“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” (2014) Review

 

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” (2014) Review

Following the success of the 2012 movie, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”, Marvel and Sony Pictures continued the SPIDER-MANsaga with the second chapter. Unlike the first movie, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” proved to be quite controversial.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” begins in the past, when Richard and Mary Parker left their son Peter behind with the former’s brother Ben and sister-in-law May. The couple leave New York City on a private jet, but the latter gets hijacked by an assassin. Unfortunately, a deadly fight ensues between the Parkers and the assassin, the pilot is killed and the plane crashes, killing everyone else on board. The story then jumps to the present, which finds Peter as Spider-Man pursuing a criminal named Aleksei Sytsevich on the day he graduates from high school. During the chase, Spider-Man saves OsCorp Industries engineer and ardent fan Max Dillon. Following Peter and girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s graduation, Peter has a vision of her father, NYPD Captain George Stacy, reminding him of a promise he had made to keep Gwen out of his life as Spider-Man. When Peter reminds her, they break up. The young couple eventually reconcile, but Peter also learns that Gwen plans to attend Oxford University on a scholarship.

Peter eventually discovers that he has more to worry about than Gwen’s departure for Europe. While attending to maintenance in an OsCorp laboratory, Max Dillon falls into a tank of genetically modified electric eels and transforms into a being known as Electro. When he wanders into Times Square and causes a blackout, Spider-Man tries to calm him down. But the police attack, causing Max to lose his temper at them and the web-slinger, who eventually captures him. Meanwhile, Peter’s old childhood friend, Harry Osborn returns to New York to see his dying father, OsCorp Industries CEO Norman Osborn. Harry eventually learns that he has inherited a disease that is killing his father. Upon Norman’s death, Harry feverishly searches for a cure to his disease and discovers that Spider-Man’s blood might be able to save him. At the same time, Harry is forced to deal with the corporation’s Board of Directors, who wants to oust him out as CEO. Peter’s personal life and his dealings with both Electro and Harry eventually clash when the two form an alliance on a fatal night.

Before I saw “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2”, I had stumbled across criticisms of the movie that was not so kind. Usually, I try to ignore criticism of any kind, but for once I found it difficult to do so. I did not exactly approach the movie with any high expectations. But to my surprise, I actually found myself enjoying it . . . well, most of it, with the exception of the last 10 to 15 minutes. Mind you,“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” does not exactly reek with any real originality, despite not being based upon any particular past comic book story arc. But Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner and James Vanderbilt created a solid story. This movie featured the origin of at least three Spider-Man villains – the Rhino, Electro and especially the Green Goblin. I thought I would be upset when the story line regarding the disappearance of Peter’s parents would eventually form a connection to the creation of the Green Goblin. But no . . . I did not mind at all. The screenplay accomplished a good deal for me. It continued Peter and Gwen’s romance in a believable way, allowing it to be threatened by Peter’s promise to Captain Stacy and Gwen’s ambitions to study at Oxford. Not many people were fond of the Electro character in this movie, but I was impressed not only by Jamie Foxx’s performance, but also by how the screenwriters handled the character’s story arc from worshipping geek to enraged super villain. I was very impressed by the movie’s opening scene that revealed the details of Richard and Mary Parker’s death. It reeked with good performances, along with plenty of action and suspense. I thought Webb’s direction in this particular scene was first-rate. The scene also benefitted greatly from Pietro Scalia and Elliot Graham.

Harry Osborn’s story arc proved to a bit more problematic for me. Mind you, I had no problem with him becoming the Green Goblin, instead of his father Norman. And I was impressed by Harry’s problems with the OsCorp board members. But the friendship between Peter and Harry was not as firmly established as it was in the three Sam Rami films. I also thought the screenwriters had stretched it a bit by allowing Dr. Parker’s formula to be responsible for the emergence of the Goblin. The idea of a a genetic spider formula being responsible for someone transforming into some kind of malignant green elf does seem somewhat ludicrous. And I wish that the Green Goblin had made his appearance a little earlier in the film, instead of in the last half hour. Of course, this probably means an appearance of the Green Goblin in a future “Amazing Spider-Man” film. Probably. I am not really sure.

But if there is one thing I had no problem with in regard to the Goblin’s appearance in the movie was how it led to Gwen Stacy’s death. Many are in an uproar over the character’s death, due to their fondness of actress Emma Stone’s interpretation of the character and her screen chemistry with lead actor Andrew Garfield. Personally, I saw it coming a mile away. When the Captain Stacy character promised Peter to keep Gwen out of his life before dying in the 2012 film, I knew that sooner or later, Gwen was a goner. The fact that director Marc Webb and the producers have plans to include the Mary Jane Watson character into this particular series of Spider-Man films only confirmed my suspicions. I really enjoyed Stone’s portrayal of Gwen and I found the character’s death rather heartbreaking, but I had no problems with Webb and the screenwriters including her death into the plot. Especially since I thought it was well handled by them.

