Thursday, July 26, 2012

People Like Us Trimmed Review

To be completely honest, I saw People Like Us several weeks ago; I just never sat down to record my thoughts.  A sign of a good film (or at least a decent one) is that it leaves you with something to take away from it, whether it be an interesting story, fascinating characters, great dialogue.  Fortunately, PLU is one of those films.  While not revolutionary or anything stellar, it told a solid story, with fantastic actors putting in great performances.

PLU is based upon a true story (I haven't done any research into the validity of this claim): Sam's (Chris Pine) father, a famous Hollywood record producer, passes away and he's called back to his home for the funeral.  Upon meeting with his father's attorney, Sam learns that all he was left was his father's "shaving kit," which contained quite a bit of money and a note asking to take care of someone named Josh.  Sam eventually discovers that his father had a daughter, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), with another woman.  The bulk of the story deals with the ripples of this discovery in Sam's life: does he keep the money and forget about them?  Should he give them the money and walk away?  Perhaps get to know them?  What follows is a character-driven narrative that is incredibly fascinating and engaging to watch.

The true strength of PLU are the characters and the performances put into those characters.  I absolutely loved the entire cast and the work they put in.  Chris Pine's Sam is a deeply flawed and conflicted man who is trying to do the right thing at the possible detriment of his personal life; his girlfriend, Hannah (played by Olivia Wilde) returns to California upon learning that he may keep the money for himself and he is in potential legal trouble due to his business dealings.  He neglects his personal life and remains at home with his mother - the ever-fantastic Michelle Pfeiffer - who has some secrets of her own.  Elizabeth Banks' Frankie is a complicated woman with a complicated life; she's a single mother trying to provide for her son, Josh.  The narrative weaves in and out of Sam's, Frankie's lives and their increasingly-frequent interactions.  The relationship built between the two is incredibly natural and a joy to watch unfold; and indeed it eventually unfolds in a heart-wrenching climax that was painful, poignant, and incredibly well-done.

While nothing spectacular, PLU is a very solid character drama, and a fantastic feature directorial debut from Alex Kurtzman.  The only real complaint I had with the film is that it dragged at times; with a run-time of almost two hours, probably 20-30 minutes could've been trimmed here and there to make it more of a tightly woven narrative piece.  That said, I enjoyed it immensely and would highly recommend it.

People Like Us is an engaging, well-executed character drama.

The Bearded Bullet

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Review

To be completely honest, I could sit here and discuss Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy till my fingers can't physically type any more (so I'll try not to ramble).  This includes his latest directorial effort, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR).  I have a personal connection to TDKR, not simply because I regard The Dark Knight as one of my all-time favorite films, but because I and two of my closest friends were extras in the film's Gotham Rogues football game.  Its quite an understatement to say that I was greatly anticipating TDKR; since the moment the credits rolled on The Dark Knight I began discussing and speculating on what could follow such an astounding work of cinematic mastery.  What ended up following that masterwork is a film that, while nowhere perfect its in own right, manages to perfectly wrap up Nolan's trilogy in ways that I couldn't have dreamt.

Obviously, I have quite a bit to say about TDKR, but luckily what issues I do have with the film don't require a spoiler tag (I may spoil parts of the previous films in the trilogy, however); therefore, let's get the negative out of the way.  My main complaints with the film reside almost solely within the third act (which is interesting to note, considering upon my first viewing - I've seen it twice now - I took issue with the first act) and the events that lead up to the epilogue of the film.  The previous films in the series, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both had incredibly interesting third acts with fantastic final set-piece finales.  In Begins we saw Batman battling Ra's Al Ghul aboard a speeding train, carrying a high-powered microwave emitter that's dispersing an hallucinogenic compound into Gotham.  In TDK the Joker presented 30,000 of Gotham's citizens with a moral dilemma while battling it out with Batman, all the while Harvey Dent is rounding up commissioner Gordon's family.  TDKR's final moments boiled down to relatively nothing more than a trope-filled, typical action movie-inspired finale that is sure to please the more action-inclined film-goers.  To be clear, I didn't hate the final scenes of the film; rather, I wished for something a bit less...actiony.  There are bits of finale tropes sprinkled throughout the final action set-piece that just left me wanting a bit more.

