Film reviews 28: “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “Margaret”, “Hunky Dory” and 10 others…

discreet charm of the borgeoisie

This fortnight: “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”, “Hunky Dory”, “The Marc Pease Experience”, “Margaret”, “Norman”, “Ocean’s Eleven”, “Ocean’s Twelve”, “Ocean’s Thirteen”, “REC”, “REC 2”, “Silent House” and “Step Brothers”.

This time, the average rating is 5.15/10 with film of the month being Margaret. Follow @halfacanyon for more.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – 6/10

Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Steve Kloves, Alvin Sargent, James Vanderbilt
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of the hyphen
“If you want the truth, Peter, come and get it.”

The reboot of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy comes just five years after the release of Spider-Man 3 without being particularly different. There’s a new cast, but little else has changed. Is that just a reflection of life? Has humanity stopped evolving?

The real reason behind the reboot may be a number with several zeroes after it, but the press releases say something about expanding upon Spider-Man’s origin story – perhaps the reason why they hired a director whose only credit at the time was (500) Days of Summer. I found the first third of the film to be the most satisfying, probably for this reason. Andrew Garfield has already proven in other films that he can play emotional roles, and Peter Parker seems to be his type – sensitive, geeky, and stupid enough to go undercover and leave behind a camera with a sticker that says, “PROPERTY OF PETER PARKER”.

Garfield is also surprisingly convincing as someone who would swing around and have spider abilities. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to drive the action sequences. Even though I watched the film at the cinema with 3D glasses, it lacked the sense of depth brought by the original trilogy – you never feel like falling, and you miss Raimi’s playful sensibilities.

The new version has more emphasis on Peter Parker gaining super-human strength, which provides probably the only laugh of the film. To be honest, when Garfield strokes Emma Stone’s hair, I was worried it was going to emulate Of Mice and Men. (She’s also no Kirsten Dunst.) The teen romance storyline captured my interest more than the action sequences, which isn’t what anybody wants from a superhero film. In my mind, the main obstacle wasn’t Rhys Ifans turning into a lizard, but Dennis Leary as the disapproving father. At the end, instead of being blown away, I wondered why Peter Parker would think a family of two people would need 12 eggs – buy a smaller pack!

Really, The Amazing Spider-Man is okay, but nothing spectacular, with the clue being in the insecure adjective choice in the title. From what I could work out, Peter Parker uses Spider-Man to fill the void left behind when his parents died. Similarly, the evil villain with one arm turns to evil to make up for his biological misfortune. I tried to fill my soul with Spider-Man, but I still feel empty.

WATCH IF: You want to see how Eduardo was affected by The Social Network.
AVOID IF: You don’t like hyphens.


The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
(1972) – 7/10

Director: Luis Buñuel
Writer: Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière
Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Stéphane Audran
French title: Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie
“Today has been unusually busy, so we’re out of coffee and milk.”

While the world crumbles outside, six adults struggle to have a dinner party. The surreal French comedy drifts in between reality and a dream world as every obstacle occurs before a meal can take place. At one point, the curtains open up and they find themselves on a theatre stage. It’s an absurd set up punctuated with fascinating dream sequences.

When its aimlessness should become repetitive, this is mostly compensated by the scenes becoming increasingly bizarre. After all, it’s hard to ignore a film where its characters go to a cafe to find it’s run out of every beverage apart from water.

WATCH IF: You don’t understand the world.
AVOID IF: You want answers.


Hunky Dory
(2012) – 3.5/10

Director: Marc Evans
Writer: Laurence Coriat
Starring: Minnie Driver, Aneurin Barnard, Danielle Branch
David Bowie references: Several
“We used to put shows on all the time.”

In Hunky Dory, Minnie Driver plays a teacher struggling to put on a pointless musical that has no obvious benefits apart from being loosely, indirectly feel-good. It’s set in hot and humid days in Wales, where students don’t care about rehearsals. Instead, they worry about their own relationships, whether they’re gay, why the objects of their affection won’t love them back. These miniature stories are insignificant and don’t carry any dramatic weight or provide comedic elements. More peculiarly, it can all be solved by their school production of The Tempest, told through David Bowie songs.

So perhaps the moral of the film is that you can sing your heart out and it will all be okay. Except I don’t think it’s about that. I don’t think it’s about anything. It’s aimless, but somehow finds sentimentality in its teenage cast. Passable, but you’re better off watching David Bowie videos on Youtube.

WATCH IF: You don’t have Youtube.
AVOID IF: You hate karaoke.


