Tag Archives: James Franco

Spider-Man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi)

After having two decent Danny Elfman scores similar to his two Batman scores, Raimi brought in composer Christopher Young, who does a terrible job, sure, but also mimics the (non-Elfman) score to Batman Forever. The music in this film makes the ears bleed.

In theory, following the great financial and critical success of Spider-Man 2, Raimi should have been able to do whatever he wanted with this entry. And maybe he did. But if he did, his truest intent for a Spider-Man movie was to make an unbearable one.

It’s real bad. The only thing the film has going for it is James Franco. It ought to have Thomas Haden Church in the plus column too, but the handling of his character is exceptionally bad. Haden Church barely gets any screen time and the film ends without resolving whether his innocent, sickly daughter is going to die or not.

Topher Grace’s villain, the evil Spider-Man, is exceptionally lame. Have I already used exceptionally in this response? I’ll use it again. Just awful, awful writing. Grace is almost mediocre, but can’t essay the character properly; he instills too much sitcom charm.

Tobey Maguire apparently didn’t even bother getting in shape for this one. Raimi gives him an evil mop haircut at one point, for his evil scenes, so the viewer knows he’s bad.

J.K. Simmons is good and Elizabeth Banks finally gets some decent lines.

So it’s not a completely awful film, just extremely close to one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; screenplay by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent, from the screen story by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi and based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Christopher Young and Danny Elfman; production designers, Neil Spisak and J. Michael Riva; produced by Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad and Grant Curtis; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Thomas Haden Church (Flint Marko/Sandman), Topher Grace (Eddie Brock), Bryce Dallas Howard (Gwen Stacy), James Cromwell (Captain Stacy), Rosemary Harris (Aunt May), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Theresa Russell (Emma Marko), Dylan Baker (Dr. Curt Connors), Bill Nunn (Robbie Robertson), Elizabeth Banks (Miss Brant), Ted Raimi (Hoffman), Perla Haney-Jardine (Penny Marko), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin/Norman Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker) and Bruce Campbell (Maître d’).


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Spider-Man 2 (2004, Sam Raimi), the extended version

Ah, so the only other film Raimi directed Panavision was the unwatchable For Love of the Game. His Panavision composition here–with Bill Pope shooting it–is exquisite. Raimi and Pope correct, from the first scene in the film, the problem Raimi had with the original–Spider-Man 2 takes place in New York City. When a bunch of New Yorkers help Spider-Man here–regardless of if they filmed the sequence in Chicago–it’s an honest scene, not some kind of jingoistic garbage.

For the majority of the film–there are some transitional missteps when it has to be a regular action movie again, third act (but the end recovers beautifully)–it’s about a bunch of miserable people. Tobey Maguire’s miserable because being Spider-Man’s ruining his life, Kirsten Dunst is miserable because she doesn’t have Maguire, James Franco’s miserable because his dad’s been murdered, Rosemary Harris’s miserable because she’s a widow. For about seventy minutes, it’s a bunch of unhappy people being unhappy. It’s luscious.

The acting helps. Harris was barely in the first film, but here she develops into a character. Alfred Molina’s a good villain (Raimi doesn’t overuse the villain here, like he did before). Franco’s really good. Maguire’s great, sort of shockingly great. Dunst is fine. She’s effective without being good. J.K. Simmons and Donna Murphy are also fantastic.

Two problems besides the transitional stumble–there’s an awful “talking to himself” scene with Molina and then a dream sequence–otherwise, it’s perfect (except Elfman’s music).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Alvin Sargent, based on a screen story by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Michael Chabon and the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Laura Ziskin and Avi Arad; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Alfred Molina (Dr. Otto Octavius), Rosemary Harris (May Parker), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Donna Murphy (Rosalie Octavius), Daniel Gillies (John Jameson), Dylan Baker (Dr. Curt Connors), Bill Nunn (Robbie Robertson), Vanessa Ferlito (Louise), Aasif Mandvi (Mr. Aziz), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin/Norman Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker), Ted Raimi (Hoffman), Elizabeth Banks (Miss Brant), Gregg Edelman (Dr. Davis), Elya Baskin (Mr. Ditkovich), Mageina Tovah (Ursula) and Bruce Campbell (Snooty Usher).


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Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi)

I wonder what kind of movie Spider-Man would have been if the filmmakers hadn’t been so concerned with a “proper” film post-9/11. I know they added the New Yorkers attacking the Goblin to defend Spider-man and I’m wondering if that American flag ending was another addition… this kind of inane jingoistic nonsense ruins movies, but it can’t ruin Spider-Man. You can’t ruin a picture something else has already fouled.

The big problem isn’t the special effects; it’s the mediocre writing. Besides the atrocious narration, there isn’t a single distinctive bit of writing. Willem Dafoe’s villain arc is terrible, as is Dafoe’s performance.

Another problem is Danny Elfman’s score, which is for a Batman movie.

