Thursday, August 16, 2012

Movies I've watched in the last month: Chronicle, Ted, Amazing Spider-man, Moonrise Kingdom

When I finished watching Chronicle on a flight to Newfoundland, I was seriously wondering whether it was the best superhero movie I've ever seen. (In retrospect, I was just really surprised by how good it was and this probably isn't true. Also, it's not quite the compliment that it sounds like, because I'm a grumpy old man when it comes to superhero movies.) A massive amount of credit for its quality has to go to Dane DeHaan, who played Andrew. In the hands of a worse actor, his character could have easily slipped into cliché and felt laughably pathetic. As it is, though, his transformation into a supervillain - especially since it's not initially clear whether his 'origin story' maps more easily on to that of a good guy or bad guy - is probably the most impressive and convincing in the short history of the film genre.

While Ted isn't technically a Frat Pack/Apatow Mafia movie, it feels an awful lot like one. The main character is a 30-something in arrested development, pot-head, dead-end job, hot girlfriend, fart jokes. With one important difference, mind you, as pointed out by my friend Noa: in the end, his girlfriend accepts that he'll never change and he isn't forced to grow up. There's an added wrinkle, of course - this isn't Seth Rogen or Steve Carrell, it's Mark Wahlberg, and every woman in the movie delivers at least one line about how he's really hot and charming. (As opposed to the usual protagonist in the man-child genre, who is average-looking, at best, out-of-shape, and funny in a self-deprecating or depressing way. If he's funny at all.) So, the lesson seems to be that you don't have to be the big wheel so long as you look like one. Okay, then.

If I had never watched another superhero movie, or if The Amazing Spider-man had been released in 1999, I'm certain that I would have loved it and thought it was the greatest thing ever. As it is, I thought it was good. (Better than I expected. But I saw it a month after it was released, and I expected it to be terrible.) It also shamelessly borrows, steals, and simply rips-off every superhero movie that came before it - it feels more like a mash-up or a Greatest Hits compilation than a film in its own right. It looks like the director was trying to do a Dark Knight version of Spidey; the villain's masterplan is basically Magneto's from X-Men, and visually resembles Loki's from Avengers; the Lizard's face looks like Voldemort's, and he sounds like him, too, (Seriously: compare Rhys Ifans' "pEEtuh pAHkuh" to Ralph Fiennes' "hAIRee pAHtuh". Eerie.) and the way that Peter's origin has been tied to his parents also feels very Potter-ish. Also, James Garfield has Edward Cullen hair. I could also complain about the curious way that, aside from Gwen, the film is both patently unfunny and completely sidelines every female supporting character, including, unforgivably, Aunt May. But I'd rather say one nice thing: Andrew Garfield is a better Spider-man than Tobey Maguire.

I recently applied for a job where I was asked to name my favorite movie. I never know how to answer this question - I don't have a "favorite" - so I went with The Royal Tenenbaums. But I think that Moonrise Kingdom might actually be Wes Anderson's best movie. Watching it, you get the feeling that Anderson actually gets what it's like to be 12. It is, strangely, his most serious film, but only because he takes the characters so seriously. So, while it might be absurd in places - each adult is reduced to a caricature (most notably, the character known only as Social Services) as they might be imagined by a 12 year old - it's a very respectful kind of absurdity. There's one particularly memorable moment for me, when an enraged Bill Murray effortlessly tears away the tent that the two 12 year olds are cowering inside of. None of them say anything, but Murray stands there silently for just a moment, as if realizing that his reaction was needlessly destructive and totally ridiculous. But he doesn't admit it, and it lasts only for that moment, because grown-ups are like that.


James said...

I really wanted to like Chronicle - and aspects of it I did - but I had some misgivings.

What most struck me about The Amazing Spider-Man was how damn close it ran to Raimi's first movie - to the point of total redundancy, I thought. Every time they did their version of a scene (and it felt much more like a remake of that film than it did a new adaptation of the comic), it suffered by comparison. (The death of Uncle Ben, oh my.) Indeed, by telling essentially the same story over a longer running time, the overwhelming impression is of inefficient storytelling.

All of the vaunted additions - The Lizard, relationship with Gwen, sequel-friendly mysterious backstory - could have easily fitted into a Spider-Man 4 with new director and cast (the Schumacher to Raimi's Burton, only less nippley). Enough time has passed since Spider-Man 3 (and it was badly received enough) that they'd be free to start fresh (did anyone actually WANT Peter and MJ to reconcile by the end of that thing?) but still draw on 3 films of material (hey presto, an actual Parker-Connors relationship!) A post-credit reveal of a clone-ressurrected Willem DaFoe would have beat the shit out of that twitchy old maybe-Osborne, for my money.

The only things you'd probably have to lose is high school Peter, and mechanical webshooters. I'll grant they did a good job on the latter, but the high school stuff got dropped pretty quick, and at the same age Maguire was in Spider-Man, Garfield makes for no less ridiculous/creepy a teenager.

He was a better in the role though, I agree.

neilshyminsky said...

Oh, shit. That analysis of Chronicle is spot-on. And I absolutely knew that Steve was going to die. I knew these things and still somehow missed that Steve was a Black Supporting Character Who Must Die To Show That This Shit Is Serious. That's seriously embarrassing.