The scope of TDKR is quite larger than its predecessors, as is the time that passes in the film.  As a result, large jumps in time are taken (weeks and even months at a time), and so do our characters.  There is one specific moment involving Bruce Wayne that I wish would've been given a least one prior scene to set up.  And to be honest, the film is just plain confusing at times.  Its not the fairly complex and layered narrative, but just small bits of dialogue or how a certain character knew something when they shouldn't have.  There are a few plot holes and narrative hiccups on display throughout the film that stop it from becoming a masterpiece like The Dark Knight.

Now that that's all out of the way I can begin to gush over how much I truly enjoyed TDKR.  My expectations for what was to come were through the roof, and somehow Christopher Nolan met and exceeded my lofty expectations.  There's just some really great stuff on display throughout the lengthy 164-minute run time.  From a narrative standpoint, TDKR exists to wrap up the arcs of some the characters and plot threads that were first introduced way back in Batman Begins and to also continue some of the beats present in TDK, namely the death of Harvey Dent.  Dent's death shocked Gotham into action.  Over 1,000 criminals were arrested and interred in Blackgate Prison with the passing of the "Dent Act."  Dent Act + Batman as a criminal = Bruce Wayne retiring Batman and living as a recluse for 8 years.  A terroristic mercenary, Bane, shows up in Gotham and Bruce comes out of retirement.  I won't say much else beyond that, including what through-lines are present from Begins.  Part of the joy of watching TDKR is seeing things come full circle in a fantastic way.

As is the case with all of Nolan's films, the cast of The Dark Knight Rises is simply stellar; those returning are just as good, if not better than they were in the past.  Bale's Bruce Wayne is a much older, broken man.  He's not the young adventurer he was once, and Bale plays it with aplomb.  Gary Oldman continues to put in fantastic performances time and time again (even if his character is virtually wasted mid-way through the finale).  Morgan Freeman is still incredibly entertaining as Lucius Fox, and Michael Cane's Alfred Pennyworth is still looking after Bruce as he did when Bruce was a child.  Most of the newcomers make fantastic additions.  Marion Cotillard doesn't have all that much to do as Miranda Tate (Wayne Enterprises board member) but is great in the role.  Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle (never actually referred to as "Catwoman") owned every scene she was in; Kyle is the perfect con artist.  She can play calm, confident, scared, enraged, and meek depending up on what the situation calls for.  I was pleasantly surprised by performance.  I'm a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and he was great as rookie cop John Blake.

The character that steals the show, for me, is that of Bane.  Played by the masterful Tom Hardy, Bane, simply put, is one of the most menacing, terrifying, and brutal antagonists that I've ever seen on the silver screen.  As Ben Mendelsohn's Daggett (an incredibly whiny, off-putting performance) put it, "[Bane] is pure evil."  He will do literally anything and everything he can to reach his goals.  What Bane lacks in intellectual finesse is made up for in brute physical strength.  If the Joker put Batman's mind to the test, then Bane exists solely to test Batman's body.  As such, there are two fantastic brawls between the two that are feel raw, real, and bone-crunching.  Bane's goal is the loftiest of all the villains of the trilogy, and are at a scope that I simply marveled at.

Much discussion will be made as to how each film of the trilogy stacks up to one another and in what order.  As of right now, for me The Dark Knight still has the top spot.  While Bane is a force of nature that pushed Batman to his limits, Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker is leaps and bounds above anything present in TDKR.  Don't get me wrong, Tom Hardy is an unbelievable performer and is great as Bane, but the problem is that Hardy's performance is conveyed solely through his voice and eyes.  Bane's breathing mask obscures most of his face, leaving his eyes to do most of the work.  There are no single moments in TDKR that surpass any of the Joker's scenes; the "magic trick," the interrogation scene, the truck flip, killing Gambol, his final speech.  Those are some of cinema's greatest moments and are very difficult to top.

There is much to love about The Dark Knight Rises, from its complex narrative, plot twists and turns, fantastic performances, and some great practical effects.  I can definitely see certain elements that others may find fault in, but as an overall package its quite an amazing film.  While not perfect by any means, TDKR is the perfect end to Nolan's trilogy of Batman films.

The Dark Knight Rises may not surpass its predecessor but is a fantastic bookend to an incredible trilogy.

