Archive for Andrew Garfield

Webb Head

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2012 by dcairns

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN — enough has been said about whether this was an absurdly rapid reboot (I’d say so), about whether there are too many superhero movies (I’d say so) or about whether making every superhero film an origin story betrays a lack of imagination (it does)  — having caught the film at last, I want to say that it’s pretty good, for a superhero movie.

It’s really two movies. Director Marc Webb must’ve been hired partly for his name, and partly to bring the characters to something like three-dimensional life. This, he succeeds in. The film is actually emotional, the leads are appealing and convincing, and everything involving Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Fields and Denis Leary is good, human drama. The filming is a little ordinary, to the point where you can barely even tell it’s in 3D for the first ten minutes or so.

Then there’s the action side. This is kinetic and packs plenty of visual oomph. We’re used to big movies being kind of patchworks, with the visual effects and second unit guys handling everything that doesn’t involve standing still and emoting, but the result is particularly striking in this case. On the other hand, the dialogue in the scenes involving Spidey and the Lizard, his hulking foe, is pretty pitiable, a collection of clichés and disconnected one-liners. I’m guessing that two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent (PAPER MOON, STRAIGHT TIME) didn’t write those bits.

As well-staged as it is, the monster-fighting doesn’t offer much we haven’t seen before, although the web-slinging and city-swinging is MUCH more convincing here than it was in Sam Raimi’s cartoony pastel Manhattan. And the film’s villain, Rhys Ifans / the Lizard, isn’t very well integrated into the other storylines. Ifans, maybe the film’s best actor (see his AMAZING turn as Peter Cook in Not Only But Always), gives probably its weakest central performance. I don’t think anybody involved was really enthusiastic about, or believed in, the mad scientist transformation stuff.

Here’s where the origins story thing hurts the movie: it’s actually sort of interesting, in a nerdy formulist way, to watch Spider-man’s origin get re-told, exactly the same key story points expressed in different ways, but like the first Raimi film, the movie takes an age to get going because we also have to see the villain’s origin. And Raimi did this in EVERY ONE of his Spider-man movies (and in DARKMAN). How much more interesting (and speedy!) it would be to have the monster already at large and have the hero uncover the secrets of its existence and motivation. The only recent movie I can think of that does anything like this is THE AVENGERS. Which is part of why I respect THE AVENGERS.

Then we ran (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, Webb’s previous effort, and it was so much better than THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that I did kind of wonder — has Webb wasted several years of his life? He could clearly have made two movies like (500) in the time it took him to make the blockbuster, and for that money he could have made (50). Of course, the economics of the film biz doesn’t work that way. But I’m hoping that the bigger movie will allow him to make more smaller movies.

(The harsh version: John Cassavetes to Martin Scorsese, after the latter had made BOXCAR BERTHA. “You just wasted a year of your life.”)

Webb has a real gift, clearly, for casting handsome couples — Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel go great together. And the playful narrative choices (think ANNIE HALL’s splitscreen, animation and subtitles) and non-linear structure via first-time screenwriters Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber keep the thing constantly on its toes. The pity of it is that a super-hero blockbuster COULD have precisely those virtues — the nasty but very funny KICK ASS practically does. (KICK ASS also has a more convincing sense of the modern world, with its hero becoming a YouTube sensation. In AS-M, a giant lizard rampages across the Williamsburg Bridge and nobody shoots it on their phone, leading the cops to dismiss it as a fantasy.)

There’s also emotional depth — you may tear up, and you certainly may recognize bits of your own life, sharply observed. The film is so much fun that it could coast by on charm alone, but it chooses to get into real heartbreak, which is what separates the truly romantic from the mere romcom. And this comes out even in the ludic filmmaking choices — a splitscreen comparison of expectation versus reality late in the show creates a genuinely anxious, sinking feeling in the stomach.

I carry in my mind the idea that we’ve lost the ability, for some reason, to do good romantic comedies, but while I stand by the idea that it used to be somehow easy and natural to do those films well and now it seems to be hard, there have been some really good funny romances in the last twenty years. It’s just that, from GROSS POINTE BLANK to SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD to (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, they more often seem to be predominantly from the male perspective. Am I wrong, or why is that?