I had other problems with “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2”. One of the biggest problems I had was the character of Aleksei Sytsevich. It is a good thing that the character had a small appearance in this film, because I really disliked him. One of the problems I had was Paul Giamatti’s performance. I am a big fan of the actor, but his portrayal of the comic book villain has to be one of the worst in his career . . . possibly his worst. I have never encountered such hammy acting in quite a while. And I certainly did not welcome his reappearance in the movie’s finale as the Rhino. One, I had to endure the hammy acting again. And two, his reappearance reminded me of the ending of the 2004 Disney/Pixar animated film, “THE INCREDIBLES”. And the latter handled this same scenario a lot better. In fact, I really do not like the ending. I wish Webb and the screenwriters had simply ended the movie with Sytsevich’s sudden reappearance. But no, they had to subject the movie audiences with this ludicrous scene that featured Spider-Man, the Rhino and some mentally disturbed kid who thought he could serve as Spidey’s replacement. Even worse was the movie’s mid-credit scene that was basically a trailer for the upcoming movie, “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. Really? They could have used the hint of OsCorp’s involvement with the creation of the Secret Six for the mid-credit scene, but . . . no. Webb and the screenwriters thought otherwise. Pity. It is a good thing that I enjoyed most of this film.

But I cannot say the same about two other performances. Felicity Jones was wasted as Harry Osborn’s new assistant, Felicia Hardy. Comic book lovers remember the character as Spider-Man’s most ambiguous lover, the Black Cat. Instead of giving audiences glimpses of the extroverted character, Webb and the screenwriters forced Jones to portray a not-so interesting character with little screen time. But she was not alone. Also wasted in this film was B.J. Novak, who was given one (or possibly two) two scenes as Max Dillon’s supervisor at OsCorp. All he did was sneer at Fox’s Dillon and disappeared from the movie. What a waste! Marton Csokas portrayed Dr. Ashley Kafka, the head of Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane, where the captured Electro . And he did it with a hamminess that almost . . . almost rivaled Giamatti’s performance.

Thankfully, most of the performances were excellent. Aside from his occasional penchant for early Brando-like behavior, Andrew Garfield gave an excellent performance as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. I was especially impressed by his scenes with Sally Field and Emma Stone. Sally Field gave a wonderfully emotional performance as Peter’s Aunt May, especially in one scene in which she admitted to her nephew the difficulties in dealing with life as a widow. Dane DeHaan gave a very interesting and complex performance as the young Harry Osborn. He did a great job in taking Harry’s character from the young man wary over a reunion with his cold, dying father to the inexperienced CEO dealing with backstabbing corporate executives to the super villain with blood on his hands and vengeance in his heart.

Colm Feore appeared in his second Marvel film as OsCorp’s back-stabbing Vice-President Donald Menken and gave a subtle, yet scary performance. Chris Cooper’s portrayal of OsCorp’s CEO Norman Osborn was equally subtle and scary . . . and he was portraying a dying man. As I had earlier stated, I was very impressed by Webb’s direction and the editing featured in the movie’s opening sequence regarding Richard and Mary Parker’s fate. But that scene would have never worked without the skillful performances of Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Peter’s parents.

The two performances that really impressed me came from Jamie Foxx, who gave a surprisingly effective performance as Max Dillon aka Electro and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. There had been some negative criticism regarding Foxx’s performance. But honestly, I was impressed. He did an excellent job in developing the Max Dillon character from an insecure geek with a pathetic crush on Spider-Man, to a very angry super villain with an enormous chip on his shoulder. And I could see why so many were upset over Gwen Stacy’s death in this movie. One has to thank Stone for giving an exceptional performance as the strong-willed, intelligent young woman whom Peter fell in love with. Her performance also struck me as very charismatic.

Yes, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” is not perfect. It featured at least two characters that were criminally underused, two characters that struck me as unbearably hammy, some lack of originality in its plot and a godawful ending that featured a confrontation between Spider-Man and the Rhino. But despite these flaws, I still believe it was a first-class movie thanks to a decent, yet flawed screenplay, excellent direction from Marc Webb and first-class performances from a cast led by Andrew Garfield as the web slinger. I think it is a lot better than many give it credit for.

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Favorite Movies Set in MIAMI

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Miami, Florida: 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN MIAMI

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1. “Bad Boys II” (2003) – Martin Lawrence and Will Smith starred in this hilarious sequel to their 1995 hit film about two Miami cops who, this time, battle a Cuban drug dealer. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie co-starred Gabrielle Union, Jordi Mollà and Joe Pantoliano.

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2. “Miami Vice” (2006) – Michael Mann directed this remake of the 1980s television crime drama about two undercover cops for the Miami-Dade Police, who investigate a Columbian drug lord on behalf of the F.B.I. Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell starred.

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3. “Absence of Malice” (1981) – Paul Newman and Sally Field starred in this high-powered drama about a liquor warehouse owner, whose life begins to unravel when a prosecutor leaks a false story about him being involved in the murder of a union leader. Sydney Pollack directed.

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4. “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003) – Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson starred in this exciting second film in the FAST AND FUIROUS franchise about former cop Brian O’Conner and childhood friend Roman Pearce forced to help the Feds arrest a local Miami drug importer in order to clear their names. Directed by John Singleton, Eva Mendes, Chris Bridges and Cole Hauser co-starred.

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5. “The Crew” (2000) – Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Seymour Cassel and Dan Hedaya starred as four retired mobsters who decide to make one last score to save their apartment at a South Beach retirement home. Directed by Michael Dinner, the movie co-starred Carrie-Anne Moss, Jeremy Piven and Jennifer Tilly.

