Amazing Spider-Man, The (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
Raised by Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) like their biological son, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) had no closure when his parents never came back for him since the night their house had been broken into. While inspecting a leak in the basement, Peter found his father’s briefcase which contained scientific research and a picture of Peter’s father with Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), the leading scientist of cross-species genetics in Oscorp. Hoping to learn more about his parents’ whereabouts, Peter snuck into the building and ended up in a room full of mutated spiders. “The Amazing Spider-Man,” based on the screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, was a mostly rousing entertainment with its roots firmly attached to its heart, but it was at times hindered by computer graphics so sleek, so willing to awe us with its technical wizardry, that it ended up looking too much like a cartoon. The picture excelled in showing us Peter as a boy up until he learned to adapt to his new spider-like abilities. Especially with the latter, the emotional heft of the material was neither too light nor melodramatic; there was an overall joyous feeling in his discovery that maybe being different wasn’t so bad. The pacing was quick and to the point, almost deceptively too simple, but it remained highly watchable due to the fiendish charm of Garfield as the conflicted young adult underneath the Spider-Man costume. Garfield felt right for the role because he was believable as someone who was bullied by a jock (Chris Zylka) as well as a person who oozed an aura of intelligence, kept to himself most of the time, a sort of outcast with excellent taste, his wall sporting geek-chic to retro-cool. With the addition of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter’s eventual romantic interest, it was interesting and surprising that the picture managed to balance Peter’s lives as a teenager, as a son on a quest to find justice and closure, and as Spider-Man who felt responsible for protecting his community, from petty criminals to diabolical villains like The Lizard who wished to turn New Yorkers into reptiles. After the villain had been introduced, it was the point where the visual effects became the star which was not always appropriate. When the camera focused on The Lizard, the visuals were effective, a mix of wonder and horror at the sheer size and ugliness of the thing. The computer graphics forced us to appreciate the creature, from its greenish slimy skin to its firm muscles that could easily crush a car, that our superhero would inevitably had to face. However, when Spider-Man and The Lizard engaged in close combat, while still visually arresting due to the amount of destruction created around them, I began to think about what percentage of what I was seeing was created in a computer. It was strange that I almost had to snap out of that thought and remind myself that Spider-Man could be in danger. In other words, the action wasn’t quite an enveloping experience on a visceral level. We only got to fully appreciate that the man behind the mask was human when blood and bruises were shown after a fight. “The Amazing Spider-Man,” directed by Marc Webb, was not without unique touches such as leaving us off-guard with its early revelations of secret identities. However, the screenplay needed to be much leaner by excising a handful of scenes in the middle portion that disrupted much of its flow thereby making room for its themes to feel more vibrant and fulfilling.
People I’ve Slept With, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Angela (Karin Anna Cheung) was a girl who loved the simple pleasure of sex. Although she had been called a “slut” for sleeping with so many men and women of varying sexualities, derogatory comments didn’t get to her. In her mind, a “slut” was just a woman with the morals of a man. When she took a pregnancy test and the results pointed to her egg being fertilized, she made it a mission to sort through the pictures of men she slept with and find the identity of the father. There were four contenders: Nice-But-Boring-Guy (Randall Park), Mystery Man (Archie Kao), 5-Second-Guy (Danny Vasquez), and Mr. Hottie (Chris Zylka). “The People I’ve Slept With,” based on the screenplay by Koji Steven Sakai, was an uproarious sort-of romantic comedy, impressive in terms of its attitude about sex and sexuality and, more importantly, the way it treated its Asian-American woman protagonist with respect even though she was with child and had no idea about who the father was. I found it refreshing that Angela, although she loved sex, wasn’t featured as someone who wore skimpy clothes and heavy makeup like most Asian women in action films nor did she have to pretend to be a shy, innocent flower whenever she was around her family. It was critical that she was portrayed as a friend anybody could hang out with because the material asked us to relate to her struggles in not knowing what to do when something was thrown on her lap and clearly