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Spider-Man 3 (2007)

by Corinne Rizzo

To break third person perspective is to break that fourth wall, to bring to light the idea that the reviewer is not just speaking on the audience’s behalf, but on the behalf of a more biased or more personal concern with a particular film. To break third person perspective goes against all the rules of formal thesis and proper reporting. Breaking third person perspective is necessary here though, as I want to talk to you about James Franco, or as Peter Parker knows him, Harry Osborne.

The choice for casting a character like Harry Osborne could have been a fatal one. The slightest personality trait off, and the whole character is thrown. Harry plays an integral part in the three films and in the legacy of Spider-Man in general, as he is not only the source of Spidey’s eternal struggle with himself (Harry also loves MJ, Harry never has to work for what he wants, Harry has perfect vision, Harry had a psychopath father whom Spidey had to kill, etc.) and without Harry, Spider-Man would have no sense of himself. A reader or viewer would never be able to relate to Peter Parker without a guy like Harry, an outcast but for reasons that are untouchable rather than socially awkward.

The third installment of the Spider-Man trilogy is one of many comparisons, which is why bringing Harry’s character under the microscope was a task worth undertaking. One could argue that there was too much happening in the final film. One could debate whether New Goblin was ever really a threat to Spider-Man. The obvious comparisons involved with knowing that this is the last in a series are limitless, but here is one that got me: We (the collective audience and the physical cast of the film) go from having Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Alfred Molina and Thomas Hayden Church, to Topher Grace as venom. In honest defense of Mr. Grace, the only time I ever think of Thomas Hayden Church is when I think of Sandman, but that is not necessarily a defense when you consider all I ever think of when I hear Topher Grace is Eric from That 70’s Show.

All of this unfair and biased and yes, I understand, but Willem Dafoe needs no defense. James Franco as Harry Osborne, this very specific and integral image in the saga, passes every test and even goes beyond expectations for someone who has a knack for Spidey. Alfred Molina? Who else was supposed to play Doc Ock? And let me tell you that Sandman wasn’t even on my radar so that was just a bonus.

The question even arises in this case, was Venom necessary? Well, I believe he was necessary to the film. He is a dark and twisty character that gave the film edge and so I would even go as far as saying that Sandman was unnecessary, but the casting for what harkens to Spider-Man’s alter ego—Topher Grace?

There is a lot happening in Spider-Man 3—three whole villains. Or two and a half when you consider Harry changed his mind half way through. The list of things to keep track of is tremendous for watching a film that is released as a summer hit and the film seems to rely on some master editing that is supposed to seamlessly take us from one idea to the next—though that master editing left something to be desired. I have never witnessed a selection of scenes quilted together so aimlessly. It was almost as though in an attempt to avoid a fourth episode, there was some agreement to fit everything into the third. That sort of editing is evident in all three films though hadn’t made me say “What the fuck?” until this one.

To his credit, Raimi’s Venom was eerie and unrelenting. Sandman seemed an afterthought in comparison, though a man made of sand doesn’t exactly cause one to shudder. In my humble opinion though, that is where Raimi should have stepped up. Two unrelenting and ridiculous characters could have made up for casting Topher Grace, but Sandman seems to fall to the wayside once Venom latches to Grace’s character, though not for the acting skills, but simply for the doom Venom inspires.

McGuire’s opposite could have been female for all it mattered. Actually, that would have been radical and even creepier. Maybe even a threat to Mary Jane.

It goes without saying that the thinner you spread a plot, the more holes you are going to have to patch and Spider-Man 3 just might have been a stretch. Harry Osborne carries the film with his ability to reinstate the hope and good that all super-hero’s strive to belay and James Franco is just the right class of man to carry a film when it’s on its back. While Peter is traipsing around doing theatrical dance numbers, the plot gets lost and Harry is there to remind the viewers of what is important. When faced with the challenge that is Sandman, it should be a no brainer for Spidey to defeat him and it should have been a no brainer for Raimi to either step it up or leave him out. And Topher Grace just bothers me—he must have a good agent.

Grade: C-

Spider-Man 3 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

For more from Corinne, check out her new website the ish.

Eclipse (2010)

by Steve Habrat

I’m going to cut right to it: Eclipse is the first Twilight film worthy of all the tear-stained hysterics bestowed up on it. Seriously, someone buy director David Slade a drink and give him a pat on the back. This man single handedly saved this entire franchise by giving the lunkheaded narrative some bearing and making things a bit more exciting. You go, Mr. Slade! Now, for all the praise I just showed Eclipse, I do have my gripes with Bella Swan’s third outing with Edward Cullen and Jacob Black. While Slade adds some teeth gnashing action scenes, writer Melissa Rosenberg still can’t resist the temptation to bog parts of the film down with countless scenes of the characters laying in fields and staring at each other and arguing about the future of relationships. Jacob still spends half the movie running around with out a shirt and Edward’s hair is still a mess. But at least Jacob takes out a few vamps this time, so I’ll forgive some of the constant removal of his shirt. It is truly amazing how this love triangle takes shape when there is actually a bit of a threat on the horizon and the film embraces a little danger. It also doesn’t shy away from a plot, much like the first two entries did.

