My Month in Film: September 2014

New or recent releases:

Retro review: Ms. .45

Event: The Drive-In Massacre at the McHenry Outdoor Theater (McHenry, IL) on August 23

Forced Viewing Podcast: Episode 31 was released on Labor Day; the films featured were both the Chan-wook Park and Spike Lee versions of Oldboy, along with Holla if I Kill You. The podcast is currently on hiatus for a few months.

Coming in October: October is Horror, All Horror and Nothing But Horror month. Keep an eye out for reviews of at least some of the following: BorgmanErrors of the Human BodyI Am a GhostNurse, Proxy and Rubber. I plan for the Retro Reviews to be The Cars that Ate Paris and Deadgirl.

*   *   *

Other movies I watched this month include…

Andrew Garfield stars in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012)

Columbia Pictures has managed to score a lot of ill will in rebooting the Spider-Man franchise but not doing so would have been bad business. Raimi and Maguire weren’t willing to go further, and if Columbia didn’t make more movies, their option would have reverted to Marvel Studios. If they were going to do that, they might as well have mailed huge sacks of cash to Disney while they were at it. Plus, Marvel would have rebooted Spidey anyway, for use in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so scrapping the Raimi continuity was always an inevitability.

That being said, for a movie that only exists to make one studio money and keep it away from another studio, The Amazing Spider-Man ain’t bad. Yes, it relies too heavily on superhero-movie cliché, and yes, the deviations from the canon are gratuitous and needlessly complicated. And yes, there is CGI flying around all over the place.

On the plus side, Marc Webb’s heart is in the right place and he nails the “great power/great responsibility” theme that is the cornerstone of the Spider-Man origin mythos. All the performances are strong–Andrew Garfield, in particular, comes a lot closer to my mental image of Parker than Tobey Maguire (who often seemed more like a Hollywood casting agent’s idea of a “nerdy-cute” actor than an actual nerd) ever could.

Not having J. Jonah Jameson around was a mistake, though.

★★★

Ryan Gosling stars in THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES.

The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, 2013)

The first two chunks, which center on Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, are pretty good. Things start lagging in the third chunk, which is about the relationship between Gosling and Cooper’s sons as teenagers, and that’s a shame because the third chunk really seems to be the point of the movie.

However, it gets away with it by being the sort of movie that’s more about the acting chops than anything else. Gosling, in particular, is on fire here, playing his role the way Steve McQueen would have. Cooper’s also very good here, as is Ray Liotta. Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn is also fantastic.

Sadly, the actors playing the kids (Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan) don’t do quite as well, but that’s show biz.

★★★

Jamie Foxx and Andrew Garfield star in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb, 2014)

Sequels are required to be bigger, louder and explodier than their predecessors. It’s a law or something. This one’s just too busy, with too much going on all over the place and instead of exciting me the movie overwhelmed me. I’m still not entirely sure what was going on during all those action sequences. And it doesn’t help that neither of the major villains work. Dane DeHaan never seems to quite fit as Harry Osborn, and I don’t know what Jamie Foxx thinks he’s doing as Electro.

However, it worked for me because of the character moments. The rebooted Spidey exists in a vague sort of triangle between Nolan’s grim and angst-ridden Batman, the walking, talking permasmirk that is Downey’s Iron Man, and the emo kid stereotype, and Garfield does a great job of balancing those elements in his performance. You can tell Parker’s having fun.

But what made the movie for me was That Glen Stacy Moment. If you know the history of Spider-Man in comics, you know what I’m talking about. It literally knocked the wind out of me.

Still no JJJ, though. Bummer.

★★★

Amber Heard and Kevin Costner star in 3 DAYS TO KILL.

Three Days to Kill (McG, 2014)

If you have ever wondered “If McG and Luc Besson made a movie together, what would it be like?”you finally have your answer: it’s a stylish series of standard-issue action sequences and hackneyed dysfunctional-family tropes. Kevin Costner plays a spy who’s been pulled back into the fold to pull one last job, but he’s got to balance that with looking after his estranged daughter in Paris while mummy’s away. In practical terms, this means that every intense action setup is interrupted by a cell-phone call from Hailee Steinfeld complaining about her hair or whatever.

As good-looking as it is it still feels like a mash-up between two paint-by-numbers books, a feeling not alleviated by the sense that not only is this the sort of role Costner can play in his sleep, he probably is playing it in his sleep. At least Amber Heard livens things up, doing her best Katharine Isabelle impersonation as Costner’s handler.

★★

Johnny Depp stars in TRANSCENDENCE.

Transcendence (Wally Pfister, 2014)

This is one of those science-fiction movies that thinks it’s intelligent and thought-provoking, but doesn’t hold up to intense scrutiny, or even half-assed scrutiny. It also doesn’t seem to realize that it’s largely ripped off from the film version of The Lawnmower Man.

The saddest thing about the film is that Johnny Depp could have put in an awesome performance and saved the film almost single-handedly. Instead, he barely seems interested in the material, playing every scene as if he’s either about to fall asleep or really, really stoned (or both). Depp has got a lot of stick over the last ten-plus years for going back to the Captain Jack Sparrow well a little bit too often. That criticism is largely valid, but if this is the alternative I’ll take another forced wacky performance in another Tim Burton movie, please.

And for God’s sake, if you’re going to cast Cillian Murphy in something then at least do something with his character, yeah?

Matt Damon and Franka Potente star in THE BOURNE IDENTITY.

The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman, 2002)

Let’s cap off the month with a corker: I like espionage thrillers, and this is one of my favorites. Doug Liman combines fantastic action, scenery and performances to create the perfect post-9/11 spy movie. Always a fun one to watch.

★★★★★

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