The Amazing Spider-Man – Marc Webb – 2012

ImageThe sun beat down onto me. My head was becoming clouded, I had just had a strange incident in the Levi’s Store which involved yelling and walking into an occupied change room. Maybe the heat wave that clenched Manhattan in its humid fist was getting to me. I needed a break, a couple of hours out.

I found myself in the cinema for ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and sat down in the comfortable American seats that always shift an unexpected distance back when you put your weight in them. American cinemas should be appreciated, they can be old and aesthetically clunky but they are comfortable.

The film, on this occasion, matched the aesthetic clunkiness with story clunkiness. Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) essentially kills himself when he jumps on a gun that a thief accidentally dropped. Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) doesn’t have a single bad bone in his body until he becomes The Lizard. Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) only really has one opportunity to save a person, a boy in car falling from a bridge.

It has only been ten years since the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man but apparently tastes in cinema have shifted fundamentally, and in a depressing way. Some of my friends claimed they never liked the Raimi films anyway, but what is missing in Marc Webb’s effort draws attention to their strengths. Raimi imbued his first two Spider-Man films with themes, the line between good and bad were blurred to the point of almost being non-existent, the characters struggled their way through.

The only mistake Raimi made was his casting of the two leads of his films, his touch was with the villains. Marc Webb has made up for that. Andrew Garfield is instantly more likable than Tobey Maguire. Emma Stone is much more charming as Gwen Stacey than Kirsten Dunst ever was as Mary Jane. 

Still, I couldn’t get past the clunkiness of the film and it wasn’t a comfortable clunkiness either. The sequel set-up at the end felt more tacked on then most. It didn’t even commit itself to a particular villain for the sequel in the way that ‘Batman Begins’ did. 

I left the film feeling even more cloudy than I when I went in.


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The Campaign – Jay Roach – 2012

What has happened to American comedies? There was once a time where the best films of the year that an American comedy could be a masterpiece. The Blues Brothers. Ghostbusters.  There was once a time when seeing American comedies could split sides. This Is Spinal Tap. The Pink Panther.

Nowadays you are lucky to have a few laughs across a whole film. Take ‘The Campaign’ with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. Both have been known to be funny in the past, in this film I laughed once or twice because I felt obliged. To be polite, because I know that thing Ferrell just said was meant to be funny.

There was a day where I could leave an American comedy, feeling on the top of the world. Today I left ‘The Campaign’ with an empty, flat feeling. I wish it hadn’t been this way. It was the same with ‘The Dictator’, ‘The Hangover 2’, ‘Paul’, ‘The Dilemma’ and so forth and so on.

The problem with ‘The Campaign’ is that the film doesn’t seem to know if it is a political satire or a straight out dumb comedy. Jon Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd play brothers that a clear parody of the Koch but when the film gets to a political message, it just feels baggy.

Political satire works best, it would seem, across the Atlantic in the UK. Take ‘The Thick of It’, political satire is best when there is no clear political statement, it works best when it parodies the personalties rather than the policy.

Another problems is that films don’t have advantage of feedback and time that comedians have. Comedians can tune their ‘bits’ for years, testing variations on the audience until they have it just right. ‘The Campaign’ has blindly fumbled out, attempted to be funny and awkwardly waited for laughs with its mouth agape.

The lesson for the filmmakers? Comedies shouldn’t be rush, they should developed over plenty of time with plenty of feedback. Secondly, American filmmakers need to start to look overseas, at international comedy, and start taking notes and inspiration.


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The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan – 2012

ImageI love midnight screenings. They are without a doubt the pinnacle experience of the film buff community outside film festivals. For blockbusters, they are the ultimate in the film geek-out experience.

I, like many others, ticked down the hours until ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ arrived on the big, big screen of IMAX Sydney. I would look at my clock through the day with a ball of nervous excitement boiling at the bottom of my belly. I continually checked that my ticket was where I left it.

Some of my friends went to the marathon of the two previous Batman films but I turned them down. I didn’t want to be distracted from anticipation for this film, my imagination wandering down the different paths it might take. I waited in my apartment, there are no lines for the midnight screenings and the line, the communal anticipation for hours on end, is missed.

I walked down to the IMAX Sydney not long before the screening started to find my kindred spirits. Those of us who venture out in the middle of a cold night because the thought of waiting another ten hours is too much to bare. Those of us who have to know, we have to know how Batman does it this time.

Some came in costume and I peered at them with respect as they posed in front of the film’s posters. My love for the potential of the film paled in comparison to theirs. If it was good, they would feel joy in a way I would never. If it was bad, their heartbreak would be pain I wouldn’t have to bear.

We took our seats, fan next to fan next to fan. The excitement ran through hundreds of people as the lights went down. You could feel the collective held-breath as the DC logo appear on screen. The film was ours for the next three hours.

Cheers erupted upon Batman’s triumphant return, groans were emitted at the cheesy twists in the last five minutes. We experienced everything as a community and we weren’t afraid to make our reactions audible. We fed off each other.

The film ended and we were left speaking in small groups on the sidewalk. It was apparent that the film hadn’t been as good as we hoped. It was a weak sequel. The plot holes were more gaping, we wanted to know, Why did Bane keep the police officers alive for five months? Why don’t any of these said police officers seem to grow facial hair in five months?

Some of us were angry about the poor sound mix, at least as heard in this particular cinema, even if we were impressed by the clarity of the IMAX image. We debated the new characters. To me, Catwoman is the only warm-blooded, lively character in the film. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a necessary good guy uncorrupted by the events of the previous film.