The Bearded Bullet.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The General Olde Tymey Review

Ladies and gentleman - I would like to introduce you to Mr. Greg Wiker.  He is my former cohort of our original blog, "Two Guys, One Movie," and has now signed on as an occasional contributor to Bearded Reviews.  His column will consist of "Olde Tymey Reviews," to go along with the existing "Trimmed" and "Retro" reviews.  This is his first one.  Welcome, good sir!

One of the first silent(ish) films I ever watched was Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, a masterpiece of both physical comedy and emotive expression; it broke me in to the genre, but for quite some time, the works of Chaplin’s fellow silent film physical comedian Buster Keaton somehow avoided my grasp.  The General, undoubtedly Keaton’s most iconic work, seemed to me the best place to start to introduce myself to the man’s talents.  At its core, The General is a love story; perhaps more accurately, one could say two love stories. There is a traditional love story of the love between a man (Keaton) and a woman (Marion Mack), shamed by what she believes to be Keaton’s cowardly unwillingness to sign up for the Confederate Army, when in actuality he was rejected because of the importance which was assessed to his work as a locomotive engineer.  However, the more important love story of the film is that of man and machine, of Johnny Gray (Keaton) and his beloved locomotive, The General which is stolen away from him underneath his nose and which he quickly gives chase to retrieve, by any means possible.

As Keaton attempts to recapture his lost love, he presents to the audience some of the most impressive stunt work ever put to film in the silent age, or any other age for that matter.  His willingness to suffer for the sake of the picture knows no bounds, and he takes chances in his work that hardly any modern actors would be willing to risk (even if they were, the studios would quickly nix the idea).  His physical work never ceases to impress, but the more intimate moments of the film are often more difficult to decipher.  It is with regard to this aspect of their acting that he contrasts most clearly with Chaplin, by playing a more honest, less exaggerated character, even in the most extraordinary of circumstances.  When Chaplin shares a scene with another character in one of his films, the effort required to read his expressions and feelings is limited; Keaton, on the other hand, beckons the audience to read the lines of his face, to look into his eyes, and to somehow hope to penetrate his soul.  One could argue at length about which approach is better; I find Chaplin to be a great deal more likeable as a leading man than Keaton, but Keaton has what can undoubtedly be described as a more timeless approach to his craft.

The film is epic in scope, but in a way that avoids becoming ostentatious like certain other large-scale films of the silent era.  Only sixty years removed from the conclusion of the Civil War, the staging of the film, as well as the fact that it was silent and in black and white, provide a more realistic look at the South during the Civil War (as limited as that look may be) than any movie made since.  In the end, Keaton saves the day, returning home a hero, and through his efforts earns himself a promotion of rank in the Confederate Army, as he is reunited with both of his seemingly lost loves, woman and machine.

In 1998 when the AFI first released its list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, The General was inexplicably left off, and a similar fate befell one of the other great silent films of the era, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.  In 2007, the glaring mistake was remedied, with Sunrise entering the list at number 82 (still too low!) and The General slotted in at number 18. 

The General is available, and free to all, on youtube.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Savages Review

To be honest, I haven't seen many of Oliver Stone's films - only Wall Street, Alexander, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.  Therefore, I can't really compare his latest film, Savages, to his long list of features.  What I can compare this film to is a needlessly confusing, overly self-indulgent, lame-fest of a film.  I really wanted to like it...I promise!

I'll cut right to the chase: I didn't like Savages.  Right from the beginning, with the cheesy voice-over from Blake Lively (who I suppose does an alright job of a drug addict-hippie chick..I guess) and washed-out flashes and images of random stuff.  Those two aspects of the film that I did not like at all continue throughout the incredibly long run time.  The film is 130 minutes - I'd say at least a half-hour too long.  So much could've been cropped out of this movie and it may have made for a more enjoyable experience.

My main complaint goes along with the run time; so much happens in Savages that didn't really need to be there.  There are so many characters and plots and subplots and twists that its all overly confusing and needlessly so.  I like the main concept: pot-growing (the best in the world, apparently) best friends, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are both in love with the same woman, O (Lively) and are on the top of the "indie" game in California.  They're all millionaires living in a house on the beach.  A Mexican cartel, headed by Elena (Salma Hayek), enforced by Lado (Benicio del Toro) are moving out of Mexico up into Native American reservations (as those lands don't fall under Federal jurisdiction) and, of course, into the territory of our two leads.  Elena has O kidnapped to force Ben and Chon into cooperating with an agreement they rejected.  Now, if the plot had gone the way I wanted, and the film turned into a vengeance-fulled killing spree, a la Taken, I would have enjoyed Savages that much more.  Instead, the film languishes and meanders through events and really just drags things down.