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6. “Bad Boys” (1995) – Martin Lawrence and Will Smith first starred together in this funny movie as Miami-Dade cops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey; protect a witness to a murder, while investigating a case of missing heroin. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie co-starred Tea Leoni, Tchéky Karyo, Joe Pantoliano and Theresa Randle.

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7. “The Birdcage” (1996) – Mike Nichols directed Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in this funny remake of the 1978 movie “La Cage aux Folles” about a gay couple who pretends to be straight for the conservative parents of their son’s fiancée. Gene Hackman, Dianne Weist, and Dan Futterman co-starred.

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8. “Marley & Me” (2008) – Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston starred in this heartwarming adaptation of John Grogan’s 2005 book about the experiences of a journalist and his family with their incorrigible Labrador Retriever. The movie was directed by David Frankel.

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9. “A Hole in the Head” (1959) – Frank Capra directed this engaging comedy about a womanizing widower who struggles to raise his son and hang on to his small Miami Beach hotel. The movie starred Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, and Edward G. Robinson.

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10. “Moon Over Miami” (1941) – Betty Grable and Carole Landis starred in this charming musical about two Texas sisters who move to Miami in order to meet and marry millionaires. Directed by Walter Lang, the movie also starred Don Ameche and Robert Cummings.

“LINCOLN” (2012) Review

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“LINCOLN” (2012) Review

When I first heard of Steven Spielberg’s decision to make a biographical film about the 16th president of the United States, I ended up harboring a good deal of assumptions about the movie. I heard Spielberg had planned to focus on Abraham Lincoln’s last year in office and assumed the movie would be set between the spring of 1864 and April 1865. I had assumed the movie would be about Lincoln’s various problems with his military generals and other politicians. I thought it would be a more focused similarity to the 1998 miniseries of the same name.

In the end, “LINCOLN” proved to be something quite different. Partly based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 biography of Lincoln and his Cabinet members, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”, the movie mainly focused on Lincoln’s efforts in January 1865 to have slavery abolished in the country, by getting the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the House of Representatives. According to Tony Kutchner’s screenplay, Lincoln expected the Civil War to end within a month. He felt concerned that his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation may be discarded by the courts at the war’s conclusion and the 13th Amendment defeated by the returning slave states. To ensure that the 13th Amendment is added to the Constitution, Lincoln wanted it passed by the end of January in order to remove any possibility of those slaves who had already been freed, being re-enslaved. To reach his goal, Lincoln needed Republican party founder Francis Blair to garner support from the more conservative Republicans and support from Democratic congressmen, who would ordinarily vote against such an amendment. In order to acquire Blair’s support, Lincoln was forced to consider a peace conference with three political representatives from the Confederacy. And his Secretary of State, William Seward, recruits three lobbyists – William N. Bilbo, Colonel Robert Latham and Richard Schell – to convince lame duck Democratic congressmen to support the amendment.

I am surprised that the movie went through a great deal in crediting Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book as a major source for the movie. Very surprised. I own a copy of the book and know for a fact that only four-and-a-half pages are devoted to the Thirteenth Amendment and five-and-half pages are devoted to the Peace Conference with Confederate political leaders. If so little came from Goodwin’s book, where did Tony Kutchner receive most of his historical information for the movie? And if he did use other historical sources, why did Spielberg failed to credit other historical sources for the movie?

I recall watching the trailer for “LINCOLN” and found myself slightly repelled by it. As someone who had to endure a great deal of pompous and self-righteous dialogue in a good number of historical dramas, I noticed that the trailer seemed to be full it. Fortunately, the movie was only tainted by a few scenes featuring pompous dialogue. One of those scenes turned out to be Lincoln’s meeting with four Union soldiers – two blacks and two whites. Of the four soldiers, only the first black soldier – portrayed by Colman Domingo – managed to engage in a relaxed conversation with the President. The two white soldiers behaved like ardent fanboys in Lincoln’s presence and one of them – portrayed by actor Luke Haas – ended up reciting the Gettysburg Address. The scene ended with the other black soldier – portrayed by British actor David Oyelowo – also reciting the speech. Not only did I find this slightly pompous, but also choked with Spielberg’s brand of sentimentality, something I have never really cared for. Following Lincoln’s death, Spielberg and Kutchner ended the movie with a flashback of the President reciting his second inaugural address. I cannot say how the pair should have ended the movie. But I wish they had not done with a speech. All it did was urge me to leave the movie theater as soon as possible. Janusz Kamiński is a first-rate cinematographer, but I can honestly say that I found his photography in “LINCOLN” not particularly impressive. In fact, I found it rather drab. Drab colors in a costume picture is not something I usually look forward to.

The movie also featured a few historical inaccuracies. Usually, I have nothing against this if it works for the story. The problem is that the inaccuracies in “LINCOLN” did not serve the story. I found them unnecessary. Lincoln’s meeting with the four Union soldiers allowed Oyelowo’s character to expressed his displeasure at the U.S. Army’s lack of black officers and the indignity of pay lower than white soldiers. The problem with this rant is that before January 1865, the U.S. Army had at least 100 to 200 black officers. And Congress had granted equal pay and benefits to black troops by June 1864. Thirty-three year-old actor Lee Pace portrayed Democratic New York Congressman Fernando Wood, an ardent opponent of abolition. In reality, Wood was at least 52 years old in January 1865. Another scene featured a White House reception that featured a meeting between First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and some of the Radical Republicans like Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. Kutchner had Mary face Senator Sumner with a warm greeting, before she deliberately cut him off to face Congressman Stevens. The movie made it clear that the First Lady disliked the Radical Republicans, whom she viewed as personal enemies of her husband. Yet, the manner in which she disregarded Senator Sumner was completely misleading . . . especially since the senator and the First Lady had been close friends since the early months of Lincoln’s presidency. In reality, Mary Lincoln’s political views were more radical than her husband’s. But due to her background as the daughter of a Kentucky slaveowner, most of the Radical Republicans viewed her as soft on abolition and a possible Confederate sympathizer.

