Monday, January 28, 2013

Spider-Man 3

I'm a huge fan of Spider-Man 3. The movie gets hated on by just about every other person, but I personally feel that it is, by far, the best Spider-Man movie to date, and remains one of my most favorite movies of all time. The main conflict in these movies has always been with finding that balance between being a superhero and being a regular person, and I feel that Spider-Man 3 is the ultimate culmination of this idea that "with great power comes great responsibility". Now, I did have certain reservations concerning the changes they were making to Peter's backstory, by having the Sandman be the guy who actually killed Uncle Ben. And even after my first few viewings I wouldn't have rated it quite as up to par as its predecessors. But the more I've revisited this film, the more I was able to look past any preconceived expectations based on other Spidey properties and take the movie based solely on its own merits. And once I was able to do that, I saw the sheer brilliance that was hiding deep inside this darker Spider-Man story.

I honestly believe a lot of the negative reception for this movie comes from said expectations going in. For instance, one of the biggest complaints I hear about the movie is the way the movie misuses Venom. And I actually shared that complaint for a long time at first. It bugged me a bit that Venom was only technically in the movie for about ten minutes, and that even then, he acted very little like how the Venom we know from the comics is supposed to act. But then I was watching it again one day when it suddenly hit me: Venom was never intended to be a villain in this movie. At least, not in the traditional sense that one would expect.

The movie was never building up to an introduction of the Venom character as we know him from the comic books or other media. And even when Eddie Brock does obtain the suit, at no point is he even referred to by the name of Venom in the movie. And that's because the movie's not about Venom. No, Spider-Man himself is the villain in this one. The movie chronicles Peter's inner battles with himself, and it uses the black suit symbiote as a means to express that battle in a physical form. And the only reason he's even separated from the suit in the end is for him to have that last climactic one on one physical fight.

Another complaint concerning Venom was the casting of Topher Grace to play Eddie Brock, a character who is known for being a fairly large musclehead in the comics. But I, again, found this casting to be brilliant. By getting a guy of similar build as Tobey Maguire, and by giving the character a bit more of a similarly dorky personality as Peter Parker, it only furthers the idea of a mirror match that the movie is setting out to accomplish. Hell, all of the promotion hints at this, with Spider-Man looking at his reflection on the sides of buildings wearing the black suit, an image that was perfectly portrayed throughout the course of the movie. And taking all of that into account, I think that the execution of this entire scenario was handled very well. In fact, my own personal complaint that stuck out on multiple views was how convenient it was that the symbiote just happened to attach itself to Peter Parker of all people. But sitting back and giving it a little thought, it actually makes sense that it would seek out someone like Peter, who would be able to provide it with the kind of strength that no one else could. And the fact that Eddie Brock is so similar to Peter makes equal sense why the symbiote would be attracted to him as a suitable replacement.

That the movie was juggling too many villains is another one I hear all the time, especially the inclusion of the Sandman. And I mentioned how I had reservations concerning this character initially, but I again thought that his story arc was pulled off really well. It gave Spider-Man a villain to contend with while he was still wearing the black suit, and the fact that the Sandman was now responsible for Uncle Ben's death gave Peter a personal vendetta against him that allowed the character to reach those darker places in his personality.

But I also liked how they made the Sandman a character in personal conflict over his actions as well, someone who Peter could relate to, which furthers the mirror match parallels in the movie. Sandman wasn't necessarily a villain. Sure, he was doing bad things, but there was a noble purpose behind them, and he didn't see that he had any other choice. There was just such a surprising amount of depth behind this character, without any added "mind warping" effects determining his actions, like has been the case for the villains in all the other Spidey movies, which was a refreshing change of pace this time around. Not to mention the scene in which he gains his sand powers, which is one of the few things that even people who hate the film will agree was a strikingly beautiful moment. So all things considered, I was very impressed with how the Sandman turned out.

And as much as the movie was about personal conflict, it was also about how that conflict can affect and ruin your relationships you have with other people. The issues between Peter and Harry Osborn have been brewing for two films now, and while it may seem like a bit of a cop-out for them to pull the amnesia angle here, I still like the way their story played out, with Harry coming full swing with his realization of who both he and Peter really are. And the problems between Peter and Mary Jane had all the potential to be something that was constantly annoying and uncomfortable to sit through, yet they balanced it out well enough so that you could feel the very real contention on screen driving these two apart, without feeling driven away from the movie itself.

I also loved this movie's sense of style. It definitely still resides in the world that Sam Raimi has built for us, but he appropriately darkens the tone just enough, without losing any of the awesome campiness. I liked the direction he chose for Peter's "black suit" personality, as I could definitely buy that this more dorky version of Peter Parker would totally go for that exact "emo" style, thinking it made him look cool. The scenes with him strutting down the streets, pointing at the ladies, just had me dying. And if you were to ask most people, the movie's biggest offense would, hands down, have to be the dance scene in the jazz club. Yet, in my opinion, that scene is actually the highlight of the movie, and is what originally dragged me out to a second viewing in theaters. I just found Raimi's choice to go with the jazz scene so appropriate, as it definitely fits the movie's dark yet campy tone, and I love how he totally ran with it all the way through, even playing a jazzy little number when Peter and Harry were brawling through his house.

