Tag Archives: Paul Giamatti

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Don’t worry: it’s not “Spider-man 3.”

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the standard of a superhero movie that everyone should aspire to. It’s exciting, action-packed, gut-bustlingly hilarious and emotionally involving to a point where I was surprised at how personal and genuine it really was. “Amazing,” in fact, is not a good enough word to describe this movie — “Superior” is more like it.

Taking place after Curt Connors, aka The Lizard, attacked New York City, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shows Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as he continues to adapt to his new life as the spectacular Spider-Man. He’s just about to graduate, he’s getting a job as a freelance photographer at the Daily Bugle and his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is going strong. Being Spider-Man has its perks and its downfalls, and this is a rare high point in Peter’s life.

Elsewhere, however, dark forces develop under Oscorp. Engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) gets electrocuted by bio-electric eels, transforming him into the chaotic villain known as Electro. Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) gets equipped with a fully armed mechanical suit, becoming the Rhino. And Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), an old friend of Peter’s, returns with a dark secret that he’s hiding from everyone.

That makes three villains in total for this sequel. Concerned? You should be. The last time we had three villains in a Spider-Man movie, that film was Spider-Man 3. I’m never going to get that image of Tobey Maguire doing the Elvis Presley-stride out of my head, ever. Does anyone have any hydrochloric acid I can pour into my eyes?

Well, you can rest easy, fellow web heads. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not Spider-Man 3. Quite the contrary, actually. This is a significantly better Spider-Man than its predecessor, a film that bounces in between multiple tones and genres all at once and does all of them brilliantly.

An early fight scene in the film, for instance, is as wacky and funny as a Looney Tunes cartoon, with Spidey struggling to grab all these plutonium canisters off of a moving truck like he’s in the middle of a pinball table. In another scene, he’s in the middle of an action sequence so exhilarating and mind-blowing that it could have come straight from a video game cut scene. In another moment, him and Gwen are dealing with a real emotional struggle neither quite know how to handle, something that has haunted Peter since the first movie.

That’s what makes this Spider-Man better from the other one: It has many tones, story lines, characters and emotions that it’s juggling all at once. That’s a weighty order, and not one to handle easily. Yet director Marc Webb handles the challenge excellently, delivering just as relevant a character drama as he does an exciting action movie.

The cast members have expert chemistry with each other, but that should be expected because of their exceptional performances in the first film. We already expect Garfield and Stone to be perfect with each other because they were nearly inseparable in the first round of the series. It’s more efficient, then, to focus on the newer cast members: Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan. 

Foxx is electric as the high-voltage villain, pun intended. At first he’s just a socially silly and awkward scientist, similar to Jim Carrey’s version of the Riddler in Batman Forever. When he goes through his transformation into Electro, however, everything changes. He becomes an angry and malicious supervillain, a man who is mad and frustrated at everything and just wants to kill everyone, then jump start their heart just so he can kill them again. DeHaan, especially, was desperate and conniving as Harry Osborn, a menacing and starkly different Harry than the James Franco version we are used to in the original trilogy.

Both of these villains serve a pivotal role to Peter’s development. Electro is the physical conflict Peter has to face in the movie; Harry is the emotional one.

There’s another concern comic book fans will have about this movie, and that is the same concern they have with Captain America: The Winter Soldier: We’ve already read the comics. We already know the twists that are coming up, and as a result, our reaction is dulled when that moment comes in the movie.

Let me make a reassuring statement for my fellow comic book lovers: I could see the twist in this movie come from a mile away. Yet when I saw it, I reacted as if I was witnessing Peter’s tragic story for the first time.

There are apparent concerns to have with this movie. The multiple story strands are worrisome, the overload of villains can be an issue and Max Dillion’s character is far too silly to fully accept as being realistic.

Does that change The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s influence, or for that matter, its effect on the audience? The answer is no, it does not. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still a great sequel, an excellent expansion to the Spider-Man universe and a more-than-welcome development to Peter’s never-ending growth as Spider-Man. I’m tempted to compare it to the legendary Spider-Man 2, although I’m not sure if it’s quite there yet. One thing is for sure, however: it’s head-over-heels over Spider-Man 3. If Webb keeps this up, he just might surpass Sam Raimi’s original trilogy.

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“12 YEARS A SLAVE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Over a decade of injustice and cruelty.

12 Years A Slave is quite possibly the best film of the year.

It is also the most disturbing.

Based off the 1853 autobiography of the same name, 12 Years A Slave follows the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who lives with his family and plays the violin in Saratoga, New York.

One evening, he becomes acquainted with two young gentlemen who claim to be circus performers looking to hire him for a one-night gig. When he wakes up the next morning, he is in chains, and realizes that he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery by his captors. During his years as a slave, Northup goes from one owner to the next, from a kindhearted owner named William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a cruel, racist and mean-spirited pig named Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who presents the greatest trials he must face if he is ever to survive.

12 Years A Slave is a film that not only lives up to all of its built-up hype and expectations: in many ways, it exceeds them.

Its quality as a work of art is so striking and powerful that it can be compared to other historical tragedies, including The Pianistand Schindler’s List.

Director Steve McQueen, who made the morally reprehensible and eerily bleak film Shame back in 2011, redeems himself here as a filmmaker. McQueen, in collaboration with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, is not only masterful with framing his articulate, beautiful shots with 12 Years A Slave, but also brilliant with orchestrating scenes between his actors, showing us the bleak realism and truth of the slavery years in America.

Ejiofor, who portrays Northup in 12 Years A Slave is endlessly captivating. In moments where you think he might just be phoning it in, or just going along with the motions, he surprises you and releases an emotional intensity in ways no other actor has this year, not even Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o plays a young female slave in this movie so passionately that you forget she’s an actress and slip into her character’s tragedy as a human being more than you do as a movie character.

Most noticeable perhaps is Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, who is so hateful and so spiteful in this role that all of the audience’s energy, anger and frustration is focused on him and his sadistic acts. Fassbender was brilliant in his portrayal, and I sincerely hope that he at least gets an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

Every other aspect of this film can be praised endlessly. The script by John Ridley, who wrote Three Kings in 1999, was endlessly emotional and captivating. The score by Hans Zimmer was quiet, humble and breathtakingly beautiful, encompassing both the truth and tragedy of Northup’s heartbreaking story.

However, let there be a strong word of caution: 12 Years A Slave will elicit violent reactions from its audiences. You will laugh. You will weep. You will grind your teeth in anger and frustration, maddened by the many years of cruelty, prejudice and barbarism that no human being should ever have to experience. But it compels you to care for the character, to reach deep down in your heart to feel what he is feeling, to experience compassion and sympathy in ways almost no other film can do, not even with Schindler’s List. 

And let this be a testament to the film’s quality: at the end of the showing, there was a white man who could be heard weeping in the back of the theater. In between his hiccups, tears and hysterical reactions, he turned toward the black viewer sitting next to him, shook her hand and after introducing himself said to her, “I’m so sorry for what my race did to your ancestors.”

That man felt a powerful feeling of guilt and shame for the things that he saw in 12 Years A Slave.

That man was me.

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