Eclipse picks up with Bella (Played by Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Played by Robert Pattinson) discussing the future of their relationship. They throw around marriage and Bella’s wish to be turned into a vampire. Jacob Black (Played by Traylor Lautner) still stomps around and desperately tries to win Bella’s affection. While all the same old hooey drags on in Forks, a handful of mysterious murders send Seattle into a frenzy. Turns out that there is a growing army of vampires called “Newborns”, all who are standing by red headed siren Victoria (Played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and are slowly making their way to Forks to take Bella’s life. Bella’s father Sheriff Charlie (Played by Billy Burke) tries desperately to piece together what is going on, but Edward and his family are one step ahead of the dense Sheriff. They begin to devise a counterattack on the “Newborns” and they seek the help of Jacob and his wolf pack. With the uneasy alliance in line, they begin the fight to protect Bella.

Eclipse still ignores the same glaring issues that plague the series. How does Charlie Swan still not suspect anything strange about the pasty white Edward? How much longer is this pointless love triangle going to bring down the party? Why is Bella so damn boy crazy? How do Bella’s normal friends not suspect anything weird? By this point, I’ve given up hope they will address any of these questions. Instead, Eclipse gets its own set of problems, mostly stemming from the poor storytelling of Rosenberg and Stephanie Meyer, who have no idea how to build tension and keep that building tension in place. The film blows over like a house of cards when Edward and Bella stare at each other and profess their feelings. Yet Slade tries desperately and he pays us off with a spine-tingling showdown at the end of the film. The special effects rank as some of the best in the series so far and the make-up on the vampires isn’t as powdery and artificial as the first two films. There is also a fairly hair-raising introduction to the film featuring a nasty vampire attack…which includes a bite on the hand. Yeah, I know, it’s meek and well aware that a good majority of viewers fall into the female gender, so an artery-spurting assault is out of the question. But here, Slade knows vampires, as he directed the comic book chiller 30 Days of Night, so he has some experience with vamp action.

Now we turn to the good and I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d find much good in these films. Eclipse puts its characters in harm’s way and allows a few of them to get hurt. It never gets as ballsy as New Moon did and kill someone off (Please do not interpret that as praise for that rubbish film), but some characters do get a bit of a beat down. This one is a notch more violent than the previous installments and it doesn’t always turn away like the previous two always did. Bryce Dallas Howard is a welcome addition as Victoria, throwing an actress in the mix that is capable of adding some layers to her character even if that character finds herself in a Twilight movie. Dakota Fanning’s Volturi hellraiser Jane shows up to do a little more than just show off red contact lenses and utter empty threats. She gets a few nasty torture sequences that are giddy fun. Jacob’s digital alter ego gets to bare his fangs and rip a few vampires to shreds, tearing ones head off. Once again, these vampires don’t bleed out or burst into flames, but rather crumble into marble.

Once criticism I have for Slade is his disinterest in pushing his young actors to grow in their characters. The most disappointing is Bella, who finds herself at the center of the conflict. She does absolutely nothing to help anyone out and stands around and sulks. Sure, she TALKS about helping but never really does or Edward talks her out of it. Pattinson still looks like he is trying to pass a kidney stone and Lautner is still unpersuasive as a supposed macho man. The only evolution that is made is that Bella turns out to be a bit of a closet hornball. Don’t think too much about it or attempt to analyze, it fades just a quickly as it shows up.

Perhaps the most liberal of the Twilight films, I have to say that Eclipse is a fairly decent film that if it was trimmed down and ignored some of the chattier moments, it would actually be respectable. Slade tries desperately to sidestep the repetitive nature of these films and he comes out of it with a good portion of his dignity in tact. There is a scene in a brightly lit field near the beginning of the film that is absolutely jaw dropping even if there is the constant annoying hum of tween romance babble. In fact, I would have loved to see what Slade did with the previous two entries and what kind of personality he would have installed into them. It really does boggle my mind as to why the producers of this film have allowed Rosenberg to continue to pen these films, as she the bane of the Twilight films existence. She needs to cut the intimate moments down significantly and understand that we are well aware that these characters are at odds with their emotions. She doesn’t continuously need to underline the point and put it in italics. Someone also needs to step in and instruct the actors on how to be less wooden and show a bit more life. So, Twilight fans, for the first time, you are worthy of your prestigious MTV Best Movie award.

