Tag Archives: Pharrell Williams

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, Marc Webb)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is bereft of good ideas. It’s also bereft of good music–Hans Zimmmer’s bland “superhero” score rattles the brain, bowdlerizing what might be better scenes and effect sequences. It’s impossible to know, because there’s never a single moment of music without ludicrous bombast. Who knows how it’d have played if the superhero action attempted emotional impact.

The film opens in flashback. Campbell Scott, playing Spider-Man’s dad, has an action sequence. It sets up lead Andrew Garfield’s arc for the movie. It’s about him trying to find out what happened to his parents. Except when it’s not. Second-billed Emma Stone has this arc about being broken up with Garfield. But, while it does make Garfield a little mopier than usual, it doesn’t really play into any of his arc.

Only it turns out there is no arc for Garfield because nothing interesting happened to his parents. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner–wow, it took three writers to produce such an awful turd of a script–anyway, they build up a big reveal and it’s nothing. They write this exaggerated scene between Garfield and aunt Sally Field where she’s hiding the truth from him and it’s going to devastate him and then it’s nothing. The screenwriters have no idea how to do narrative distance.

Neither does director Webb. Worse, Webb treats Stone like an annoyance. She already doesn’t have a part except to make out with Garfield, smile, and meet supporting cast members for a moment. And when she does have a scene, Webb ignores her performance. You spend the movie trying to remember if or why you like the character and why Garfield likes her and get nothing from the film itself. Who cares if they’re broken up? Not even the characters care.

I suppose Stone’s not bad. She just has a crap part. Garfield’s not bad either. He’s just got a crap part. But Dale DeHaan and Jamie Foxx both have crap parts and manage to be bad. With Foxx, it’s not his fault. They had no idea what to do with him, practically muting him by the end. And they’d already given him the inglorious origin of being bitten by mutant electric eels. He becomes an electric eel man. Just one who can’t be electric underwater, even though the eels got him underwater.

DeHaan’s terrible. Webb’s direction of him is terrible. The writing is terrible. For a while it seems like they’re actually going to generate rapport between Garfield and DeHaan as childhood friends reunited but no. The movie’s too busy jumping between terrible subplots. DeHaan and Foxx are tied together because of evil biomedical capitalist Colm Feore. It’s stupid how much time Feore gets. Even stupider is how much time his sidekick Louis Cancelmi gets. Anything to keep Spider-Man away from Stone.

Because nothing in Garfield’s family plot has to do with Stone. They’re completely separate. He compartmentalizes, even though he apparently follows her once a day as Spider-Man, combination protection and adoration.

Once the movie gets around to the idea of teaming up Stone and Garfield to solve problems, which seems like a good idea, it’s time for the movie to end and for everyone to fall into their parts. Except then the ending takes forever. It’s exhausting. And the music is terrible. And nothing good ever happens. Not in the story, but in the narrative decisions. Amazing Spider-Man 2 is amazing because its best is unfulfilled mediocre. Nothing’s going right with this movie.

And the composite effects–Spider-Man swinging around New York City–usually look awful, like the CG lighting on the Spider-Man model is wrong. The Spider-Man scenes, when he’s not in a weak fight scene, are grating. Bad music, bad CG composite, charmless direction. Webb manages one actual great shot in the movie and cuts away too soon. Pietro Scalia and Webb like to cut a lot. Enough there are times when it’s clear Webb didn’t have coverage.

That one good shot is of Stone, naturally. It’s this brief moment where Amazing Spider-Man 2 connects the emotion of the story with the emotion of the filmmaking. Webb, Scalia, and cinematographer Dan Mindel manage this one sincere thing. I don’t even think Zimmer’s music screws it up.

Then it’s over. And Stone gets nothing, Garfield gets busy to get nothing, DeHaan gets green, and Foxx gets blue. Oh, and Sally Field gets an arc about having to go back to work to pay for Garfield’s college, even though Garfield is apparently not going to college during the movie.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 is bad. Kurtzman, Orci, and Pinker’s script is the worst thing about it. Shame Webb didn’t do anything to alleviate its defects. The returning principals–Garfield, Stone, and Field–deserved better.

Oh, and Chris Cooper is awful in his uncredited cameo. Just dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Webb; screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner, based on a story by Kurtzman, Orci, Pinkner, and James Vanderbilt and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr, Michael Einziger, and Junkie XL; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Jamie Foxx (Electro / Max Dillon), Dane DeHaan (Green Goblin / Harry Osborn), Colm Feore (Donald Menken), Felicity Jones (Felicia), Paul Giamatti (Aleksei Sytsevich), Sally Field (Aunt May), and Campbell Scott (Richard Parker).