Thankfully, the good in “LINCOLN” outweighed the bad. More than outweighed the bad. Recalling my original assumption that “LINCOLN” would turn out to be some pretentious film weighed down by boring dialogue and speeches, I can happily say that the movie’s look at American politics during the Civil War proved to be a great deal more lively. Yes, the movie did feature a few pretentious scenes. However, “LINCOLN” turned out to be a tightly woven tale about the 16th President’s efforts to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed by the end of January 1865. In many ways, the movie’s plot reminded me of the 2007 film, “AMAZING GRACE”, which featured William Wilberforce’s effort to abolish Britain’s slave trade during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Unlike the 2007, “LINCOLN” proved to be more tightly focused and featured a more earthy and sometimes humorous look at American politics at play. One of the movie’s successes proved to be its focus on the efforts of the three lobbyists, whom I ended up dubbing the “Three Musketeers”, to recruit lame duck Democrats to vote for passage of the amendment. In fact these scenes featuring James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson proved to be among the funniest in the film. The movie also featured the tribulations Lincoln experienced with his immediate family – namely the volatile behavior of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and his oldest son Robert Lincoln’s determination to join the Army – during this difficult period in which his attention toward the amendment’s passage. More importantly, the movie on a political situation rarely mentioned in movies about Lincoln – namely the political conflicts that nearly divided the Republican Party during the Civil War. Not only did Lincoln find himself at odds with leading Democrats such as Fernando Wood of New York and George Pendleton of Ohio; but also with Radical Republicans such as Thaddeus Stevens who distrusted Lincoln’s moderate stance on abolition and even his fellow conservative Republicans like Frances and Montgomery Blair, whose push for reconciliation with the Confederates threatened the amendment.

Now one might say that is a lot for a 150 minutes film about the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. And they would be right. But for some reason, it worked, thanks to Spielberg’s direction and Kutchner’s screenplay. One, for a movie with a running time between two to three hours, I found it well paced. Not once did the pacing dragged to a halt or put me to sleep. “LINCOLN” also attracted a good number of criticism from certain circles. Some have pointed out that the film seemed to claim that Lincoln kick started the campaign for the amendment. The movie never really made this claim. Historians know that the Republican controlled U.S. Senate had already passed the amendment back in April 1864. But the Republicans did not control the House of Representatives and it took another nine-and-a-half months to get the House to pass it. For reasons that still baffle many historians, Lincoln suddenly became interested in getting the amendment passed before his second inauguration – something that would have been unnecessary if he had waited for a Republican controlled Congress two months later.

Many had complained about the film’s oversimplification of African-Americans’ roles in the abolition of slavery. I would have agreed if the film’s focus on abolition had been a little more broad and had began during the war’s first year; or if it had been about the role of blacks in the abolition of slavery during the war. Actually, I am still looking forward to a Hollywood production on Frederick Douglass, but something tells me I will be holding my breath. But with the movie mainly focused on the final passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, I suspect this would not have been possible. Some claimed that the African-American merely hung around and waited for the amendment’s passage. I would have agreed if it were not for Lincoln’s encounter with the Union soldiers at the beginning of the film; Lincoln valet William Slade’s day-to-day dealings with the First Family, and the film’s focus on Elizabeth Keckley’s attention to the political wrangling surrounding the amendment. One scene focused on Mrs. Keckley’s conversation with Lincoln on the consequences of the amendment and another featured a tense moment in which she walked out on the proceedings after Thaddeus Stevens was forced to refute his earlier claims about equality between the races in order to win further Democratic support.

Aside from my complaints about the movie’s drab photography, I can honestly say that from a visual point of view,“LINCOLN” did an excellent job in re-creating Washington D.C. during the last year of the Civil War. Production designer Rick Carter really had his work cut out and as far as I am concerned, he did a superb job. He was ably assisted by the art direction team of Curt Beech, David Crank and Leslie McDonald, who still helped to make 1865 Washington D.C. rather colorful, despite the drab photography; along with Jim Erickson and Peter T. Frank’s set decorations. And I found Joanna Johnston’s costumes absolutely exquisite. The scene featuring the Lincolns’ reception at the White House was a perfect opportunity to admire Johnston’s re-creation of mid 19th century fashion. I can honestly say that I did not find John Williams’ score for the movie particularly memorable. But I cannot deny that it blended very well with the story and not a note seemed out of place.

