crap i have watched recently #7

merida in braveJust a handful of things I’ve sat through in the last week or so, surprisingly all of them are relatively recent.

SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012):  I sometimes think the saddest thing in all of the Spider-Man franchise is Uncle Ben.  There is no iteration of that universe, no possible story trajectory, that does not require the death of that patient, kind, and decent man.  His murder is necessary to the development of Peter Parker’s moral core and serves as a constant reminder to Spider-Man of the limits of his power and of his own culpability in the fates of those around him.  What makes it so sad is that Peter never, ever learns from it.

I came out of this most recent reboot of the franchise with one question:  Why does this movie exist?  Apart from the studio’s desire to separate me from another fistful of cash, why remake a movie that’s only 10 years old?  I know they remade The Hulk because the first one wasn’t really all that satisfying, but the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man franchise was pretty good, especially the first one.  (I will admit that the third one kind of derailed a bit).  As it turns out though both Raimi and Maguire bowed out of further films and it would be awkward to insert a new actor and director into the existing mix, thus we have this reboot.  In some respects it’s a prequel.  Although it overlaps with some of the events of the 2002 movie, it reinserts a big chunk of the original Spider-Man story in the persons of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans).  Gwen is Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) love interest in this film (she predates Mary Jane).  Dr. Connors is both his mentor and the bad guy.  Martin Sheen and Sally Field are quietly awesome as Uncle Ben and Aunt May and Dennis Leary is competent as Gwen’s policeman father.

Is it any good?  It’s OK.  It is darker and louder than the 2002 movie.  Garfield has little of Maguire’s infectious charm and wide-eyed wonder at his marvelous  new powers.  Instead he is more focused, more functional.  He doesn’t delve too deeply into what happened or why, he just sets out developing web shooters and learning how to use them.  Stone is fine as Gwen Stacy but I got little sense of chemistry between the two of them.  The Lizard is just awful, some of the worst special effects I’ve seen in a long time.  Stan Lee makes his by now obligatory cameo and it’s a good one.  The plot is know-it-by-heart standard:  Peter’s parents disappear when he is a small boy and he is raised by his aunt and uncle.  When he’s in high school he discovers that his father worked with Connors and he sneaks into OsCorp to meet  him.  He’s bitten by a spider and soon after discovers he’s got new powers.  Uncle Ben dies, as he always must, and Peter and Gwen fall in love.  Connors uses a formula developed by Peter’s dad to complete a serum that should regrow his amputated arm but instead it turns him into the Lizard, who then sets about to turn the entire world into lizard-people.   Peter saves the day, comforts a dying Captain Stacy, and gets the girl.  The end.   It is mildly entertaining and fun to watch, if a bit incoherent at times, and it sets us up for the sequels, which is its prime reason for existing.   For a summer blockbuster, especially one fairly widely anticipated, it lacked something.  I didn’t really care about this Spider-Man.  People will disagree with me but I found the ending pretty sad.  After all, I know what happens to Gwen Stacy.  Peter doesn’t learn anything from that either.

Score:  Meh

Brave (2012):  This isn’t Pixar’s best movie, but still..it is a Pixar movie so it is likely to be the best thing in the theater.  It is essentially a movie about mothers and daughters, and about learning to grow up, even when you are already grown.  Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is the daughter of a medieval Scottish king (Billy Connolly) but she is not your standard Disney princess (for one thing, both her parents are alive).  She rides, she shoots, she gets into trouble with her brothers, and when her mother (Emma Thompson) tells her she is going to have to marry one of the goofball sons of the local clan leaders, she rebels.   First she completely subverts the archery contest held for her hand by shooting on her own behalf.  Then, after another showdown with her exasperated mother she escapes into the woods, where she meets up with a witch and cons her out of a spell to change her fate.  The witch apparently only knows one spell and even though it went badly the last time she used it, she casts it again and Merida’s fate is indeed changed.  I won’t tell how (it surprised the hell out of me) but it is odd and almost effective.  The rest of the movie is Merida desperately dealing with the consequences of her actions, her mother’s learning to understand her strange, fierce daughter, and their growing mutual respect.  Also haggis jokes, a look at what Scottish men don’t wear under their kilts, and some good old medieval drinkin’ and brawlin’.

At times I had the impression that Pixar made this film entirely to show off how awesomely it can animate things.  Merida’s flowing, unruly, bright red locks are a case in point.  It would not surprise me to have seen her hair’s animating team given its own section in the credits and it also won’t surprise me if it wins its own Oscar.  Her horse is so well animated he looks real and the scenery she rides him through is completely impressive.   The demon bear is less impressive, sadly, and most of the supporting male characters are a collection of broad stereotypes.  None of the characters have much depth and after we get over the thrill of Pixar finally centering a movie on a female hero, Merida and her mother and her frantic hair start to wear a little thin.  We identify with both Merida (“You don’t understand me!) and her mother (“A princess does what is best for her kingdom”) and, at least in terms of the plot resolution, this makes it hard to know who to root for.  Pixar essentially compromises on this by having them both win and for some odd reason, this falls kind of flat.  After all that fuss about Red, it turns out the real hero of the film is her mother.  It’s confusing.  Still..Pixar.  Funny a lot of the time, dramatic and scary some of the time, entertaining almost all of the time, and beautiful from start to finish.

There is also, as is traditional with Pixar films, a marvelous short that precedes the movie.  Called La Luna, it is totally charming and all by itself is worth the price of admission to the theater.

The Decoy Bride (2011):  Sometimes I feel sorry for David Tennant.  I don’t think that anything else he ever does will matter; he will always be the Tenth Doctor.  This slight, predictable romantic comedy does little to dispel that feeling.  Tennant plays James Arber, the author of a very popular and very thick book.  He is engaged to American actress Lara Tyler (Alice Eve), apparently one of the most beautiful women in the world, who is obsessed with secrecy and very used to getting her way.  When their planned wedding on a remote Scottish island is invaded by paparazzi Lara bolts and her wily publicist decides to hold a fake wedding to throw off the interlopers.  They recruit local girl Katie NicAoidh (Kelly MacDonald; and it is entirely a coincidence that I saw two movies with this actress in them in one week) to serve as their decoy bride, but silly her, she signs the registry using her own name, leaving her and James actually man and wife.  She and James take an instant dislike to each other, which of course means they will shortly fall deeply in love.  This they do, after a fair bit of thick Scottish brogue-ing, a healthy dose of outer Hebrides quirkiness, and some growing up by all three of the main characters.  Cheers all around.

You know how this movie will end before the opening credits stop rolling and in general you watch a movie like this for something other than the plot.  In my case, I watched it because I like David Tennant, I like comedies with quirky characters, and occasionally I even like a happy noncomplicated ending.  I also watched it because some of it was filmed at Caerlaverock Castle, which is someplace I have actually been.  The movie  has some fun with the clash between Scottish and American stereotypes, particularly with the Scottish predilection for penny pinching and the American tendency to throw money at our problems. Lara’s publicist, played by Michael Urie, is an unexpected treat.  He  just wants to have his boss’ wedding go off successfully and his plans for that become steadily more bizarre as each one fails.   There is even some sadness in the film. Katie’s mother, who runs the only B&B on the island, is dying and wants to see something more of the world before she goes.   Her happy ending, although perhaps not a traditional one, feels right and is unexpectedly moving.  This is a movie with no bad guys, not even Lara’s paparazzo nemesis, and sometimes you need that.    I wouldn’t go so far as to say this movie stands out from the pack but it was certainly a pleasant way to spend an hour and half.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on July 12, 2012.

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