Grade: C+

Eclipse is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

50/50 (2011)

by Steve Habrat

Did you ever think something as serious as cancer could be funny? Well, if you thought no, you should immediately rush out to see 50/50, the heartwarming, side-splitting tear-jerker that manages to snap a picture of the pain and anguish one goes through while they are being treated for the illness and the power of friendship that pulls someone through any tough situation they are facing. This film, which is directed by Jonathan Levine and penned by Will Reiser, strikes a perfect balance of hearty belly laughs and sniffling tears that it becomes a downright marvel in itself. Leave it to stoner comedian Seth Rogen to gravitate to a picture that makes the claim that male camaraderie is all a guy needs to pull him through a situation, any situation, that will change their life, make them embrace adulthood, or accept responsibility. It also helps that rising star Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Adam, the poor guy with the dreaded illness with a tragic vulnerability, a guy who all we want to do is reach through the screen and give him a big bear hug.

50/50 is based on a true story. The film follows Adam (Played by Levitt) who works at a radio station with his pot smoking best buddy Kyle (Played by Rogen). Adam is a nice guy, one who shacks up alongside his gorgeous girlfriend Rachel (Played by Bryce Dallas Howard), who often times walks all over him. She consistently wants to be the center of attention, overshadowing Adam at every turn. Adam has recently been feeling an aching in his lower back. He takes a trip to the doctor and learns he has a rare type of cancer, one that demands he undergo chemotherapy to treat it. As the treatment pushes forward, Adam meets two saccharine older men also stricken with cancer, is cheated on by his girlfriend, gets a ridiculous retired racing hound names Skeletor, gets medicinal marijuana, and meets a perky but amateur medical student Katherine (Played by Anna Kendrick) who guides him in the psychological aspect of what is happening to him. As Adam begins to fall apart, he begins trying to do things he doesn’t usually partake in. As his illness gets worse, Adam learns that he has a 50/50 chance of survival, a fact that pushes the defeated Adam to the brink of a nervous breakdown.

Drastically shifting from hilarity to heartrending, 50/50 avoids being a clichéd drama, one that strums the heartstrings that sing the loudest or a tasteless comedy, one that turns something like cancer into a sick joke. Focusing on the swirling emotions that no doubt accompany something like this, this film is sincerely human. A film that left me thinking about how I would emotionally cope with learning I had cancer. You never feel like a voyeur while watching 50/50, never exploiting and always inviting you in to the scene. There is a part of the film that shows us Adam and Kyle smoking weed with Alan (Played by Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Played by Matt Frewer), the two older gents struck with cancer. They joke, laugh, and are warmed by Mitch’s wife, who embraces Mitch in a loving hug, showing she is sticking by her companion through sickness and in health. It’s the moments like this that show 50/50 is never on autopilot in the emotions department. The film also becomes piercing and cold, especially when Rachel’s true colors emerge. There are moments that are pathetic, especially a scene in which Adam lays around in a pot coma, wallowing in the calamity and despair that has crept up on him.

Rogen, who should be up for an Oscar for his supporting role as Kyle, steals the entire film, the foul mouthed best friend who always annoys yet cracks the straight-laced shell of Adam with a crooked grin. He always knows the right things to say, even if Adam refuses to admit it’s humorous. After Adam dumps Rachel, Kyle takes him out and encourages him to exploit his situation in order to pick up chicks. The results are hysterical. Rogen has a way with ad-libbing, making any given scene feel natural, creeping by the staged. He has become an actor who radiates natural allure, always coming across unadulterated and not simply a character he is portraying. Kyle is his crowning achievement in his sprawling body of work. Howard and Kendrick also bring human performances, one representing the aloofness of human nature (Howard) and one embodying the compassion (Kendrick).

The message is clear in 50/50: Life is unpredictable. We shouldn’t be afraid to take risks because we never know when it can be taken away. Adam lives a conservative, buttoned up life (He doesn’t drink or drive a car), one that lacks thrills. Kyle lives as if everyday is his last, wisecracking and giggling his way through any situation, even as he is caught in the middle of an argument between Rachel and Adam. Yet it’s his friendship, his willingness to stand by his friend that moved me while watching 50/50. This is a film that even if you think you won’t have your world shaken up, it will get you at some point. Adam’s nervous breakdown was the point that really hogtied me emotionally. 50/50 believes in the power of love, a force that is complicated and has strange ways of showing up and guiding us. Every door closed is another door open. I wish every film could fill me with optimism and dazzle me with the splendor of life like 50/50 did. It also proves that laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Grade: A-