The highlights of the film, for me, are the two action scenes, one mid-way through the film and the finale.  Those were the only action scenes of the film.  Now, I love me some good drama and parts of this film had that - they just happened to be punctuated by more washed-out images straight from a Tony Scott film (see: Man on Fire) or random shots that mean absolutely nothing.  I mean, at one point we got a shot of a starry sky that means nothing and at another point we get what I assume is meant to be an establishing shot of a beach with a female roller blader running into a wall.  It makes no sense.  Actually, a lot of the film makes no sense.  Perhaps because del Toro's Mexican accent was incredibly hard to understand, and there were virtually no subtitles for all the Spanish being flung around.  Oh, and a member of Ben and Chon's ex-military crew is killed midway through the film and there is literally no mention of it whatsoever.  And they use the word "savages" at least four times throughout the film.  One time, maybe.  But four??  Perfect examples of the self-indulgence on display.

The cast, on the other hand, is quite fantastic.  Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch make a great duo; Johnson's Ben is the quieter, hippie side of the operation, with Kitsch's Chon being the violent side.  If Lively's job was to be blase then mission accomplished.  For some reason her character annoyed me - I just can't put a finger on it.  John Travolta's role is somewhat limited and at times pretty over-the-top-campy.  Same goes for del Toro, but the times in which his ridiculous Mexican accent wasn't getting in the way his character was incredibly intimidating and intriguing.  I perhaps enjoyed Hayek's Elena the most of the group; rarely do we see a woman in such power (of an incredibly large drug-trafficking organization) and she pulls it off with great aplomb.

I'm pretty much done here.  I wanted desperately to enjoy Savages and there were parts that I did.  Unfortunately those parts are so few and far between that it is virtually impossible for me to recall them.  If you're a fan of Stone's other films then perhaps you'll want to give it a chance.  I, unfortunately, cannot recommend it to anyone else.

Savages is an incredibly disappointed drama that languishes underneath self-indulgence.

The Bearded Bullet.

Magic Mike Review

I am quite the fan of Steven Soderbergh's previous films; I adore the Ocean's 11 trilogy, and quite enjoyed The Girlfriend Experience, Contagion, and this year's Haywire (I'm a bit iffy on The Informant!).  So needless to say I was intrigued by the premise of Magic Mike - a film about the world of male stripping, loosely based upon Channing Tatum's personal experiences in said industry.  To be honest, I thought that trailers were entertaining and intriguing; there really aren't many films like this out there.  The weight of Soderbergh and Tatum together (having previously teamed for Haywire and re-teaming for next year's The Bitter Pill) were more than enough to encourage me to see this film - after all, I'm more than willing to give anything a chance.  And I'm very glad that I did.  Magic Mike is simply fantastic.

Yes, Magic Mike's narrative is set in the world of male stripping...and there is plenty of beefy dude stripping going on (including Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Alex Rodgriguez, Kevin Nash, and eventually Alex Pettyfer), but at its heart that's not really what MM is about.  Its about a character's journey from relatively young naivete down into the depths of drugs, alcohol, and general self-destruction, and is quite the fascinating journey to watch unfold on screen.  If you're coming to this film just to see beefcakes strip you'll get your money's worth, but you'll also be getting a fantastic drama with real characters and real emotion.

The film is titled "Magic Mike" for a reason; throughout the film we follow the life of Mike as a multiple-business-manager (and male stripper) who happens to want to design and build custom furniture.  He meets Pettyfer's Adam one day on a construction site and their fates become intertwined; Adam needs a job (and money) so Mike brings him to his all-male revue, "Xquisite."  After an unfortunate series of events Adam ends up on stage, a relative "virgin," and has to awkwardly disrobe for the first time in front of droves of screaming women.  Its at this point that Adam's story more or less takes over, as we see him become more acclimated to his new profession.