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Hidden Figures (2016, Theodore Melfi)

In the first scene of Hidden Figures, the film makes it immediately clear there’s going to be quite a bit of self-awareness. The film is based on the true story of three black women who were instrumental to NASA’s–and the space program’s–success. They’re working at NASA in the early sixties, during segregation, doing harder jobs better than the white guys working at NASA. And there’s an awareness. Janelle Monáe, in the flashiest lead role, gets the least to do, but she does get tasked with offering commentary on the situations at hand.

Director Melfi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Allison Schroeder, depends a lot on his cast. Nothing in his direction gets any of the scenes done. For example, Melfi underplays it with Taraji P. Henson, who’s the closest thing the film’s got to a protagonist (but the film doesn’t want to have one, which gets to be a problem in the third act). While Monáe, albeit outside work, gets to have a developed relationship with Aldis Hodge (as her less than supportive husband) and second-billed Octavia Spencer gets to have this workplace unpleasantness with Kirsten Dunst, Henson’s got supportive boss Kevin Costner, who she never gets to have a moment with. She’s got wormy supervisor Jim Parsons, who she never gets to have a moment with. There are fill-in moments, but none suggesting Parsons and Costner are people and not caricatures.

It’d be fine if they were caricatures, maybe even appropriate (though Costner’s not–he gets a movie star scene in the film), but if they are caricatures, giving them their little unspoken courtesies to Henson is even more problematic.

Hidden Figures weathers those problems with some very reliable materials–the history is on the film’s side and all three lead performances are great. While Monáe gets to be showy for most of the film, only having to move aside towards the end, when it tries to become a special effects extravaganza thriller just to find a finish, and Spencer’s part is underwritten but convinces the viewer it isn’t, Henson gets the big stuff. And the script, even though she’s got a romance going on outside her saving Costner and Parsons’s butts with math, doesn’t like letting Henson do anything. Monáe does things, Spencer does things, Henson quietly does the math. And she’s exceptional doing the math. Melfi’s best direction is with Henson, simply because he’s just letting the camera watch her performance too.

Technically, the film’s solid without being exceptional. Mandy Walker’s photography is fine, but Melfi’s not ambitious. Maybe the score gets a little much at the end, when Melfi’s tackling the special effects extravaganza with absolutely no personality. Despite some gorgeous production design (courtesy Wynn Thomas), Hidden Figures is oddly absent mise-en-scène.

The ambition is instead with the film itself, presenting these three women completely aware of their exploitation, completely aware of their constraints, and excelling regardless. The sad part of Henson not getting resolution is how well Spencer and Monáe make out with it. Spencer and Dunst’s arc is an uncomfortable, angering one. But it’s a mature way of handling it. The script’s got a narrative arc for that subplot. For Henson? Well, it’s got the Friendship 7.

Not to rag on Melfi too much more, but there’s a difference between acknowledging other films’ handling of the same material without just giving up and pretending to be Apollo 13 for fifteen minutes. It’s his lack of personality. Even Costner’s got some personality, even if it’s nonsensically only for Parsons’s benefit, as they have a moment together.

Hidden Figures is a movie fully aware white guys don’t have to be the leads but it’s the white guys who get that learning moment together. And let’s not even touch on the problematic nature of superhero John Glenn (Glen Powell is fine, it’s just a bland part).

But once you get through the problems and appreciate the film’s accomplishments–and those lead performances–it’s clear Hidden Figures’s success isn’t contingent on a flawless narrative structure. It’s historical, after all, and a positive “real life” moment is hard to resist, but it does distract from its characters. Because even if what was happening in reality was important, in Hidden Figures, it’s Henson, Spencer, and Monáe who are important and deserve the time.

Melfi just doesn’t know how to build tension. Thank goodness he’s got actors who know how to essay it however.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Theodore Melfi; screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Melfi, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly; director of photography, Mandy Walker; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Benjamin Wallfisch; production designer, Wynn Thomas; produced by Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Melfi, Jenno Topping, and Williams; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Goble), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan), Janelle Monáe (Mary Jackson), Kevin Costner (Al Harrison), Kirsten Dunst (Mrs. Mitchell), Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford), Mahershala Ali (Colonel Jim Johnson), Aldis Hodge (Levi Jackson), and Glen Powell (John Glenn).


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