The Amazing Spider-Man Review

This was going to be a review of The Dark Knight Rises, but my attempt to see the midnight opening turned into something of a failure. I’m not crass enough to complain, but I didn’t end up seeing the movie. So instead of The Dark Knight Rises, I guess I’ll finally get around reviewing Amazing Spider-Man. The Amazing Spider-Man does not live up to its name. While it certainly hews closer to the comics than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, it feels wholly unnecessary with that film in mind. Did anyone need to see Spidey’s origin again, especially with so few changes and even fewer improvements? Its not that the movie is that bad, just that for every good thing it does, it does at least two bafflingly stupid things.

Let’s start with the bright spots. Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May are terrific. Rhys Ifans makes a lackluster villain at least somewhat interesting. Emma Stone is perfect as Gwen Stacy. The only real weakness in the cast was Andrew Garfield as Peter. He doesn’t look like a teenager, for one thing. Also, instead of seeming like a nerdy outcast, Peter comes off as an autistic creeper. He takes pictures of Gwen when she isn’t looking and uses them as computer backgrounds; its strange. He also sort of nods and shakes uncomfortably all the time. I’d rather have the somewhat mopey Tobey Maguire.

There is a satisfying kineticism to the fights and the webslinging. It is really solid stuff. Too bad it is ruined by some awful plotting. The basic story is as good as ever, but everything built around it is done rather poorly. Peter sneaks into Oscorp by taking a name badge with no I.D. check, then breaks into the experimental spider room because it is locked by a simple video game mini-game. Oscorp leaves a potentially deadly weapon just sitting in the middle of a poorly guarded lab. Baffling stupidity like that is the norm for this movie. Anyone of them would be fine, but they build on each other until it becomes kind of unbearable. Which is sad, because it ruins some great character scenes between Peter and Uncle Ben, Gwen and Captain Stacy.

Amazing Spider-Man simply feels unnecessary. Most of the plot did not need a retread, despite the slight improvements it made in some parts. Since it has been a relatively short time since Spider-Man, it is hard not to compare the two movies, and the comparison is not favorable to Amazing Spider-Man. Amazing this movie simply is not, it is borderline dull; a tired exercise in repeating better movies and superhero cliché.

*1/2

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Dancing Mad

When I first heard about Final Fantasy Theatrhythm, I dismissed it out of hand. It sounded like a cheap, stupid attempt to cash in on 25 years of Final Fantasy nostalgia. Around its release I heard quite a bit of buzz about it and finally deigned to check out a preview video. Then I immediately preordered. Theatrhythm is not, in fact a cheap stupid cash-in; it is a brilliant, enthralling attempt to cash-in on 25 years of Final Fantasy nostalgia.

I’ve put about fifteen hours into it so far, and have barely scratched the surface of this rhythm game. I haven’t unlocked any of the hidden characters and only a few of the songs, but I have played through the series mode several times. The mechanics are pretty simple, much like the underrated Elite Beat Agents. You tap, hold and slash to the rhythm of a song. The brilliant part is all in the flavor. It fuses some RPG mechanics to the simple rhythm gameplay to make it truly a Final Fantasy game. Players choose from the protagonists of the 13 mainline FF games, get experience from completing songs and learn abilities. That dressing is nice, but the real fun, at least for me is what is going on in the background during the songs. Though they are less involved than the stories that play out in EBA, they are so steeped in Final Fantasy Lore that it is almost disgusting.

There are traveling songs, where the characters walk, or ride chocobos, through the landscapes of the various games. Authentic landscapes from the games. All of the important landmarks are visible in the background. There is some inherent joy in seeing familiar places from a new perspective. Then there are the battle songs. These are less specific to the individual games, but the simulated battles against classic Final Fantasy enemies are cool. The real killers are the movie ones. Behind the main theme of the various games they play the big scenes of the game in the background. It is just an unstoppable wave of nostalgia backed by solid gameplay. Plus there is the charm of the cutesy character designs and the often hilarious pre-song party quotes.

Final Fantasy is one of the few series that could do a game like this and get me the way Theatrhythm does. Zelda and Mario could, so could Mega Man and Suikoden. I think that’s about it. There are other series with games that I love or games that have terrific music, but I don’t have the nostalgia for them that I do for Final Fantasy. As much as I love even Mario and Zelda, I’m sure I’ve spent more time playing Final Fantasy, if only because the games are longer. Also, the greater focus on story in Final Fantasy gives makes it easier to mine nostalgia than Nintendo’s gameplay rich but story poor franchises. As far as anniversary games go, Theatrhythm blows Nintendo’s offerings out of the water. Popping a Super Mario All-Stars ROM on a Wii disc just doesn’t cut it. Theatrhythm is a novel experience that hits me perfectly in the nostalgia center of my brain. Now I’m off to play both Theatrhythm and half of the Final Fantasy series.