What I really enjoyed about MM is the way that Soderbergh builds characters in his films.  We are introduced to Mike, Adam, Brooke (Adam's sister), and the stripping crew in an organic and real manner.  Nothing felt forced and relationships developed as they would in real life.  That said, the acting, on the whole, was fantastic.  I am a huge fan of Tatum, yet starting to hate him for how awesome he is at virtually everything he does!  Matthew McConaughey is great as the charismatic/slimy owner/MC of the revue.  One of my favorite lines of dialogue in any movie is his "Alright, alright, alright" in Dazed and Confused, and we get to hear it at least three times throughout the course of the film.  Silly, I know, but pretty awesome.  

Another stand-out for me was Olivia Munn.  The films that I've seen her in (Date Night and Iron Man 2) had her relegated to virtually cameo performances.  Granted, she's only in the film for maybe three or four scenes, but in that time she was great.  The rest of the supporting cast is a mixed bag; Cody Horn seems to vary between great and bored.  The remaning revue dancers are perfectly adequate, if not underused - you can tell that Kevin Nash (WWE wrestler) can't dance, as he's relegated to the background for most of the dance sequences.

And now this brings me to Alex Pettyfer.  To say the least, I am not a fan of his.  I honestly can't really stand him...which is true for parts of MM.  At times I just wanted to punch him in the face; however, on the whole I think his performance was solid throughout the film.  His descent into uncontrolled self-destruction is believable and painful to watch.

The way in which Soderbergh shoots dialogue in some of his films (MM) included is simply enjoyable to watch.  Rather than cut from angle to angle, it feels like he sets the camera down and says "just talk" to his actors.  Conversations feel real (maybe a bit too real at Tatum stammers through a crucial scene as if totally unscripted) and go on for what seems like an eternity - which is a good thing.  Much like in The Girlfriend Experience, I felt almost like a voyeur, peeking into these people's lives and watching it unfold.  Yeah, that may sound creepy but its true; the way in which Soderbergh shoots certain scenes really brings you into the story.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I really enjoyed Magic Mike.  Its a great film with an interesting (and well-trodden) narrative and fantastic characters.  Soderbergh brings a certain energy to bear that comes though brilliantly; the dialogue is engaging, the characters feel real, the dancing/stripping scenes are entertaining, and the narrative plays out organically.  Some people may not like the hard-cutting title cards (displaying what month we're in) and the relatively sharp cut to black with the final scene, but I enjoyed those aspects with nearly everything else in this film.  The only real faults I can find with MM are with Cody Horn (as an actress, and at times), and one narrative fault; SPOILER ALERT - Pettyfer's Adam eventually takes over for Magic Mike (at least on stage) in the end.  We don't really get to see him as a threat to Mike over the course of the film.  The latter half of the film houses some sinister tones and plot threads, and I feel that if the conflict between them had spread to the revue, then perhaps the ending may have been a bit more poignant.  Other than that I think Magic Mike is a great time.

Magic Mike is a fantastic character study that happens to be set within the world of male stripping.

The Bearded Bullet.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ted Review

I, like everyone else, enjoys my share of comedies.  Specifically "R"-rated comedies.  After The Hangover changed the comedic landscape so many years ago, I can't help but feel let down when a comedy is hindered by its lower rating.  Now, I'm not saying that every film needs nudity or incredibly crude language, but those tend to be the most memorable and enjoyable, for me.  Perhaps they just feel the most real.  The amazing show Louie can be very crude and vulgar at times, but it feels completely and wholly real.  Its a bit funny that I'm talking about how "real" something can feel when I'm discussing a film with a magical, talking stuffed bear, but while Ted is a vulgar, rude, crude comedy, at its heart are characters that feel very real and very relatable.

I unconditionally love Ted.  I'm well aware that there will be plenty of people out there that won't love Ted.  It very much feels like the humor of an Adam McKay film mixed with some of the random humor of Family Guy.  This is, after all, the directorial debut of that show's creator, Seth MacFarlane (who wrote, directed, and starred).  For a freshman effort, MacFarlane knocks it out of the ballpark in all three of those respects.  Ted is very, very funny and contains some moments of pure comedic genius (namely a fantastic scene involving Flash Gordon) that left me laughing well after the story had moved on.