she was unequipped to handle it. Although a comedy on the outside, Quentin Lee, the director, wisely gave Cheung enough moments to deliver a level of seriousness in her character’s situation without coming off too forced, too sad, too desperate. As the laughter simmered down toward the middle, it was when we began to realize that being pregnant and not having the support of the father was no joke. I appreciated the picture’s effort in showing that support from family and friends do have their limits. Exploring loneliness is often disregarded in comedies because it is too easy for the material to slip into joylessness. I found it quite bold that the film managed to look into that emotion even for just a short period of time. However, I wished that the subplot involving the break-up between Gabriel (Wilson Cruz), Angela’s best friend, and Lawrence (Rane Jameson) were kept at a minimum or had been excised altogether. Gabriel and Lawrence were adorable when together but there was no dramatic gravity established when they were apart. In turn, Angela was relegated as the friend cheering for the gay couple to get back together. Even though the courtship which made way for a healing process had funny moments, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Isn’t this supposed to be Angela’s story first?” What the script needed more was Angela’s relationship with her sister, Juliet (Lynn Chen). Juliet represented what was expected of a woman. Angela and Juliet clashed but their friction never reached a boiling point because they didn’t have enough scenes together. “The People I’ve Slept With” was nonetheless a pleasant surprise. It may not give us easy answers in the end, some may even argue that it didn’t have an ending altogether, but the answers that were shared felt appropriate.
Shark Night (2011)
★ / ★★★★
A group of college students (Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Zylka, Sinqua Walls, Alyssa Diaz, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore) visited a lake house in Louisiana for some fun in the sun after finals. One of them, Sara (Paxton), was from the area but she left her hometown three years ago and never went back. Her friends thought it was strange how Sarah, in all the years they’ve known her, never became intimate or even hooked up with a guy. Meanwhile, the barely clothed undergraduates, gleefully playing in the lake, were unaware that the water was infested with sharks. “Shark Night,” based on the screenplay by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg, lacked the courage to come off as completely ludicrous. If it had been more confident, it could have worked as a parody or even a satire. From its first scene involving a topless girl who had to search for her swimsuit in the water, it was obvious that the material wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The shark attack lasted for about three seconds of choppy editing and it wasn’t scary in the least. While a handful death scenes, aided by CGI, were rather neat, the few seconds prior to the characters’ deaths felt almost like wasted time. There was no patience from behind the camera prior and during the attacks. The formula was this: The camera would go underwater and about five seconds later, someone screamed out of pain. Sometimes having a character just pulled from underwater by a very strong shark and its victim never having to scream for help could work just as effectively or even more so. Let the camera linger for about five seconds on the surface of the water. Doing so would give us a chance to observe waves created out of panic turn into utter quiescence–an illusion that a shark attack never happened. Moreover, the movie could have benefited from more extreme typecasting. For instance, Nick (Milligan) was supposed to be the geek who wanted to become a doctor. He had his MCAT coming up but the only reason he decided to come with was because he pined for Sara. They knew each other through other friends but he lacked bravado to ask her out on a simple date. He didn’t think he was good enough for her. Yet without his glasses, he looked like another jock who should have all the confidence in the world. How were we supposed to believe that he had something to prove? The one character I found most interesting was Blake (Zylka), the blonde Adonis obsessed with fake tanning. He wasn’t especially smart, even self-absorbed at times, but when tragedy struck, it turned out he was the most sensitive and relatable. Having a final girl, which inevitably just had to be Sara because it was her hometown, was anticlimactic and frustrating because the character wasn’t established as strongly as she should have been. As a rule of thumb, for horror movies that require a “final girl,” the protagonist has to be someone we will be behind no matter what. Sara wasn’t that person. Ironically, it was Blake. It could have been an excellent twist if the writers had been more aware of and fleshed out the inconsistencies in their screenplay. Directed by David R. Ellis, “Shark Night” was tame compared to other bloodfests like Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha.” It wasn’t even as fun.