“LINCOLN” not only featured a very large cast, but also a great number of first-rate performances. It would take me forever to point out the good performances one-by one, so I will focus on those that really caught my attention. The man of the hour is Daniel Day-Lewis, who has deservedly won accolades for his portrayal of the 16th President. I could go into rapture over his performance, but what is the point? It is easy to see that Abraham Lincoln could be viewed as one of his best roles and that he is a shoe-in for an Oscar nod. If Day-Lewis is the man of the hour, then I can honestly say that Sally Field came out of this film as “the woman of the hour. She did a beautiful job in recapturing not only Mary Todd Lincoln’s volatile nature, but political shrewdness. Like Day-Lewis, she seemed to be a shoe-in for an Oscar nod. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens has been featured as a character in at least three Hollywood productions. In pro-conservative movies like 1915’s “BIRTH OF A NATION” (upon which the Austin Stoneman character is based) and the 1942 movie on Andrew Johnson called “TENNESSEE JOHNSON”, he has been portrayed as a villain. But in “LINCOLN”, he is portrayed as a fierce and courageous abolitionist by the always wonderful Tommy Lee Jones. The actor did a superb job in capturing the Pennsylvania congressman’s well-known sarcastic wit and determination to end slavery in the U.S. for all time. I would be very surprised if he does not early an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor.

But there were other first-rate performances that also caught my attention. David Strathairn did an excellent and subtle job in capturing the politically savy Secretary of State William H. Seward. Joseph Gordon-Levitt managed to impress me for the third time this year, in his tense and emotional portrayal of the oldest Lincoln sibling, Robert Lincoln, who resented his father’s cool behavior toward him and his mother’s determination to keep him out of the Army. Hal Holbrook, who portrayed Lincoln in two television productions) gave a colorful performance as Lincoln crony, Francis Blair. Gloria Reuben gave a subtle performance as Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker and companion, Elizabeth Keckley, who displayed an intense interest in the amendment’s passage. James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson gave hilarious performances as the three lobbyists hired by Lincoln and Seward to recruit support of the amendment from lame duck Democrats. Stephen Henderson was deliciously sarcastic as Lincoln’s long suffering valet, William Slade. Lee Pace gave a surprisingly effective performance as long-time abolition opponent, Fernando Wood. And I was also impressed by Jackie Earle Haley’s cool portrayal of Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy.

As I had stated earlier, I was not really prepared to enjoy “LINCOLN”, despite its Civil War setting. To be honest, the last Spielberg movie I had really enjoyed was 2005’s “MUNICH”. And after the 2011 movie, “WAR HORSE”, I wondered if he had lost his touch. I am happy to say that with “LINCOLN”, he has not. Spielberg could have easily laden this film with over-the-top sentimentality and pretentious rhetoric. Thankfully, his portrayal of pre-20th century American politics proved to be not only exciting, but also colorful. And he had great support from a first-rate production team, Tony Kutchner’s superb screenplay, and excellent performances from a cast led by Daniel Day-Lewis. The Civil War had not been this interesting in quite a while.

List of Favorite Movies and Television Miniseries About Slavery

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With the recent releases of Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “LINCOLN” and Quentin Tarrantino’s latest film, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, I found myself thinking about movies I have seen about slavery – especially slavery practiced in the United States. Below is a list of my favorite movies on the subject in chronological order: 

 

LIST OF FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION MINISERIES ABOUT SLAVERY

13-Skin Game

“Skin Game” (1971) – James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr. co-starred in this unusual comedy about two antebellum drifter who pull the “skin game” – a con that involves one of them selling the other as a slave for money before the pair can escape and pull the same con in another town. Paul Bogart directed.

 

9-Mandingo

“Mandingo” (1975) – Reviled by many critics as melodramatic sleaze, this 1975 adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s 1957 novel revealed one of the most uncompromising peeks into slave breeding in the American South, two decades before the Civil War. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the movie starred James Mason, Perry King, Brenda Sykes, Susan George and Ken Norton.

 

2-Roots

“Roots” (1977) – David Wolper produced this television miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s 1976 about his mother’s family history as American slaves during a century long period between the mid-18th century and the end of the Civil War. LeVar Burton, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Georg Sanford Brown and Lou Gossett Jr. starred.

 

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“A Woman Called Moses” (1978) – Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries about the life and career of Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, who was the most successful conductor of the Underground Railroad during the last decade before the Civil War. Based on Marcy Heidish’s book, the miniseries was directed by Paul Wendkos.

 

3-Half Slave Half Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

“Half-Slave, Half-Free: Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this television adaptation of free born Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography about his twelve years as a slave in antebellum Louisiana. Gordon Parks directed.

 

4-North and South

“North and South” (1985) – David Wolper produced this television adaptation of John Jakes’ 1982 novel about the experiences of two American families and the growing discord over slavery during the twenty years before the American Civil War. Patrick Swayze and James Read starred.

 

6-Race to Freedom - The Underground Railroad

“Race to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad” (1994) – Actor Tim Reid produced this television movie about four North Carolina slaves’ escape to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred.

 

10-The Journey of August King

“The Journey of August King” (1996) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about an early 19th century North Carolina farmer who finds himself helping a female slave escape from her master and slave catchers. John Duigan directed.

 

8-A Respectable Trade

“A Respectable Trade” (1998) – Emma Fielding, Ariyon Bakare and Warren Clarke starred in this television adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s 1992 novel about the forbidden love affair between an African born slave and the wife of his English master in 18th century Bristol. Suri Krishnamma directed.

 

11-Mansfield Park 1999

“Mansfield Park” (1999) – Slavery is heavily emphasized in Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young English woman’s stay with her rich relatives during the first decade of the 19th century. Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller starred.