For the most part, the characters in Ted were funny, relatable, and enjoyable to watch.  Mark Wahlberg continues to be one of my favorite actors to watch on screen.  Yes, he may not have the range of other in Hollywood, but I tend to enjoy watching him no matter the role (The Fighter, Contraband, The Other name it) and his John Bennett goes through something that we all have to face in life - giving up our childhood and growing up.  A young John wishes that his stuffy teddy bear, Ted, would come to life and be his best friend...and that happened.  Ted became an overnight celebrity, bringing small fame to him and John.  They grew up and still live together over twenty years later.  John's girlfriend, Lori (played wonderfully by Mila Kunis), wants their relationship to move on - without Ted.

The rest of the narrative plays out quite conventionally with twists and turns that you'll see coming a mile away.  Ted does not attempt to do anything daring or new with the tried-and-true comedic formula.  At the end of the day I don't really care about that.  What I do care about is whether I had fun watching the film and I sure as hell did.  Ted is one of the most enjoyable experiences I had with a film in recent memory.  The novelty of a pot-smoking, hooker-loving talking teddy bear did not wear off in the least.  Much like last year's Paul, the animation on the digital character was pretty good (for a non-sci fi film) and downright impressive at times.

There really isn't that much else to say about Ted.  If you enjoy comedies like Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and The Hangover you'll probably have a blast with Ted.  If you don't..then you'll probably walk away shaking your head.  I say just give it a shot.  As much I loved this year's 21 Jump Street, for me, Ted is the comedy to beat.

Ted is an incredibly funny and entertaining comedy that has a heart at its core.

The Bearded Bullet

Brave Review

I have a very iffy track record with Pixar films.  I've seen a good portion of them, and for the most part, I agree that they're fantastic films.  For some reason they just enter my "Top 10" lists or are anywhere near my favorites from their respective years.  I really can't say why this is.  Toy Story 3 is a masterwork for narrative and animation...but it just doesn't grab me like other films.  I'm more of a Dreamworks Animation kind of guy (but that's a whole 'nother discussion).  I was intrigued, to say that least, by Brave, Pixar's latest effort.  I say "intrigued" because the trailers didn't really show much of anything.  I went into the film with virtually no expectations and came out feeling very perplexed.  The issues that I have with Brave lay within its narrative arc, meaning that a full spoiler warning is in effect.

***Full Spoiler Warning is in Effect***

There is quite a bit to enjoy about least in the first act.  I can safely say that I was nothing but mesmerized in the opening moments of the film.  The animation wizardry on display was breathtaking; vast, luscious scenery and gorgeous vistas were thrust deep into my corneas.  Then along came Merida, the young heroine and our lead character, with her incredible hair.  Yes, her hair.  Merida's hair animation was on another planet.  I honestly could've just watched her hair bounce around for hours.

Beside the slick animation and the first act there wasn't all that much that I enjoyed.  The story began with Merida rebelling against her mother's betrothal-infused wishes (Merida is being forced to have three suitors compete for her affection) to the point where she runs away in anger.  The film became pretty dark, pretty quickly.  And I dug it.  Merida runs into an entertaining witch and blah blah blah she wishes that her mother, Elinor, changes her mind about Merida's impending marriage.  Elinor is transformed into a bear, one of which is the mortal enemy of Merida's father, Fergus.  This is the type of conflict that is awesome to watch unfold and had tons of potential.  Unfortunately this aspect is never really explored, save for the final few moments of the film.  Rather, Brave turns into a goofy, slap-stick comedy rather than dark adventure film.  And that is my main complaint with the film: too much physical comedy and not enough heft in terms of events or storytelling.

Merida has two days to turn Elinor back into a human or the transformation becomes permanent.  This is the only real driving factor behind the second and third acts.  Instead of fixing the problem, which Merida kinda knows how to do, they decide to go fishing and goof around quite a bit.  If I were in that situation I wouldn't be messing around in the woods - I would hightailing it back to the castle to try to reverse the situation.  Perhaps if Fergus had been pursuing them throughout the film, not knowing that his wife was a bear, a greater sense of urgency and tension would've been placed upon our leads.  Instead, the story meanders along till it culminates in that very chase scene that unfortunately lasts only for a minutes.