The Help (2011)

by Steve Habrat

For all the films that have acted like rollercoaster rides this summer, none have been more of an emotional ride than The Help. Do I dare say, this early on in the year, that Tate Taylor’s sassy comedy/drama set at the height of the Civil Rights Movement is one of the best films of the year? I think I can. But while some films find their way to the top of that list by how pertinent they are to the current epoch (see The Hurt Locker, The Social Network, The King’s Speech, etc.), The Help doesn’t send a particularly current message. Sure, it’s can’t-we-all-just-look-past-our-differences-and-just-get-along can work in every climate and it is basically a rallying cry for outsiders (of any color, might I add) to find their voice and stick up for themselves. No, a film can find it’s way to the top of that list on the performances that make up the said film. The Help thrives on this idea. Yet the film strings along scene after scene that in one second will have you chuckling (“I NEVER burn chicken!”) and the next will have you scrambling to pick up the pieces of your shattered heart. It’s quite the bipolar film.

When I say this is a film for outsiders, we must take into consideration the era that this film takes place in. Set in the 1960’s, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Played by the inescapable starlet Emma Stone) is a recent college grad that is also an aspiring writer. She is a confident, self-assured, and snappy woman who is determined to make a career for herself and avoid becoming a phony trophy/stay-at-home wife like the ones she mingles with on a daily basis. Upon returning, she ignites an old friendship with Hilly Holbrook (Played by the jaw-dropping beaut Bryce Dallas Howard), a stay-at-home wife with a racist streak and a political agenda of her own. She is making a push to segregate bathrooms in the household between colored help and the white inhabitants. One day during a violent storm, Minny Jackson (Played by Octavia Spencer), the colored housekeeper of Hilly, has to use the restroom and she doesn’t want to brave the vicious storm to do it. Defying the frigid Hilly, she uses the white facilities and gets herself fired. Simultaneously, Skeeter has started working on a book with the reluctant and reserved Aibileen Clark (Played by the Oscar-worthy Viola Davis) on what it’s like to be colored help in the south. Aibileen convinces Minny to contribute to the book, sharing a story of revenge that threatens to tear apart Skeeter’s friendships with old friends and family.

The Help narrowly avoids being the mandatory mother/daughter bonding film of the summer. Upon an initial first glance, it appears to be the option for the ladies who don’t want to accompany their chest-thumping husbands and boyfriends to the latest Fast and Furious movie. The film does act as a celebration for the liberated, empowered female, but also a film that gives an individual who sees themselves as looked over and brushed to the side courage to find their voice. It’s universal, yes, but outrageously accessible. This is what troubles The Help. It’s so concerned about being unanimous and trying to appeal to everyone. That’s why the ending of the film is such a wallop. It seems like this sequence should serve as a bridge from one conflict to another in a film like this, but it leaves the audience filling in what happens next. I applaud the film for taking this route. It lacks the Hallmark ending that would usually make a sappy film like this diabetically sweet.

Despite its blatant comradery, the film is carried on the backs op Davis, Spencer, Howard, and Stone, who act as the heavy lifters in this picture. Davis plays Aibileen with haunted eyes and a cracked soul. She pulls genuine condolences for her character when we learn about her distraught back-story. Spencer is feisty and adds the spunk a film like this needs. She delivers the best lines of the film and she sometimes seems relegated to jester to the seriousness at hand. Near the end, get ready for a serious shocker from her character that will leave you clutching your gut in laughter. Stone is her usually sweet self as the ambitious Skeeter. She represents what was ultimately rejected during this era—the career driven woman. Her cancer stricken mother who pleads with her to find a man and get married hounds her every step of the way and this further solidifies her outsider persona. She absolutely refuses to give a man an inch. In one flashback sequence, she sulks to her sweet and elderly housekeeper Constantie (I could have watched a whole film about Skeeter’s relationship with Constantine!) about not getting asked to the school dance by a boy. It’s a minor sequence that hints at the confidence seeds planted within her. And we can’t forget Howard, who clocks in a vile performance as Hilly, a despicable human being with no compassion. She gets what’s coming to her and I won’t reveal what that is, but I will say that the revenge here is certainly sweet.

Despite it’s clichés, The Help is a remarkably enjoyable and ultimately a feel good film. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else but what it is. It acts as a voyeuristic look back in time as well as encouraging empowerment and liberation for present times. These messages are elementary at best here, but I had such a great time watching these women that I am willing to forgive this one flaw. There were scenes that ate at me and there are some tearful moments. It’s a performance film that tells a stimulating story with impeccable ease. Since seeing it and thinking about it, the film has a strange pull on the viewer. It’s delectably entertaining. You want to go back and listen to these characters again. The film ends with a monologue from Aibileen saying that no one has ever asked her how she is doing. Well Aibileen, you certainly have my undivided attention. Grade: A