romantic chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. To which I ask, what chemistry? For a good portion of the movie, they keep breaking up and making up to the point it becomes a drinking game. It also doesn’t help they give Peter Parker this guilt factor by having him see Gwen’s dead father every time he’s around her. Why doesn’t he talk about this to her or consult someone? No, Gwen has enough and dumps. Then reconciles just to tell Peter that she’s going to Oxford, England to a university. Then break up again and then have her help Peter stop a madman just so they have this big moment (which I can’t spoil…crud) but I get no feeling when that moment does happen. Most of their scenes are just romantic fluff that I’ve seen before to the point I could give two cents. There’s only one time Gwen helps Peter out and that’s it. Other than that, I feel nothing for the both of them.

And the best saved for last is Jamie Foxx as Electro. Oh man, did this character irritate me. Taken from Batman Forever, they pull the old nerdy and creepy engineer that gets so obsessed with his idol that it somehow causes him to get a causality and use it against the one he used to worship. Blah, blah blah. Been there, done that and smoked it. This is the man who did an great potrayle of the late Ray Charles and he is wasting his efforts going from an unfunny and (again) surprisingly creepy geek that gets turned into a blue-skinned, auto tuned villain that is dull and shows no menace. Even when they attempt to raise the stakes, it doesn’t come off as feeling threatening but rather cartoony. And while we are on the subject, what is the with the property damage in this movie? Every time Spider-Man goes against a villain, there’s so many car crashes and building damage to the point it feels like New York is getting torn to shreds. What kind of budget does this city have to fix itself over a night?

The rest of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” I personally care for less. Its such a weightless entry that barley has a driving motive or even a solid story to go with it. I didn’t even talk about Paul Giamatti’s throwaway cameo as the Rhino, the most pointless Stan Less cameo in existence, the heavy foreshadowing and painful irony of Gewn Stacey’s big scene at the end or even one of the biggest plot holes in the movie. If Peter’s parents wanted to hide somewhere from Oscorp, why couldn’t do they it in the secret, abandoned subway tunnel instead of getting axed off in a jumbo jet? Wouldn’t it be better if they stayed there and hid among society? How hard is that when you have so much equipment to live and work off of? Stuff like that is never covered up or even given an inkling to explain. All this movie is doing is throwing so much stuff at you just to get to a bigger and explosive movie. That’s really all I get.

At least sequels like Back to the Future Part II and The Matrix Reloaded had a story and at least enough solid reasons for a third entry to exist. “Amazing Spider-Man 2” just feels like filler. And not even the enjoyable kind. Instead of focusing on expanding on Peter’s character, making a unique and tragic villain and having proper build up to what could have been a grand finale leaving for the need of a third film, all they do is use this one for their needs to build toward another one without the care that was shown in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That took time and care to make such a grand entry who know today as “The Avengers.” Here, they are obviously rushing it to make that explosive entry than let time and care be the essence resulting in us getting a sequel that gives nothing in return. Oh, right there was something! A never-ending plug at Sony computers and products throughout the whole movie. From laptops to even a flipping Walkman, this is more of a commercial for Sony than it is for Spider-Man. This is not a sequel. This is a sell out.