There were bits and pieces of Brave that I enjoyed quite a bit.  The problem is that they're peppered throughout the mediocrity that is the slap-stick comedy portion of the film.  Merida's three little brothers were an example of good slap-stick; they're thrown in here and there to fantastic comedic effect but aren't the crux of the film.  They were probably my favorite aspect of Brave (outside of Merida's hair).  The three rival clan leaders that bring their sons as tributes to win Merida's heart were awesome as well and were quite entertaining to watch bicker amongst themselves.

I desperately wanted to like Brave more than I did.  I felt like it had the potential to be something so much more than what it was.  I had envisioned a grand adventure film with Merida discovering who she is and what she wants on a journey - instead we got a relatively small-scope slap-stick comedy with some darker (and much cooler) moments sprinkled throughout.  Its by no means a bad film; it just doesn't live up to Pixar's high bar (set by the likes of Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3).  I'd recommend it anyone who enjoys Pixar's work - you'll probably enjoy it on some level.

 Brave is a woefully disappointing effort from Pixar that will please the kids but not the adults.

The Bearded Bullet. 

The Amazing Spider-Man Review

The Spider-Man reboot that has had nerd panties in quite the bunch has finally arrived.  And its alright.  I use the word "alright" because it didn't quite blow my socks off like I was hoping, but it does do some pretty cool things.  I have quite a bit to say about the film and may spoil some plot points, so I've decided to split my review up - the spoiler-free section first, followed by the spoilertastic portion.  Time to swing on..(sorry, I just had to do it).

I liked quite a bit about The Amazing Spider-Man (TASM) despite some glaring flaws.  TASM's strongest aspect is the character development; Marc Webb has shown that he can handle characters quite well and does so with Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker, and the rest of the crew.  Peter and Gwen's relationship was handled with aplomb, even if it seemed a bit sped up at times (a major issue with most of the film that will arise again later).  The well-trodden territory that is the Peter/aunt May/uncle Ben triangle was enjoyable to watch yet again...mostly due to the fantastic casting of Sally Field and Martin Sheen respectively.  Even though we know the fates of these characters (well, at least most of us do) its still engrossing to watch uncle Ben give Peter "the speech" (even if its a bit modified for this reboot).

In most superhero films the villain is a big deal, and indeed a big deal was made that the Lizard was going to finally make an appearance after being teased in the Sam Raimi trilogy.  I very much enjoyed Dr. Curt Connors' arc, from a scientist looking to science to reconstruct his missing arm, to the first major test for Spider-Man as a hero.  Some of the more memorable villains/final villain battles involve devastation on a large scale; Loki bringing down the Chitauri to help take over the Earth, Dr. Jonathan Crane releasing a toxin into Gotham City.  The final confrontation between Spidey and the Lizard approaches something on a grand scale but just doesn't quite get there.  Now, this complaint is merely one of the story and my wanting something a bit bigger.  That said, the action set pieces between Spider-Man and the Lizard were quite entertaining and well-done; their interactions are some of the more memorable scenes in the film.

My main issue with TASM lies within the pacing and editing of the film.  With the "origin story" of a character there are usually two ways they're tackled: a relatively quick, opening montage (perhaps set over the credits a la The Incredible Hulk) that introduces us to the character and the basic premise as to how they became who they are (and cuts to the chase for the main thrust of the film), or the entire film bears the character's arc (Batman Begins).  The problem is that TASM tries to do both.  Rather than opt for a quick montage or condensing of Spidey's origin, a considerable portion of the film is devoted to introducing us to Peter, his parents, his aunt and uncle, his school life, his personal life, his crush (this time around its Gwen Stacy), how he becomes Spider-Man...all things that we saw a decade ago in Sam Raimi's original film.  This day-and-age most people in the general public at least have a sense as to the origins of our favorite heroes and could've followed the film's story with a 5-or 10-minute intro to catch us all up.  To reference it again, The Incredible Hulk handled this issue quite well and it allowed the rest of the story to breath and give Bruce Banner a new arc.

Because the screenwriters chose to include a substantial amount of origin story (which does allow them to take a different path with the narrative), mixed with the "meat" of the film, both parts seem rather rushed.  The rest of this discussion will have to be continued in the spoiler section.

