Previously on the Spiderman franchise, Emo Spidey. And like all emo kids turn into hipsters when they grow up, Emo Spidey is rebooted into hipster Spidey. I’ll explain later. But first, let me take you to a journey about my pre-conceptions about The Amazing Spiderman! The first preview clip looked like CGI crap! More preview clips showed that he’s funny! Then where were the blog entries about Spidey/Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) essence that were divisive. He’s a jerk! He’s Jewish! He’s a Jewish jerk, or for political correctness’ sake, a jerk who happens to be Jewish!
I can’t necessarily account for his relation to the biblical Jacob (or Rachel, to be more technical), but he’s probably not a jerk. I regretfully can’t remember how the Raimi Spiderman began, but director Marc Webb begins his with a sensitive portrayal of a boy who grows up too early. Cue a soundtrack that’s half Titanic and half Inception. Mad About You is playing in the background, so we must be in 1997. As much as young Peter wants to play hide and seek with his parents (his mother is played by fake British person Embeth Davidtz), they’re trying to scurry away and hiding him away from danger, leaving him with his Uncle Ben (Garfield’s fellow Sorkin alum Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). His father is one of the few paternal figures who will be unfortunately excised during the duration of this movie, helping Peter on his way from being an unlucky teenager into a morally centred young superhero. The high school scenes firmly sets the movie’s ambivalence towards labeling their characters as good or evil, because despite one bully, the schoolmates who piss Peter off inadvertently aren’t necessarily out to get him.
His transformation is rocky, even calling out the dated, if not troubled notions of being one. Let’s talk about the light stuff first. He clings to his hipster wardrobe until he gets inspiration from a lucha libre poster that came out of nowhere. He later notices that many athletes are wearing spandex and reluctantly embraces it. Spandex was never fashionable, and at one point I’m thinking that if new superheroes were being created today, none of them would be donning the skin-hugging material, despite the flexibility it can offer.
Now on to the heavier stuff. He first decides to become a superhero as a way to avenge Uncle Ben’s death caused by some stringy haired blonde dated version of a grunge villain. Mr. Stacy even calls him out on this personal vendetta, despite of how much Peter defends Spidey’s position as someone trying to help. If the original Spiderman movies were accounts on our collective adolescence fresh of the 9-11 era, this reboot is four our Tea Party/Occupy times, both movements quickly becoming relics of our time. Just like his real world counterparts, their status in the binary of good and evil are more shaded than he thinks, due to his early disregard for due process. The paternal figures, as ghost figures, run the risk of having their de facto descendant – Peter/Spidey – and his vigilante-ism running amok without and strategy. And despite of him being barely at home to be under May’s guidance, his father figures’ advice hopes to be impactful enough not to let him astray.
I was also wrong about the movie’s visual effects, because the movie is gorgeous, if not a little manicured. Every long shot is a nighttime version of a New York City postcard. Every dark room is a chance for dusty light to beautifully funnel itself in. Every visit to Oscorp, where his late father the latter’s very alive colleague, geneticist Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), is a neon trip that leads Peter to knowledge or danger or both. The CGI is CGI, often successful at taking a dip into the uncanny valley, but it’s not that distracting anymore as a technology. And that I was watching this with my laptop and was still floored by its compositions is a feat in itself. I can only imagine the 3D lessening its aesthetic impact.
Speaking of manicured, and I guess I should be used to this by now, but TAS’ version of New York City is a bit whitewashed. The private school in Gossip Girl is more diverse than what I assume is Peter’s public high school, where everyone’s dressed like an H&M model and goes home to places arranged gay interior decorators. Peter’s classmate Gwen Stacy (model Emma Stone) is wearing a cream coloured wool trench and woolen thigh highs God. And everybody knows each other. Gwen becomes Peter’s love interest and is the police chief’s daughter and Curt’s intern. Mr. Stacy’s New York Police Force is equally white. There are people of colour peppered around the movie’s fringes. The interns at Oscorp, with Asians to the front and a Hispanic guy struggling because of Peter’s temporary identity switch – thank God I’m not over-thinking that. Peter’s F train ride turned fight club to Coney Island (there is no way the F train is that clean, by the way). The crane workers who help Spiderman get to Oscorp (speaking of workers, Aunt May wears a Bridgeworkers shirt, a close enough reference to Field’s Norma Rae). It’s curious that Peter adapts into a more New York accent as he turns into Spiderman, but I like that he sees himself as one of the people, giving the story a bit of locality. And despite of my nitpicks, the movie’s central figure is compelling and authentic enough to anchor its fantastical plot, making both enjoyable.