The Marc Pease Experience
(2009) – 2.5/10

Director: Todd Louiso
Writers: Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Ben Stiller, Anna Kendrick
Number of musical performances: Seven
“Do you like singing?”
“What do you mean?”

A musical starring Jason Schwartzman should be enticing or, at least, a fascinating disaster. Instead, The Marc Pease Experience is a non-event that was seen by a non-audience; despite financial backing from Paramount, its release was limited at the request of Ben Stiller and was only shown on ten screens. It also never found a cult following once released on DVD because of reviews like this that you’re reading.

The film comes across as a musical made by someone who hates musicals. The tawdry plot involves the theatre production of The Wiz, but is really a love triangle. Not that you’d remember, as very little of interest happens. The underwritten script is probably a victim of the writers’ strike that delayed production.

One of the few worthy moments is when Anna Kendrick starts to wonder if her plaudits are insincere as she usually sings as part of the chorus, rather than solo. (Trust me, it doesn’t work that much better off the page.) Otherwise, the scenes are humourless and lifeless, with the actors seeming oddly preoccupied with something else. Their next film, perhaps.

WATCH IF: You want an experience..
AVOID IF: You really want an experience.


Margaret
(2011) – 8/10

Director/Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Anna Paquin, Jean Smith-Cameron, Mark Ruffalo, Kieran Culkin
“I don’t give a fuck what you believe in. This is not an opera.”

Kenneth Lonergan took a long time to release a follow-up to the excellent You Can Count on Me. It’s been down to various legal disputes that I won’t go into, but it involved Martin Scorsese trying to intervene and the studios releasing Margaret with little promotion to as few cinemas as possible.

Like You Can Count on Me, it all hinges on a car crash. Anna Paquin gestures to a bus driver who distractedly hits a woman crossing the road. When she doesn’t wake up, Paquin becomes the driving force of a lawsuit against the driver. That’s the central storyline, but it’s a sprawling film that favours character relationships over narrative. Paquin can be crying in one scene, then a few seconds be later flirting with Matt Damon. Rather than bad editing, it’s more about the complexities of a teenager’s busy life – handling a lawsuit, school studies and angst at the same time, while being unsure if she should feel guilty over the death of a stranger and a secret abortion.

Perhaps the production of Margaret is a better story than the film itself, but its shapeless formation is a fascinating mess. The chaos of the city merges into the drama, where scenes deliberately last longer than they should. There isn’t even anyone called Margaret in the film. You come away thinking the perplexing dialogue is overwrought, but not overappreciated.

WATCH IF: You enjoyed Lonergan’s earlier film You Can Count on Me.
AVOID IF: You can’t handle films that clearly aren’t shot in sequence.


Norman
(2011) – 3.5/10

Director:  Jonathan Segal
Writer: Talton Wingate
Starring: Dan Byrd, Emily VanCamp
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay here as long as I can.”

Like a television interviewer, Norman asks the viewer, “What would you do for love?” Except it’s less Jeremy Paxman, and more Jay Leno in its manner. Dan Byrd, who many might recognise as the precocious son from Cougar Town, is the eponymous lead who pretends to have cancer in order to win a girl at school. Not only that, his fake cancer is terminal, only giving him a few months left to live. It’s a preposterous storyline that isn’t helped by Emily VanCamp’s fantastical character – she falls in love with him from an early stage because of his ability to quote lines from Monty Python, which is too far a break from reality to handle.

There is some darkness to mine in the boldly dark story, but Jonathan Segal seems hesitant – instead of examining a calculated use of emotional manipulation to find a girlfriend, there’s a more conventional romantic comedy that feels out of place.

WATCH IF: You want to see Dan Byrd in a film.
AVOID IF: You don’t want to see Dan Byrd in a film.


Ocean’s Eleven
(2001) – 5.5/10
Ocean’s Twelve (2004) – 4.5/10
Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) – 5/10

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Ted Griffin (11), George Nolfi (12), Brian Koppelman (13), David Levien (13)
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts
“I changed the way I dressed, the way I ate…”

My first impression was that Steven Soderbergh had recreated Out of Sight – a heist film promoting style over content, with George Clooney as the lead. My opinion never changed.

I’ve been living in a bubble as I’m one of the few people to have never seen any of the Ocean films. (Here I am, still blogging in a bubble, wishing someone would visit.) I didn’t miss much. The complicated heists should be more captivating, but instead are quite underwhelming. It’s not the fault of the actors or the sharp camera techniques. Really, I blame the lack of character development. If the cast weren’t Hollywood stars, I’d struggle to tell them apart; there’s even a breaking of the fourth wall in Ocean’s Twelve to remind the viewer that Julia Roberts is, well, famous.