So yeah, I thought this movie was great, and it's one that's only gotten better with each viewing. I can see where people continue to hate on this, and there were certain aspects that I initially wasn't a big fan of either. And by no means am I trying to call this a perfect movie. It certainly does have its share of flaws, but I just don't feel they're as big of flaws as people make them out to be. But overall, I feel this was a tightly woven, thematically well structured and well written finale to the original Spider-Man trilogy, with strong characterization all around that goes deep without taking itself seriously at all, which is a rare find indeed. It's one of my favorite movies, and by far the best in the series as a whole. Give it another chance, and see if you can't see some of the same brilliance that I do.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Oh my, this sure was something! The classic tale of Hansel and Gretel has been brought to the big screen, and boy is it packin'! This movie follows Hansel and Gretel after they've grown up to become famous witch hunters. And by the end of the movie you might be left wondering just how in the hell these two actually managed to survive to adulthood in this line of work. But just so long as you remember to turn off your brain upon entry, then you'll be sure to have a blast in the meantime.

This movie really was something else. Pretty much, it's as ridiculous as the premise suggests. And it's a bloody, gory affair all throughout, with the movie finding new and inventive ways to either blow up or squash somebody's head every five minutes or so. Hell, the action sequences are even more over the top than I was expecting. But what's more impressive is how the movie somehow manages to one-up itself in levels of absurdity with every passing scene. I really knew I was in for something special when the first big action scene saw our two leads chase off a witch who essentially ran on all fours like a dog, for no apparent reason at all. But crazy as that was, it's nothing compared to what the rest of the movie throws at us, for in addition to the action, the witch designs themselves become more and more bizarre as the movie progresses as well. They start off with your typical ugly old witches, but the further along we get, the more grotesque they become.

I mentioned before how you might question how these two managed to live so long, and the reason I ask that is because, well, quite frankly, for people who have been doing this whole professional witch hunting thing their whole lives, Hansel and Gretel kind of suck at their job. Poor Hansel spends the majority of the movie getting shoveled in the face and dragged all over the place by witch after witch, and I lost count of the number of times that Gretel gets kidnapped. In fact, if it weren't for all the help they received from their various stalkers, they probably wouldn't have even survived past the halfway point. And yes, you read that right, these two both have their very own stalkers (in fact, Gretel manages to get two stalkers!). And yes, it is a bit creepy to watch at times. But Hansel and Gretel eventually warm up to them and put them to good use, and it's just as well since, like I said, it'd likely be a much shorter movie otherwise.

As ludicrous as the movie is, it's very aware of itself, and the cast seem to be enjoying themselves quite a bit as such. Well, everyone except for Jeremy Renner that is, who I still can't decide whether or not he's just embarrassed to be a part of this at all. But he at least plays his part well, and he and Gemma Arterton, who plays Gretel, have some seriously awesome one-liner delivery throughout. But either way, if there's one thing that's clear, it's that Jeremy Renner gives absolutely no shits in this movie, which was a joy all its own to watch.

But yeah, if nothing else, this was definitely a fun movie. Yes, it's stupid and ridiculous, and it's filled to the brim with logic flaws. (Like, for instance, why did they clearly start that big ritual at the end at like 6:30 in the morning instead of earlier in the evening if it was no good once the sun came up? Either that, or that battle scene lasted for a hell of a lot longer than they made it out to be!) But no, it's just one of those movies where you really shouldn't try to put too much thought into it and just enjoy it for what it is, else your head might be like to burst.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook has issues...

As I walked out of Silver Linings Playbook, I felt the movie was generally good for the most part, though it definitely had a few problems, most notably in the third act. However, this movie really doesn't sit well, as the more it settles in, the more its glaring issues really start to surface and take the whole thing over. Now I'll be getting into spoiler territory here, so heads up on that.

The plot basically follows Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, as he just returns home after being released from a mental health facility, where he was sentenced due to his uncontrollable anger issues. His main priority upon being released is to reconnect with his cheating wife, but everyone around him urges him to move on with his life. He's eventually introduced to Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who's dealing with her own, similar issues, and who spends the rest of the movie manipulating Bradley Cooper like the obsessive bitch that she is.

I'm not even kidding when I say this girl's obsessed. During a scene in a diner, Bradley Cooper comments how she's clearly a different level of crazy from him, and you initially feel for the girl in the moment, but by the end of the film, you'll come to find that he was actually not too far off in his assessment. I swear to god she's gotta be spying on the guy or something throughout the whole movie. Somehow she just happens to conveniently know every single thing that he's up to before he even has a chance to tell her, and he even asks her how she always knows when he's out running after the second or third time she jumps from out of nowhere to tag along on his runs. And there's nothing necessarily bad about a character like this in a movie such as this. But where it gets bad is in the way the film decides to suddenly flip the script near the end.

Like I said before, the movie is honestly generally good for the most part, but then everything sorta starts to completely crumble apart in the third act. Suddenly, this serious, sometimes even charming dramedy decides to take a play out of a more trashy comedy's book, taking a forced rout into this whole betting scheme that feels entirely misplaced. And not only does the movie abandon the plot in this tonal shift of gears, but it leaves its established characters behind as well.