The House Bunny is the only movie that allows Anna Faris and Emma Stone to share the same screen and since the movie views women to Faris’ standard, Stone will probably never get this naked and Mean Girls-y again. Shelley Darlingson (Faris), being last out in the orphanage (the movie pays lip service to this part of Shelley’s character which, to be honest, is all it needs), always thinks of herself as an outsider even though she has one of the most coveted jobs that conventionally beautiful women have, a job that some of those women use to stab each other with. She’s grateful and has a sunny perception – she says something like “It’s like being naked in the centre of a magazine and people unfold you!” – about her precarious place within the mansion, as a 27-year-old she sees herself as 59 in Bunny years. After being schemed out of the Playboy mansion, Shelley becomes house-mother to Stone’s sorority house – the Zetas – although both mentor each other, the former with knowledge about how to attract men to help them save their sorority house and the latter knowing how to attract a man who isn’t superficial (Colin Hanks, obviously son of Tom). One of the movie’s funniest montages involve her trying to smarten herself by reading many books at once in a library and going to senior level classes in which she’s not enrolled. It reminds me of one of the movie’s earlier scenes where she asks one of the girls from a rival house where all the desks are. Both scenes are, to my limited knowledge of the subgenre of frat/sorority movies, the biggest indictment of college culture in cinema.
Stone, like her other housemates (Kat Dennings, Katherine McPhee Rumer Willis) go through two makeovers. The first, through Shelley’s guiding hand, takes too long to set up. The second is when one of the Zetas tell the other that they’ve become as superficial as their rivals. Stone’s character soberly advertising Zeta’s mission statement as being about acceptance is how we’ll see her onscreen persona in future rules.
Even if Faris and Stone are regarded as underrated comic gems stuck in a cinematic era that treats them like shit, the former, a secret national treasure and a celebrity impression that some cheerleaders have in their comic arsenal – is good but not enough to elevate this movie. There is absolutely no reason for everyone to watch this movie or to call this as a comedy – but then I read a lot of complaints that contemporary mainstream comedy isn’t funny so I guess this movie’s first few scenes might fit in with that description – and I felt the same way until I heard Faris’ voice get deeper and more guttural because that’s the way Shelley remembers names. I’m immature and get amused by stuff like that – it’s actually the first thing I’ll remember with this movie, the ‘erythromycin/meteor’ soliloquy in the end being the second. OHLIVEHR! That voice, simply enough, makes Faris’ Shelley a physically straining, full-bodied performance. You can call it as Faris putting the wool under our eyes but I still like it.
Aside from those two leads the movie also boasts a cast that sounds useless on paper but are awesome together. I tweeted earlier that McPhee acts and sings more here than in all of “Smash” and I stand by that. And who knew that Willis, whose character is stuck in a body brace for most of the movie, ends up having the best body in a cast of many beautiful women? Dennings in her most sarcastic yet most restrained, surprisingly. I love the scene where the sorority girls take out their fake eyelashes and tell each other that despite of Shelley’s inadvertent bad influence the latter still has style. Anyway, back to the cast, Beverly D’Angelo’s villain reminds us that, despite not necessarily deserving a lead role in anything, she’s a competent and more preserved Faye Dunaway. This is an ensemble picture in, as many would see it, its worst and most embarrassing way bot I can’t knock it because of its entertainment value and that I keep rooting for these actresses in their future projects.
Welcome to family friendly Ojai, California, where the sun always shines on the auburn hair of a snarky girl named Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) who everyone suddenly thinks is a trollope. Director Will Gluck and screenwriter Bert V. Royal know that Easy A is telling a story told before, and with sharper scripts. The film is full of references of cellphone culture and slightly grainy webcams and grainier clips of John Hughes films and a homosexual rendering of Huckleberry Finn’s interracial friendship. Speaking of old, hallowed American narratives, Olive is our Hester Prynne, a fictional character whose archaic treatment disgusts her English teacher (Thomas Haden Church) but we and the teenagers know that a woman’s purity – or appearance of purity – is still placed on high regard.
This film has the best gags I’ve seen in a while, like one involving a Natasha Bedingfield song and another one about Olive adopted brother. However, it’s crueller than your average teen flick. Stone’s husky voice still sounds more mature, which slightly takes off the willing suspension of disbelief. And I spent the first act of the film wishing I saw her with her parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) simply because her comic chemistry with them is that good. Stone also has believable rapport with supporting characters like her enemy Marianne (Amanda Bynes) who surprises us with her vulnerability, Brandon (Dan Byrd) who’s confused about his sexuality, a guidance counselor who doesn’t listen to her (Lisa Kudrow) and Woodchuck Todd (Penn Badgely) who balances good looks with wearing goofy costumes. A silver lining on being ostracized is an assumed altruism that she adapts like Hester and that the other characters secretly relate to her when they’re down.
Despite a few hurdles, Stone owns this movie. Her world is one with bullying, obsession on teenage sexuality and where teenagers can frighteningly perform that sexuality as Olive does because of peer pressure. Olive tells her webcam viewers that books and movies can’t put across ‘how shitty it feels to be an outcast.’ Yet she makes us know how it feels. The film doesn’t judge her. Yes, I can’t help but feel slightly old while watching the movie, but for the first time in a while, I watched a teen movie that has enough spark and humour and didn’t make me feel like a parent.
- Marshall Fine: HuffPost Review: Easy A (huffingtonpost.com)