We recounted the story to each other, getting things straight in our minds. It was clear that the themes of this film were more confused. The villains carried less weight this time, I never found myself thinking that ‘Bane had to be stopped’ in the same way I thought it about The Joker. I felt the ending was cowardly. Nolan did something brave with Batman before backing out of it.

Finally we agreed that we had fun at least and fun is exactly what a comic book film and we disappeared into the night, finding our way home. I lay down on my pillow and wondered what would be my next opportunity for a midnight screening, James Bond maybe? The Hobbit? 

I only slept for two hours and I had to pull myself to work. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ had been a disappointment. The film is a slice of fun entertainment, that makes missteps in the way it panders to the fans (‘You should use your real name’), that fails to make the audience think deeply about the world we live in.

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The Warped Forest – Shunichiro Miki – 2011


The geekier film festival goers have an insatiable taste for the bizarre and for the extreme and they think they know exactly where to find it. They rip open the festival program and flick through the pages until they find the program strand dedicated to the odd. Every festival seems to have such a strand now, whether they call it Midnight Movies or, as Sydney Film Festival imaginatively titled it, Freak Me Out, it offers the same idea of showing the most depraved, the most disturbing, the most dirty cinema.

And why not? These strands always prove popular. Montreal has a whole, sizable festival dedicated to such films in Fantasia and it is not alone. Once the geekier festival goer has located the relevant pages in the program, they take out a thick marker and circle the Japanese films. In the case of the Sydney Film Festival, the strand was scant and it offered only one Japanese film, The Warped Forest. Unsurprisingly the film sold out both its screenings in advance.

The Warped Forest offers exactly what these sorts of audiences are looking for in bizarre Japanese cinema. The film is exploding with over-the-top performance and inexplicable oddities. For the more extreme, it is violence-lite but there is an endless supply of sex oddities and jokes. There is no denying that the film has entertainment value.

By the end of the film, it all ends up being very sweet. The characters are just doing the oddest things and living through the oddest experiences in the pursuit of happiness. It is the most optimistic and positive film that I’ve seen at the festival and there isn’t much more to it than that. It washes over you and it is gone.

It is hard to imagine this film will generate much buzz and it is hard to imagine it will have a cult following. Festivals might be the only place to discover it. I stood outside the cinema afterwards with a number of cinema buffs and there was very little conversation about it. Don’t expect to be scratching your head long about The Warped Forest and you will probably have forgotten about it by the next day.

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On The Road – Walter Salles – 2012

ImageThere seems to be a misconception about ‘On The Road’. That is, like certain novels, unadaptable but this is a myth. It has a pretty linear plot and solid characters. It isn’t a messy, experimental novel that while rewarding you have to get your head around. It isn’t that at all. The only challenge is that it would be long to do straight up.

Even Kerouac knew it was adaptable to film because he had plans for the film himself. In his head, he would play Sal Paradise, the autobiographical character of Kerouac, and Marlon Brando would play Dean Moriarty, Paradise’s travel companion. Brando never responded to Kerouac’s offer and the film was never made, until now.

Walter Salles has proven his hand at road-trip films with the very fine ‘Motorcycle Diaries’. That film may have been what led Francis Ford Coppola, who owned the film rights to the novel, to let Salles have a crack at ‘On The Road’. The resulting film is well-crafted and well-told but a disappointment to Kerouac’s book but not because the book is unadaptable, only because one mistake has been made.

The reason why the novel has stood the test of time is that Kerouac is able to infuse every page with such an enthusiasm, such happiness. The novel literally drips with energy and there are few other books that have managed the same. The novel inspired many people to travel, to wander, to go without going anywhere, and I am sure the backpacking phenomenon amongst the youth nowadays owes something to Kerouac.

Unfortunately the film has no real energy, it barely has a spark of energy. It drips, but more often it drips with melancholia and angst rather than enthusiasm. The film almost feels like an obituary for the world view and mindset of the story. As if the world of freedom and meaningless travel no longer exists, or it is extremely rare. The film is here to remember the madness, rather than inspire madness of your own.

The performances are all solid. Even if none of the actors chosen are what I imagined when I first read the book eleven or so years ago. They fill the roles adequately and lend real weight to the characters but not to a point that it will be hard to imagine these characters without seeing these actors, like Nicholson did for R.P. McMurphy.

The film very much looks the part. Everything about the costumes, the locations and the cars feel look right for the era. I am sure the film did not have a massive budget but it certainly looks like it could have a had pretty decent one. When people speak of successful period pieces in the future, this effort from Salles should be noted.

Eric Gautier, the cinematographer, knows just how to put Kerouac’s world on the screen just right. The paved road of the USA has never looked this glorious. Jose Rivera, the screenwriter, has done probably a better job than most others could have done. He picked all the right moments from the book and the characterizations ring true.

But all of this isn’t enough. The only real moment of true feeling from book comes at the film’s climax when Sal Paradise types the the line, “I first met Dean not long after my father died.” The power is only in knowing what comes next, what is about to be said, what feeling is about to be put on page. The energy of the book could have been put on screen, but it wasn’t.

Don’t let this film fool you. This world of freedom and wandering without purpose isn’t gone, it isn’t only something of the era of Kerouac. Just pick up the book again, feel inspired and head out and find all the loose, crazy souls and characters that are still wandering about out there. And love it.

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