They’re smart, competent capers with a cast glossy enough that you forgive Don Cheadle’s embarrassing British accent, but it’s hollow at its core – like a real ocean, it looks glorious, but… (I was going to say lacks depth… how else can I end this review… maybe I can call it Tree’s Eleven and say something about it being hollow… I can’t just leave the review by calling it “smart” and “competent”… the storylines for Twleve and Thirteen made no sense… why would they go so far to seek revenge… why would that French guy give them such a high reward… how could they trust a thief… can I just end the review like this…)

WATCH IF: You need your Hollywood stars to be in double digits.
AVOID IF: You’re bad with faces.


REC
(2007) – 8.5/10
REC 2 (2009) – 5.5/10

Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Writers: Jaume Balagueró, Luis A. Berdejo, Paco Plaza
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Pablo Rosso, Jonathan Mellor

The red button: Symbolises the record button, but sometimes the destruct button that would end the world within a few seconds

My problem with found footage horror films is that somebody would prioritise holding a camera over their own safety. Why film a monster when you’d be better off running away from it? It’s the Youtube generation, maybe. The difference with REC is that the people recording the video are journalists, trying to document as much evidence of a zombie outbreak that the government are trying to hide.

Some firemen, the documentary crew and the local residents find themselves locked inside a building to prevent an infection from spreading. More importantly, the exits are sealed to stop any knowledge of an infection being passed on, hence the significance of the camera. I buy it, and the handheld camera is deployed effectively. Having the picture shake because the person holiding it is running – now that’s scary. Honestly, REC is probably the most frightening film I have ever seen, apart from the five-minute devil sequence from Rosemary’s Baby.

The short duration of REC is full of thrills, as evidenced by when they feel the need to handcuff a dead person. There’s even a religious subplot thrown in, in case the government conspiracy storyline and killer zombies aren’t enough for the viewer.

However, none it works as well in REC 2, which begins immediately after the first film ends. The video footage is shot by soldiers instead of journalists, which is questionable in itself. The inventiveness is gone, particularly when the second half is a retelling of the first 40 minutes, from someone else’s point of view. There are still a few thrills in the sequel, and it doesn’t tarnish the first film; it just isn’t as infectious as its predecessor.

WATCH IF: The dark of the night isn’t scary enough.
AVOID IF: You have a child with a cold.


Silent House
(2012) – 4/10

Director: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Writers: Oscar Estevez, Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
A remake of: A 2010 Uruguayan film with the same plot and gimmick
“You don’t remember me, do you?”

It seems that every new horror film needs a new gimmick, and Silent House manages to find one with a low budget. Everything is shot in one take, or at least edited to give this effect, and follows Elizabeth Olsen in real time as she has a nervous breakdown. It sounds dull, but it’s actually quite exciting for about 30 minutes of tension – the anxiety is exchanged for cheap plot twists and a groan-inducing ending.

Olsen seems to recreate her character from Martha Marcy May Marlene , but this time she doesn’t have a surrounding mystery worthy of your attention. In one shot, the camera follows the reviewer as he walks away from the cinema, wishing there was something more substantial.

WATCH IF: You’re excited about the prospect of a one-shot movie.
AVOID IF: You hate cheap endings.


Step Brothers
(2008) – 3/10

Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Adam Scott
Relation with Stepmom: No, they are two unconnected films
“You went Kerouac on everyone’s ass?”

Two step brothers meet, then quarrel in a way that threatens their parents’ marriage. It’s like a darker sequel to The Parent Trap, but with more toilet jokes.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Will Ferrell’s humour, but I respect him as an actor – particularly his straight performances, as evident in Winter Passing. I’ve also admired his regular collaborator, Adam McKay, as a comedy director who makes the effort to make an improvisational film look cinematic. And the premise of Step Brothers is promising, so I gave it a go.

Like the petulant protagonists, I wanted to throw Step Brothers out of the window. It’s not the immaturity of the humour, or the laboured overacting of the cast, but every scene seems to miss its target. The central gag of two overgrown men is exaggerated beyond the chance of any comedy. To be quite frank, if I was part of the cast, I would exclude this film from their family.

WATCH IF: You’re trying to dissuade your other half from having children.
AVOID IF: You dislike Adam Scott playing mean people.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.

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About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Feeling pullovered apart by clothes horses. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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