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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.

“The Interview” is politically funny yet is it that dangerous?

James Franco and Seth Rogan in one of the most highly talked about movies of the holiday season since Heaven's Gate

James Franco and Seth Rogan in one of the most highly talked about movies of the holiday season since Heaven’s Gate

Never has there been a film that has gotten so much talk then “The Interview.” The only movie I can think of that ever got so much buzz was Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate” in 1980. But while that movie get publicity over its disastrous screenings and production woes, “The Interview” is getting this for different reasons. Its a comedy that is attacking political material and string up a lot of trouble with its source of parody that being North Korea and its current dictator. There’s so much back-story that lead to the cancellation of its theatrical release on Christmas Day, that it could be turned into a novel. The short story is that Sony Pictures got pressure from many different fields. North Korea’s government being upset of the depiction of its ruler, a group of Internet hackers that cracked into Sony’s secret e-mails while leaking them upon the public in protest to stop showing the movie and even theater chains not booking “Interview” in fear of possible attacks. Well, now that is getting a limited run in theaters and recently released onto the Internet via streaming sites for all to see, just exactly how “controversial” is this film? Is the parody material really that shocking to the point it is an “act of war”? Personally, I think it depends on cinematic taste.

James Franco stars as a celebrity journalist named David Skylark that delivers interviews on famous celebrities ranging from gossip to all-out reveals. His right-hand partner and producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogan) feels they should do more real news considering how low he thinks of his position delivering news about Rob Low being bald compared to harder stories like America at war. As luck may have it, Aaron manages to get an interview with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un, who also happens to be a fan of David’s show, in hopes of escalating their popularity from gossip to something more gripping. This also catches the attention of the CIA who try to convince them to assassinate the leader and you can see where some of the controversy lies.

Its not till we get to North Korea that David has second thoughts about killing Kim Jong-un after spending much time with him as its revealed Kim is more of a party animal that wants to be loved than one to rule with an iron fist. Its weird because the actor they chose to portray this version of Kim Jong-un almost resembles him. What makes it work is that we know its not the real thing and accept it as a mirror parody. If they got an actor that looked like him right down to face and stature, then the comedy would be lost. I understand why some would be upset by this portrayal as it paints a fearless leader into a big kid but I don’t think its focused too much to the point its trying to put him in a negative light.

Randall Park as Kim Jong-un who is played as a kid and less of a fearless leader. The main source of controversy from this performance and how its handled is what set off the anger.

Randall Park as Kim Jong-un who is played as a kid and less of a fearless leader. The main source of controversy from this performance and how its handled is what set off the anger.

I really think the movie is more of an attack on modern day media and how fake celebrities are. This is something Family Guy or South Park would do and its better fitting there as it lasts 30 minutes. Because this is a movie, there’s so much room for satire that we as viewers expect it as a driving force for the story. The first half sets up so well how much news is delivered when it comes to something serious compared to that of entertainment value that I feel its the bigger heart of the picture. So when David sits down with Kim Jong-un for the eventful interview, we ask if all of this is real news or just there for entertainment? I think that is far more clever than poking fun at a tyrant or our own government.

Of course, they do have Kim Jong-un do things like play basketball with Skylark or ride around in a tank to Katy Perry’s “Fireworks.” I’m more surprised to see that is not really the center here. They could have easily done something like The Great Dictator and have Kim Jong-un be this cartoony bad guy. Even at times, you don’t know if you should sympathize or see him for the fraud that he is depicted in the movie. Again, they could have easily done this 1980s stylized depiction where he’s cold and heartless but they at least give some breathing room to avoid that trap.

With that said and done, how else does the rest of the movie fair up? Well, as said before tastes will vary as this is a Seth Rogan/James Franco vehicle. So if your unfamiliar with “The Pineapple Express” or didn’t like that classic stoner comedy, there’s a good chance you might not like this one either. The jokes are the usual sex innuendos and stunts that one would expect from an R rated comedy that is trying to push the boundaries wither it be Rogan shoving a canister in his rectum to avoid troops or erection talks. Its the standard stuff one is to expect from a raunchy comedy like this so it didn’t surprise much. I can’t say I didn’t laugh as I did find most of it amusing but what what you see is very much what you are to expect.

Also, I think the first two-thirds are more stand-out than the final act. Not to nitpick too much, but the tone shifts to this overly-stylized, action set piece that feels straight out of a Rambo movie. Not to give too much away, but it really pushes the violence to the point its funny in how over the top it gets or gruesome in how bloody it gets. I won’t say its too much seeing how comedic it is portrayed but again, some viewers might be squint at the sight of fingers getting bitten off or soldiers getting shot in the head.  There’s one death I especially found so over the top to the point I couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t think its that gory but again, tastes vary.

So, is “The Interview” really that bad of a movie to go at war over? Personally, I don’t think so. I actually watched this with my mother who also felt that it was pointless to be upset over a dumb comedy (which she surprisingly enjoyed). Even I myself feel its not mocking a leader but more mocking a media’s portrayal. I do give credit for its fierce take without making up a fake country and leader but it makes you wonder what would it have been like if they went that route. Would it have been too safe or is it better to take that risk? I didn’t make the movie but I can say this one is worth checking out just for those reasons I said before. I like the direction of the satire and even if the Seth Rogan/James Franco banter goes on a bit too long , it can be really funny when it is. While I don’t think its a “must-see” picture, I do think it is worth seeing just to understand where the controversy is coming from and again just how the satire is handled. See it for what it is and judge for yourself.