 

7-Human Trafficking

“Human Trafficking” (2005) – Mira Sorvino starred in this miniseries about the experiences of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent investigating the modern day sex slave trafficking business. Donald Sutherland and Robert Caryle co-starred.

 

5-Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” (2007) – Michael Apted directed this account of William Wilberforce’s campaign against the slave trade throughout the British Empire in Parliament. Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Romola Garai Rufus Sewell and Albert Finney starred.

 

12-Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012) – History and the supernatural merged in this interesting adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel about the 16th president’s activities as a vampire hunter. Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie and Mary Elizabeth Winstead starred.

 

1-Lincoln

“Lincoln” (2012) – Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed the 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s fascinating account of Lincoln’s efforts to end U.S. slavery, by having Congress pass the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones co-starred.

 

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“Django Unchained” (2012) – Quentin Tarantino directed this take on Spaghetti Westerns about a slave-turned-bounty hunter and his mentor, who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson starred.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” (2012) Review

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“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” (2012) Review

Five years after the release of 2007’s “SPIDER-MAN 3”, Sony Pictures and Marvel Films decided to release a newSPIDER-MAN movie. The latter proved not to be a third sequel to the 2002 movie, “SPIDER-MAN”. Instead, it turned out to be a franchise re-boot featuring a new actor in the lead and the first film of a new trilogy. 

With Andrew Garfield now portraying Peter Parker aka Spider-Man and Marc Webb directing, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” commenced upon an entirely new saga about the web slinger. In this film, Peter is a geeky high school student and science major who lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in a suburb of Queens, New York. At least a decade earlier, he had witnessed the mysterious disappearance of his father and mother, scientist Richard Parker and his wife, Mary. After discovering his father’s old briefcase, Peter makes the acquaintance of the latter’s former lab partner, Dr. Curt Connors, who is now working as a geneticist at Oscorp. Dr. Connors is working on cross-breeding experiments in order to discover a formula based on lizard DNA in order to regenerate missing limbs. During his first trip to Oscorp’s Manhattan offices, he discovers that the fellow Midtown High School student that he loves, Gwen Stacy, is working there as the chief intern. Peter is also bitten by a genetically engineered spider.

During the subway ride home, Peter becomes aware of his new abilities. He also continues his visits to Dr. Connors at Oscorp. His new powers and visits to Oscorp lead to his growing neglect of his household duties. Peter also manages to help Dr. Connors by giving the latter Richard Parker’s “decay rate algorithm”, the missing piece in the scientist’s experiments. After a quarrel with Uncle Ben, Peter storms out of the house and the latter hit the streets looking for him. Unfortunately for Uncle Ben, he encounters a thief who had just robbed a convenience store and is shot dead. Determined to find his uncle’s murderer, Peter decides to assume the identity of the costumed vigilante, Spider-Man. When Oscorp executive Dr. Rajit Ratha decides to fire Dr. Connors and use the latter’s formula at a VA hospital under the guise of a flue shot, Connors tries the formula on himself and becomes the human/lizard hybrid, the Lizard.

Many Marvel and Spider-Man fans had complained about the lack of need for a Spider-Man re-boot so soon after the last Sam Rami film. What many did not know was that Sony Pictures had signed a deal, guaranteeing major control over the Spider-Man franchise as long as the studio releases a movie every five years or less. Sony originally had plans for a fourth Spider-Man movie with both Rami and actor Tobey Maguire. But the plans fell through and the studio decided to re-boot the franchise with a new actor, a new director and a new trilogy.

Some fans and critics claimed that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” was a lot closer to the original comics tale than the Rami films. I found this claim ironic, considering that the movie proved to be no more faithful to the comics than the films made in the last decade. Comic book fans know that Peter Parker’s first love was Betty Brandt, whom he dated in high school and who eventually became J. Jonah Jamerson’s secretary at The Daily Bugle. Peter met both Gwen Stacy (of this movie) and Mary Jane Watson (from the 2002-2007 films) in college, not high school. He was a lot younger when his parents died. But hey . . . I managed to enjoy both the Rami/Maguire trilogy and this film.

That is correct. I enjoyed “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”. It had plenty of well choreographed action. The special effects team from the Pixomundo company did an excellent job with the action sequences featuring Spider-Man’s battles with the Lizard. The company’s efforts were ably supported by Marc Webb’s direction and the three cinematographers – Alan Edward Bell, Michael McCusker and Pietro Scalia. One of my few complaints about“SPIDER-MAN” was that the film almost seemed like two separate stories. I could never accuse “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” of that flaw. Screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves made sure that Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man and Dr. Connors’ transformation into the Lizard were connected plot-wise. After all, Peter’s visit to Connor at the Oscorp labs led to his painful encounter with a genetically altered spider. And the visit, along with Peter’s discovery of his father’s notes, led to the creation of the formula that enabled Connors to become the Lizard.

The movie also boasted some excellent performances by the cast. Andrew Garfield was outstanding as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. He did an excellent job of portraying a fatherless boy in search of a father figure, who is forced to grow up on his own. Emma Stone portrayed Gwen Stacy, the girl whom Peter dated during his early years in college. Stone’s Gwen was a smart, witty and earthy young woman who found herself torn between Peter and her father’s opinion of Spider-Man and vigilantism. Another excellent performance came from Rhys Ifan, who did an excellent job in revealing the complex man whose disappointments in life led him to utilize the formula that transformed him into the Lizard. He also managed to convey Connor’s darker personality through the CGI figure of the Lizard.