As I was saying before, Jennifer Lawrence's character is a lying, manipulative bitch. But while that's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, Bradley Cooper's reaction when he finds out that she's been lying to him and manipulating him this entire time is. Basically, he's perfectly, completely fine with it, which goes entirely against his character as we've grown to know him throughout the course of the movie. When he figured it out, I swore his reaction was going to be to storm back into the house and tear her a new one, but he didn't. Instead, he decides to end his crusade to get back together with his wife in favor of getting together with Jennifer Lawrence instead. Um... what?! Did whoever wrote this last third of the movie not even bother reading the script that preceded it?!

The only excuse that I can possibly come up with for that final act is a scene earlier on when Bradley Cooper is ranting about an Ernest Hemingway novel. He complains how the book takes a turn for the worse in the end and concludes on a down note. So I wonder if they didn't force this "happy ending" on us as a result of that rant, to provide the storybook ending that Cooper's character was after. Yet, the thing is, the movie still ironically ends on a sour note anyways once everything that transpired truly starts to sink in.

But, again, the movie honestly isn't all bad. Up until the final act, the movie is completely intriguing, and the character interactions are pretty fascinating to watch. And, being a comedic drama, there's actually quite a few good laughs in here. Cooper's rants and unfiltered dialogue certainly have their moments, and I especially got a kick out of the recurring appearances from Chris Tucker. And even with my major issues with the last act, I actually quite enjoyed the dance scene near the end of the movie as well.

That said, good as the movie is at times, I can't say that I can see where all of the awards recognition is coming from. Of all the Best Picture nominees at the Oscars this year (save for Amour, which I haven't seen), while I might not like them all, I can at least see where their nominations are coming from. However, I really don't understand the nomination for this one at all. I mean, sure, it's good, but aside from Bradley Cooper's performance (and he's definitely awesome here), there's nothing at all extraordinary about this movie. And even then, I don't really get all of the actor nominations either. The supporting cast played their roles well, but I'd hardly consider them amongst the year's best.

And Jennifer Lawrence I actually felt was flat out miscast. She looks (and is) far too young for the part she's playing. Her character had apparently been married to a man for over three years at some point before the start of the movie, yet she's only 22 years old and looks it. I mean, I know that teenagers getting married at a young age does happen sometimes, but it's a rare case to find, especially when there aren't kids involved. But even her age aside, I had a hard time buying her in the role anyways, as I felt she oftentimes over-acted the part.

But yeah, anyways, the movie's not all bad (at this point it probably sounds like I'm just trying to convince myself of that), and honestly, if it weren't for that severe off-road turn at the end, I'd probably be able to ignore all of this movie's other flaws. It's just such a shame, too, as I was just talking to a friend the other day about movies that overstay their welcome, and this is definitely one of them that should have probably found a way to wrap things up sooner, before it could have a chance to spiral out of control like it did.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chris' Christmas Box

Okay, so I usually don't like to show off about this kinda thing, but I just got so many awesome gifts for Christmas this year that I just have to share them with you. So let us open up my Christmas Box and take a look at what's inside!

Usually my brothers and I don't tend to exchange gifts, so I totally didn't expect it when my younger brother, Billy, said that he got a present for me. And when I opened it up to find a Tails doll, I was thrilled! He said that when he happened upon it in a store that he just had to get it for me. That was the coolest thing, and definitely a nice little Christmas surprise.

Also, a group of friends and I decided to take part in a Secret Santa exchange for Christmas this year, and my friend Rachel and I happened to pull each others names out of the hat. Now, for this Secret Santa, everyone was supposed to write up a list of things we're into and such so as to give whoever pulled your name an idea as to what to get you. I'm really uncomfortable making lists asking for specific gifts, so I decided to have fun with this list and be of no actual help at all, listing things such as the following:

- I like cats
- I like staring up at the clouds
- I like the beautiful view of the vast blue ocean on a nice sunny day
- I like chicken

Well, Rachel followed up on that list in the most awesomest way imaginable:

Yes, that is, in fact, a framed picture of a chicken staring out into the vast blue ocean on a cloudy day. So as you can see, she took my list quite literally. I mean, really, how the hell did she even do that? But she didn't stop there, as she also gave me this bad boy that I'm going to be having fun with all year long:

This cat calendar is going to be the gift that keeps on giving, and I've already started said "Cat Every Day 2013" on my facebook and twitter pages. And as if that wasn't enough cats, I received one last late gift in the mail today, this one from my Grandma who lives in New York:

Holy crap! What you see there is a seven page long, handwritten letter describing all of my Grandma's cats that she's ever owned. In detail. I just... what?! And I didn't even request such a list, which makes this present that much more bad ass! I was already planning on including some of her critters in a later installment of my Velcro series, but having this list handy will make the characterizations that much easier and that much more accurate. Grandma's so cool!

And that about wraps things up. So now you see why I felt the need to share? Seriously, these gifts were freaking awesome! So I hope you all had a good Christmas as well, and here's to a catacular 2013!