Brave Review

The only real problem with Brave is its title. The title doesn’t really reflect what to movie is about. It does better fit in with Pixar’s usually concise titles (Cars, Up, Toy Story) than The Bear and the Bow, but Brave is actually about a bear and a bow. It is not very much about bravery. That is not to say that either of main characters lack courage, but that is not the focus of the movie. Title aside, Brave is as excellent as most of the rest of Pixar oeuvre. It doesn’t quite shine as brightly as their very best, but it is far from the worst.

While much was made of Brave being the first Pixar film with a female protagonist, the most novel part of the story is its focus on a mother daughter relationship. Most animated movies, even those that star women, don’t usually deal with mothers and daughters. I can think of tons of movies, specifically children’s animated movies, that are about friends of either genre, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters and even mothers and sons, but very few mother daughters. Being neither a mother nor a daughter, I can’t say from experience how true to life the mother and daughter in Brave are, but from what I’ve seen of real people it seemed real.

What absolutely rang true were the conflicts of teenagers and their parents. Merida wants to be free to choose her path through life, not tied down by her parent’s decisions. Her parents want what’s best for her and with their greater wisdom and experience have a different idea of what that is. It is an easily relatable situation. The parents are almost always right, they generally do know best, but the heart of the problem is that teenagers are wanting to make the choices and assert their independence. It is a rich vein for drama and Brave mines it wonderfully.

Visually, Brave is one of Pixar’s best. There are some great landscapes and scenery. The body language of the characters is also terrific. Especially the mother as [spoiler] the bear. The sound is largely good, except for some ill-fitting and generally awful vocal songs. They are downright illusion breaking, making their bits in the movie flat out hard to watch. The main characters, father, daughter and mother, are all well developed and most of the side characters are fun without overstaying their welcome. In fact, I wanted to see more of the other lords before the end of the movie.

As good as Brave is, I would say it almost feels more like a classic Disney movie than a Pixar one. Of course, any such feeling is nebulous. It might just be Brave’s fairy tale trappings. Whatever, I thought Brave felt more like Aladdin or Sleeping Beauty than Toy Story or Up. Not that all those movies aren’t excellent, but there is a different feel to them. Either way, Brave is a worthy addition to Pixar’s resume.

Prometheus Review

In the month or so since it has been released, Ridley’s Scott’s pseudo Alien prequel Prometheus has been discussed to death. Whether it is because they felt the movie did not live up to their expectations from Ridley Scott or whether they found the film genuinely thought provoking, it has been far from difficult to find opinions about Prometheus. As late as I’m getting to this, I’m not sure I have much to add to the discussion. For once, just about everybody is right. Prometheus is a thought provoking film. It is also a complete mess. For me, the good outweighed the bad, but I can understand someone feeling the opposite.

The bad in this movie is pretty bad. Characters do dumb things just to help move the plot along, plotlines appear and disappear seemingly at random, and sometimes Looney Tunes-esque slapstick ruins supposedly dramatic moments. The whole set up is a take on those idiotic ancient aliens “theories.” A lot of this stuff is hard to swallow. The script could have used either one more or one less pass, depending on where these problems came from. Most of the problems stem, though, from the wholly forgivable crime of trying to do too much. I’d rather a movie fail with ambition than succeed without it.

There are several great performances in Prometheus. Noomi Rapace is terrific as the main character, competent and quick thinking. And Fassbender does a great job as the secretive, and secretly more human than he lets on David. Nearly everyone does a great job with the material they are given. And while Prometheus doesn’t do so great a job with its science, it does raise some interesting question about the relationships between parents and their offspring.

Where Prometheus truly shines is in its visuals. It is the most visually stunning film I’ve seen in some time. Often big special effects budgets are spent with the effect of only making the movie look like everything else, or making sickening action scenes. Prometheus is clear and wonderful. The world they are on truly looks like an alien planet. When other parts of the film falter, it never, ever stops looking good.

I guess this turned into a pretty wishy-washy review. Possibly this is because one of the big draws for this movie, its connections to the Alien franchise, mean almost nothing to me. I didn’t like Alien, mostly just because it is a horror movie and I do not like horror movies. I was also not a big fan of Aliens. I didn’t see it until 2005 or so, and it never left much of an impression on me. I’ve never seen any of the other Alien movies. I had no expectations. I do like many Ridley Scott films, though I have a big hole in that I’ve never seen Blade Runner, he is what got me to the cinema. What I saw was the Robin Hood to Alien’s Gladiator. Not strictly a bad movie, but not an especially great one.

**1/2