Other first-rate performances came from Denis Leary, who portrayed Gwen’s father – NYPD Captain George Stacy. The latter role seemed a slight cry from Leary’s usual roles. Although he managed to utilize his usual rapid fire wit, Leary also conveyed the image of a stern and responsible man, who harbored concerns not only for his daughter, but also the citizens of New York City. Martin Sheen and Sally Field created excellent chemistry as Ben and May Parker, the couple left to raise Peter after his parents’ death. It is a crime that the pair never worked together before, because I thought they really crackled with chemistry. I could say that both had great chemistry with Garfield, as well. But I feel that Sheen had more interesting scenes with the young actor than Field. Irrfan Khan had to be convinced by his children to take the role of Oscorp executive, Dr. Rajit Ratha (a character created for the movie). I am glad they did, for he proved to be very effective as a shadowy representative for the corporation’s reclusive CEO, Norman Oscorp. The movie also boasted solid performances from Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson; and from Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Richard and Mary Parker, Peter’s parents.

I will not deny that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” was a very entertaining movie for me. But it had its flaws. One, there seemed to be a minor lack of originality in the script. A good deal of the story seemed to be borrowed from the previous SPIDER-MAN movies. As with Maguire’s Peter, Garfield’s Peter started out with an unrequited crush with the leading female character. And Dr. Connors’ career faced extinction, just as Dr. Otto Octavius did in“SPIDER-MAN 2”. However, the movie also borrowed a subplot from the 2000 movie, “X-MEN”. Just as Erik Lensherr plotted to transform the world’s population into mutants via a machine, the Lizard in this movie, plotted to transform New York City’s population into reptilian/human hybrids. In fact, his scheme struck me as lame. The problem for me laid in the fact that Connors did not transform into the Lizard, until the second half of the movie.

Speaking of the Lizard, as much as I had admired Ifans’ performance, I was not that impressed by the villain’s role as Spider-Man’s foe. I mean, honestly . . . the idea of Spider-Man facing a giant lizard rampaging all over Manhattan did not do anything for me. Frankly, I saw dealing with the problem of the Lizard as a job for the Men in Black, not Spider-Man. Everyone seemed to be filled with praise for Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy . . . including me. However, I had a problem with the screenwriters’ portrayal of Gwen in this movie. Frankly, she seemed too perfect . . . too ideal. She lacked any real personal demons that could have made her interesting to me. I could never say the same about the comic book Gwen – even if she had a tendency to be a crybaby.

Could someone explain why Peter suddenly decided to end his search for the thief who had killed his Uncle Ben? It seemed as if the entire subplot had been dropped. And what happened to Dr. Ratha after Peter saved him on the Williamsburg Bridge? I have one last complaint . . . and it has to do with C. Thomas Howell’s character, a construction worker named Ray. In the Williamsburg Bridge sequence, Spider-Man saved Ray’s son from falling into the East River. Ray reciprocated Spider-Man’s actions during the latter’s final battle with the Lizard by using several cranes to help convey the web slinger (who had been shot in the leg by the NYPD) to Oscorp’s tower, in order to stop the Lizard from using the formula on New Yorkers. I found that minor scene so incredibly cheesy that I practically cringed with embarrassment. It seemed as if the screenwriters were trying to re-create those moments from two of Sam Rami’s films in which New Yorkers came to Spider-Man’s aid. Only in this movie, I found Ray’s actions embarrassing, not inspirational.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” had much for me to admire. It had excellent performances from the cast led by Andrew Garfield. Marc Webb’s direction in the action sequences and intimate scenes was first-rate. And the screenwriters managed to avoid the mistake from the Sam Rami 2002 film of creating a fragmented plot. Unfortunately, I believe that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” had other flaws – including a lack of originality – that made it difficult for me to embrace the idea that it was the best SPIDER-MAN movie ever made.

“WESTWARD HO!”: Part Two – “THE WAY WEST” (1967)

Below is Part Two to my article about Hollywood’s depiction about the westward migration via wagon trains in 19th century United States. It focuses upon the 1967 movie, “”

“WESTWARD HO!”: Part Two – “THE WAY WEST” (1967)

I. Introduction

Based upon A.B. Guthrie Jr.’s 1949 novel, “THE WAY WEST” told the story of a large wagon train’s journey to Oregon in 1843. The wagon train is led by a widowed former U.S. Senator named William Tadlock (Kirk Douglas). A former mountain man named Dick Summers (Robert Mitchum) is hired as the wagon party’s guide and among the last to join the train is farmer Lije Evans (Richard Widmark), his wife Rebecca (Lola Albright)and their 16 year-old son Brownie (Michael McGreevey); who were living near Independence when the wagon train was being formed.

During the journey to Oregon, the movie introduced audiences with the other members of the wagon train. They included a family from Georgia named the McBees (Harry Carey Jr., Connie Sawyer and Sally Field), and the recently married Johnnie and Amanda Mack (Mike Witney and Katherine Justice). Personal friendships and animosities flourished during the 2,000 miles journey. Summers managed to befriend both Lije and Brownie Evans. The latter fell in love with the McBees’ extroverted daughter Mercy, who developed a crush on Johnnie Mack. The latter had difficulty consummating his marriage with a sexually unresponsive wife. Frustrated, Mack turned to Mercy for a brief tryst. Senator Tadlock proved to be an intimidating, yet manipulative leader. Only two people dared to question his decisions – Summers and Lije. Especially the latter. Although willing to question Tadlock’s leadership, Lije was reluctant to replace him as the wagon party’s new leader.