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What are friends for?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2010 by dcairns

I really, really liked THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but I don’t know how much I have to say about it. Well, here goes.

First thing to strike is the rapid pace of dialogue, which is refreshing — I’ve been wallowing in pre-codes so it was nice to not feel I was being spoken to like a three-year-old. Also, the digital photography of Jeff Cronenweth is really beautiful, and particularly when doing what digital does best — showing night scenes without enhanced lighting.

(Is this going to be a checklist?)

Yay, John Getz! Stathis Borans himself (centre frame). In a cast as predominantly youthful as this, it’s good to have at least one face that isn’t inhumanly smooth, and craggy old Borans is a welcome sight. I don’t know why this guy didn’t make it bigger, he was good in THE FLY and BLOOD SIMPLE and then in THE FLY II, of all things, he was outstanding. And then he dropped off my radar completely. Here he’s that rarity, a sympathetic lawyer.

Whatever anybody says, I liked all the characters — there was something appealing about everybody, maybe because they were all so flawed and didn’t know it. Like Clouzot, I tend to find monstrously flawed characters more appealing than plain nice ones. And there aren’t many filmmakers around today who do nice well. Anyway, ZOMBIELAND’s Jesse Eisenberg and DR PARNASSUS’s Andrew Garfield are great, as is the satanic Justin Timberlake, the nastiest character, but one I still liked because he’s fun.

My viewing chums, Fiona and Marvelous Mary did regret the somewhat marginal roles played by the film’s female characters, but admitted that in a story of killer nerds, this was perhaps inevitable. Rooney Mara is very good in her pivotal role as the muse of Facebook, and I expect to see more of her, but it is a shamelessly boysie yarn.

Armie Hammer, a name which amuses me, plays twins, and Fiona immediately sussed that Fincher was more the kind of guy to use fancy digital footwork to achieve the effect than to indulge in a nationwide talent search for identical twins who can act and row boats. It turns out the technique used was precisely that which Olivia DeHavilland incorrectly believed was used to twin her in THE DARK MIRROR: Hammer played the scene with another, similarly-built actor Josh Spence, and then his head, sporting a different hairstyle, was filmed and inserted atop Spence’s body. At last, the technology exists to make DeHavilland’s mad dream a reality — somebody please call her up and tell her!

Fincher’s style is mostly crisp, fast-cut but with occasional longer and more fluid shots to break the pace — and then there’s a wildly indulgent trip to the Henley Regatta, where he breaks out a whole bunch of preposterous high-tech tricks. And the scene comes at the perfect point to offer relief from the rapidfire patter and jargon of the surrounding action.

I’m coining, and copyrighting, a neologism for filmmakers who want to be the new Kubrick — “kubris”. Fincher is definitely kubristic, with a mania for detail which advertises itself in every frame, but taken on his own merits he’s still an impressive package, with the special effects wizardry, loving detail-work, and enthusiasm for performance. Also, I think I’ve figured out that I’m going to instinctively know which Fincher films to go see — I had bad feelings about ALIEN 3, PANIC ROOM and BENJAMIN BORING BASTARD, and I was right, at least as far as whether I would enjoy them or not. Although it’s really only the last one that I regret shelling out shekels on.

For some reason, knowing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin largely by reputation (The West Wing etc), I hadn’t expected to be impressed by his work, but this witty take on “What shall it profit a man…” is superbly constructed and disposes of the acreage of exposition lightly and clearly. And I’m very curious how they cleared it with the legal department: a scurrilous tale from very recent history, dealing with a bunch of millionaires and billionaires who have already proved themselves litigious…

In spite of the technological subject and execution, I’d sell this film as a tragedy told in a very funny style, a pleasing combo with the added advantage of being really, really ridiculously good-looking. Dave Kehr finds the ending devastating, which just shows that one man’s devastating is another’s cute & well-rounded. But whatever your reaction, I think you’ll probably be glad you saw this one.