It would be prudent of me to mention the visual effects on display in TASM.  Much of the swinging effects were done practically and they look truly fantastic.  Spidey's physics are spot-on as he swung through Manhattan.  Similarly, the action set-pieces were well-staged and looked great.  The action was relatively easy to follow, save for a fight on a subway car.  In that instance, the editing was very fast-paced and made it difficult to really discern what was happening.

Regardless of my fairly significant complaints about The Amazing Spider-Man, I had a great time with it.  Is it one of the best super-hero films of all time?  Not quite.  But its a very good jumping-off point for the inevitable sequel.  Just enough was changed from the original trilogy that will allow for enjoyable, new stories to freshen up the place.

The Amazing Spider-Man is an enjoyable summer blockbuster that doesn't quite live up to its potential.

***Full spoiler warning is in effect***

Still with me?  Good.  Okay, so much of Spider-Man's origin is rushed, which is odd because of the amount of time spent on it.  The whole costume and web-shooter bit of the film breezed by in probably fewer than 30 the middle of a montage.  Peter does begin to swing around Manhattan, looking for uncle Ben's killer and ends up beating up quite a few thugs...and I enjoyed those bits.  The screenwriters actually took some time to develop Peter; he's out to seek vengeance against a man who hurt him.  What they didn't take much time on is the creation of the suit and his now-mechanical webshooters.  There's a funny joke thrown in about spandex, but we aren't provided really any explanation about how he really made his suit.  There is literally a 5-second shot of him pouring latex into a mold and that's all.  How did he get the latex?  Did he buy it?  Peter then uses Oscorp web fibers as the ammo for his mechanical shooters..but how exactly did he get the fiber?  There's a package from Oscorp so he clearly ordered it, but how did he pay for it?   Did Gwen get it for him?  I know this is a bit nitpicky but the overall tempo and pacing of the "origin" part of the story just felt rushed to me.  I would've preferred it to be more drawn out and to encompass the entirety of the film (or cut down considerably). 

Some of the editing of the film seemed a bit off, to me.  Or perhaps it was just poor screenwriting.  It felt at times that we jumped around from location to location or scene to scene without connecting tissue.  Example: in one scene Peter and Gwen swing off into the night.  Next we cut to Curt Connors tweaking out, determined to find Peter and beat him up.  Now we cut back to Peter and Gwen, but now they're at school in the middle of the day.  Perhaps a short, 2-minute scene between the couple, sitting on a skyscraper (after having swung away), having a romantic moment and maybe falling asleep up there.  They could've woken up (adding some comic relief), hurrying to get Gwen back before her parents knew she was gone.  Then they could've arrived at school, disheveled, and been caught off guard by the Lizard.  That's just one example of simple story beats that are sorely lacking at times throughout TASM.  I easily could've done with 20 or 30 more minutes of footage - some connective tissue to link some set-pieces together better.

I mentioned earlier about the scale of the villain's intentions.  The Lizard's ultimate goal is to spread the toxin that "cured" Connors into the entirety of Manhattan, causing millions of Lizard's to bust out.  I like that scale.  Threatening whole populations gives our hero quite the motivation.  In the end, only a few police officers are infected (due to canisters that the Lizard threw around), and Spidey saves the day by swapping the toxin for the antidote.  Now, maybe I'm spoiled by The Avengers, but the endgame that played out didn't quite reach the scale I was hoping for.  Perhaps I was hoping to see Spidey battling hordes of mutated humans in the effort to engage the cure.  Again, maybe my expectations for third-act finale battles are now set too high, but I actually did enjoy the physical fighting that played out.

I suppose I was also disappointed with how the narrative played out in general.  There was no dearth of trailers or commercials that featured more and more footage.  Yes, there are plenty of things kept out of the trailers, but TASM is one film that I pretty much predicted from the outset.  None of the film's plot beats were really all that unexpected.  All of the surprises to be had came during action scenes and some slick camera work.  I had a similar feeling with The Avengers, in that nothing came out of left-field with regards to the third-act finale.  In fact, nothing came out of left field during the entirety of the film.

As I mentioned before, I quite enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man despite its numerous flaws.  What I look for most in a film is entertainment (well, not all the time) and I was surely entertained by TASM.  It mixes action, drama, and humor together and comes out looking pretty good...but it could have been so much better.

The Bearded Bullet.