“THE WAY WEST” received a good deal of negative criticisms. It has also been compared to “HOW THE WEST WAS WON” to its detriment. I plan to write a review of “THE WAY WEST” in the future. But right now, I am more interested in how the movie fared in regard to historical accuracy.

II. History vs. Hollywood

The Tadlock wagon party headed for Oregon Territory in 1843, the year known as “The Great Migration of 1843” or the “Wagon Train of 1843”, in which an estimated 700 to 1,000 emigrants left for Oregon. The number of emigrants in Tadlock’s party and the year in which the movie is set, seemed historically accurate. “THE WAY WEST” also featured a few well-known landmarks along the Oregon Trail. Such landmarks included Chimney Rock, Scott’s Bluff, Independence Rock and Fort Hall. Fort Laramie did not play a role in the movie’s plot.

So far, “THE WAY WEST” seemed to be adhering to historical accuracy. Unfortunately, this did not last. One, the wagons featured in the movie came in all shapes and sizes. They ranged from farm wagons to large Conestoga wagons. I cannot even describe the wagon used by the McFee family. It was not as heavy as a Conestoga, but it was long enough to convey Mr. McFee’s peach tree saplings across the continent. The draft animals used by the emigrants turned out to be a mêlée of oxen, mules and horses. The movie did point out the necessity of abandoning unnecessary possessions to lighten the wagons’ loads. Only, it was pointed out when the wagon party attempted to ascend a very steep slope what looked like the in Idaho.

“THE WAY WEST” did not feature a large-scale attack by a horde of Native Americans. But the movie came damn near close to including one. The wagon party first encountered a group of Cheyenne warriors not far from Independence Rock. When one of the emigrants, Johnnie Mack, mistook a chief’s young son hidden underneath a wolf’s skin as a real wolf and shot him, the wagon train made tracks in order to avoid retribution. The Cheyenne caught up with the wagon party and demanded the head of the boy’s killer. The other emigrants declared they were willing to fight it out with the Cheyenne, until they discovered they would be facing a large horde of warriors. In the end, Mr. Mack confessed to the crime and allowed himself to be hanged, in order to spare Brownie Evans from being handed over to the Cheyenne by Tadlock.

Dramatically, I found this sequence to be effective. I admired how director Andrew V. McLaglen developed the tension between the emigrants, Senator Tadlock and the Cheyenne demanding justice. Historically, I found it a mess. The number of Cheyenne warriors that had gathered for the sake of one boy struck me as very improbable. The only times I could recall that many Native Americans gathering at one spot was the council for the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the Battle of Little Bighorn. And considering that the Cheyenne nation were spread out from the Black Hills in present-day South Dakota to southern Colorado, I found this encounter between the Tadlock wagon party and the Cheyenne historically improbable.

“THE WAY WEST” fared somewhat better than “HOW THE WEST WAS WON” in regard to historical accuracy. But I found it lacking in some aspects of the plot. Like the 1962 movie, “THE WAY WEST” proved to be more entertaining than historically accurate.

Top Ten Favorite ROAD TRIP Movies

Below is a list of my ten favorite ROAD TRIP movies: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE ROAD TRIP MOVIES

1. “Midnight Run” (1988) – Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin starred in this hilarious movie about a bounty hunter who escorts his prisoner from New York City to Los Angeles. Martin Brest directed.

2. “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) – Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason starred in this fun and witty tale about two Georgia truckers hired to illegally transport beer from Texarkana to Atlanta within 28 hours. Hal Needham directed.

3. “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950) – This Oscar nominated film was the second adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel about an expedition into uncharted African territory to locate a missing explorer looking for the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and Richard Carlson starred.

4. “LORD OF THE RINGS: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – This first of three installments from Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy saga about an epic quest to destroy an ancient and powerful ring is my favorite.Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellan starred.

5. “It Happened One Night” (1934) – Frank Capra directed Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in this Oscar winning classic comedy about a runaway heiress and a roguish reporter on a cross country trip.

6. “Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad” – A small group of North Carolina slaves risk their lives for a cross country bid for freedom in Canada. Produced by actor Tim Reid, this excellent television movie starred Courtney B. Vance, Janet Bailey and Glynn Thurman.

7. HARRY POTTER and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” – David Yates directed the first half of the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s 2007 novel about Harry Potter’s attempts to find the means to destroy Lord Voldemort, while evading the evil wizard throughout Britain. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson starred.

8. “Cold Mountain” (2003) – Anthony Minghella directed this emotional and satisfying adaptation of Charles Frazer’s novel about a Confederate Army deserter’s journey back to his North Carolina home during the Civil War. Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Oscar winner Rene Zellweger starred.

9. “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004) – Walter Salles directed this excellent adaptation of Che Guevara’s memoirs about his 1952 motocycle journey across South America. Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna starred.

10. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris directed this entertaining comedy-drama about a family’s cross country trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to a children’s beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Oscar winner Alan Arkin starred.