But there’s not much chance of this film being good with Laura Ziskin producing. She lets Raimi do some Raimi-esque stuff, but not really. All the quirkiness is lip service and there are some really lame conceptual decisions (the Flatiron Building and the Goblin costume come immediately to mind).

Besides Dafoe, the acting is indistinct. Either good, okay or dreadful. Wait, J.K. Simmons is fantastic.

Raimi’s New York is completely absent personality–combined with Don Burgress’s way too crisp cinematography, the film looks like the biggest budgeted Mentos commercial ever.

The CG special effects are often terrible, but a lot of the action set pieces are at least well-composed (the bridge sequence, for example).

While it’s not a complete waste of time, but Spider-Man is a definite failure.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; screenplay by David Koepp, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Bob Murawski and Arthur Coburn; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Laura Ziskin and Ian Bryce; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn/Green Goblin), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker), Rosemary Harris (May Parker), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Gerry Becker (Maximilian Fargas), Bill Nunn (Robbie Robertson), Jack Betts (Henry Balkan), Stanley Anderson (General Slocum), Ron Perkins (Dr. Mendel Stromm), Michael Papajohn (Carjacker), K.K. Dodds (Simkins), Ted Raimi (Hoffman), Elizabeth Banks (Betty Brant) and Bruce Campbell (Ring Announcer).


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Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)

As Milk‘s opening titles ran, it occurred to me Danny Elfman scored it. It doesn’t sound anything like Elfman’s norm–you know, the modified Batman music–but it sounded like the kind of score Danny Elfman should be doing (and should have been doing for years). Milk‘s a biopic–and always feels like one, thanks in great part to Van Sant’s reliance on contemporary news footage for storytelling. It’s a solid move, but it makes me think of Good Night, and Good Luck–which isn’t a bad thing, since Milk‘s an entry in that same genre. The dramatic, filmic biography… but not quite biography, since none of Harvey Milk’s life before the present action begins gets covered. Milk‘s Harvey Milk spends the eight years of the film’s present action becoming someone the man in the opening couldn’t have imagined. Where Milk succeeds so greatly is in the surprise–even knowing the story (or some of it, or just paying attention to the news footage at the beginning of the film), it’s impossible to forecast how the film’s Milk is going to develop.

It’s not Sean Penn’s best performance, but it’s got to be the only one of his best performances where he’s likable. He creates an almost magical character–the scenes with him giving speeches for unions or handing out a bouquet of flowers in a black barbershop–these should be unbelievable scenes (even if the real Milk did exactly the same things), but Penn makes them work. But the character is far from perfect–Van Sant could have easily approached Milk with some kind of destiny angle, but he doesn’t. Penn’s character is a human being, full of mistakes, full of regret, even if he does have a positive disposition. Penn’s played lots of protagonists–he hasn’t done anything in a long time–but in Milk, he plays a hero (his first?). No shock, he’s great at it.

Van Sant’s got an amazing supporting cast. Milk‘s got a huge cast, but the principal supporting actors–Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna–all standout. Hirsch and Brolin probably have an easier time (though both of them have a couple fantastic scenes), but only when I list them next to Luna, who’s got the film’s most difficult role. He plays an annoying, clingy drama queen (sorry, is there a PC term for drama queen); he’s got to irritate the viewer, cause some eye-rolling, but still be a sympathetic person. It’s a very difficult performance and, at the beginning, it doesn’t seem like Luna’s going to pull it off… but then he does.

Actually, a lot of Milk is in a similar situation. It’s always a solid motion picture, but it doesn’t skyrocket until after the halfway mark. The quiet introduction of Brolin, the deepening of Penn’s character, it all takes off. Before, Van Sant feels like he’s experimenting, trying to get the tone right. As it turns out, he is getting the tone right (presumably, it’s not an experiment, but a procedure to get the film to the right place). It’s easily Van Sant’s best film, but Dustin Lance Black’s script doesn’t hurt at all–the script’s mostly passive, but Black has a couple great approaches. Brolin’s place in the plot, for example, is great.

I haven’t mentioned James Franco yet. He deserves a better paragraph than this one will be. He’s astounding–it’s hard to imagine eight years ago I dreaded the very sight of his name–he keeps getting better as an actor. At its most successful, he and Penn make Milk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen; released by Focus Features.

Starring Sean Penn (Harvey Milk), Emile Hirsch (Cleve Jones), Josh Brolin (Dan White), Diego Luna (Jack Lira), Alison Pill (Anne Kronenberg), Victor Garber (Mayor George Moscone), Denis O’Hare (John Briggs), Joseph Cross (Dick Pabich), Stephen Spinella (Rick Stokes), Lucas Grabeel (Danny Nicoletta), Brandon Boyce (Jim Rivaldo), Zvi Howard Rosenman (David Goodstein), Kelvin Yu (Michael Wong) and James Franco (Scott Smith).


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