Blog Archives

Spring Breakers (2013)

Spring Breakers #1

by Steve Habrat

Arthouse writer and director Harmony Korine isn’t the type of filmmaker who releases warm and fuzzy crowd pleaser films. Far from it. Korine made a name for himself with such films as the gritty AIDS tale Kids, the voyeuristic and derelict Gummo, and the schizophrenic Julien Donkey-Boy, all films that have achieved cult status due to their controversial subject matter and off-the-beaten-path approach. Over the years, Korine has managed to keep a relatively low profile, but earlier this year he finally broke into the mainstream with Spring Breakers, a glow-in-the-dark tale of four college girls letting loose on the streets of Florida. Through his camera lens, Korine turns this tale of escaping the mundane and living out your fantasies into a sun-drenched nightmare that leers at you through showers of Natural Light, clouds of cocaine, hovering trails of marijuana smoke, and walls of dubstep noise. And then there is James Franco, who gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Alien, a showy, grill-wearing rapper and wannabe thug who pulls our four beach-bunny heroines down into a neon underworld that is ecstasy to some and a living and breathing Hell to others.

Spring Breakers introduces us to Candy (played by Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany (played by Ashley Benson), Cotty (played by Rachel Korine), and Faith (played by Selena Gomez), four college students who are eager to tag along with their fellow classmates to a spring break celebration in Florida. Unable to scrape enough money together to go, Candy, Brittany, and Cotty decide to rob a local diner in an attempt to come up with enough money to make the trip. The robbery proves successful, and together, the girls board a party bus that will take them to a weeklong celebration in the sun. Upon their arrival, the girls are convinced that they are in paradise and they proceed to indulge in an abundance of reckless and wild behavior. After getting busted by the police for doing cocaine at a party, the girls are taken to a holding cell, where they, along with two hard-partying twins (played by Sidney and Thurman Sewell), are bailed out by Alien (played by James Franco), a small-time rapper and thug who believes the girls can be useful with his criminal empire. After getting to know Alien, the girls believe they have it made, but their endless paradise is threatened when tensions flare between Alien and a dangerous local gangster by the name of Big Arch (played by Gucci Mane).

Korine begins Spring Breakers with a twirling montage of a college kids on a shining beach. There is no sound to accompany this string of images as they shout at the camera from behind Ray-Ban sunglasses. At first, the behavior seems harmless enough, that of college kids who are letting loose after months of hitting the books and hunching over finals. As the sequence picks up, the behavior spirals more and more out of control as girls shed their bikini tops for the audience and the cheering guys douse them in streams of cheap beer. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, a depiction of animalistic behavior that parents everywhere secretly try to tell themselves that their son or daughter doesn’t engage in. To our four main characters, this is what they consider to be the good life that they daydream about, snorting cocaine off of each other’s stomachs, seducing a room full of meathead guys who throw beer on their quivering bodies, and urinating in the street for the entire world to see. As the film goes on, the girls begin to grapple with this endless paradise, some embracing it without ever looking back and others frightened into the shelter of their normal routine by the arrogant wannabe thug Alien, who claims to take great delight in being as bad as they come.

Spring Breakers #2

When evaluating the performances of Spring Breakers, the actor at the head of the class is Franco, who is flawless as the smirking faux-thug Alien. Franco introduces Alien as an overconfident poser who demands that the girls, who circle his feet like dogs, marvel at all of his possessions. He brags about having Scarface on repeat, shows off his high-powered weaponry that hangs over his bed (which he dubs his “spaceship”), and loves gathering the girls around his baby grand piano that sits on his scenic back porch. When he tangles with Gucci Mane’s menacing Big Arch, who spits poisonous threats like a viper, his confidence begins to wobble. With a showdown looming in the distance, Alien’s love for the good life is put to the test, especially when he realizes that he needs to back up all of his boasts. As far as the girls go, Hudgens and Benson are white hot as Candy and Brittany, two girls who love pointing their fingers like guns and making gun shot noises. Rachel Korine is a ball of confliction as Cotty, a pink-haired partier who can’t quite decide if she is as taken with Alien’s lifestyle as her pals are. Gomez surprises as the religious Faith, who grows increasingly concerned about both her current situation and her rebellious friends.

While the subject matter of Spring Breakers sure fits in with the rest of Korine’s homely body of work, the film is a slight shift from his usual ragged, fly-on-the-wall visual style. The party scenes certainly hold on to the vérité approach we have seen in Korine’s previous work, but Spring Breakers finds him applying a gorgeous neon glow to almost every single shot, sometimes leaning towards a glow-in-the-dark surrealism that makes you feel like you’re trapped in a night club. It’s never short of beautiful, even when it’s allowing you to glimpse the worst in human beings. The film also casts a spell with the thumping dubstep score, which almost throws you into a glazed-over trance as partiers scream into the camera. In addition to its neon visuals, Korine’s script builds the suspense quite nicely, working its way to a shattering showdown where the girl’s get to live out their violent fantasies, complete with neon green bikinis and hot pink ski masks. Overall, while it may be a bit too much for some viewers to handle, Spring Breakers is an undeniably shocking and multi-layered meditation on the pros and cons of the good life. It finds Korine at the top of his directorial game and coaxing a wild turn from the ever-colorful James Franco. This is a blissfully edgy and hallucinatory work of mad genius from a man who loves pushing our buttons and making us uncomfortable.

Grade: A

Spring Breakers is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

This Is the End (2013)

This Is the End #1

by Steve Habrat

With interest rapidly fading in the abysmal The Hangover Part III, the film that almost everyone assumed would be the must-see comedy of 2013, the slot for “best summer comedy” has been left up for grabs. I have a feeling that over the next few weeks, that slot may end up being filled by This Is the End, an apocalyptic horror-comedy from the stoned minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Lovingly paying tribute to a whole string of horror films (look for nods to Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Evil Dead, and Zombie) and firing off laughs faster than a machine gun spits out bullets, This Is the End is a gross-out laugh riot that leaps from one frenzied shock after another. Nothing is off limits here and every single actor or actress in front of the camera (just know that each and every one of them is playing an exaggerated version of themselves) throws themselves into the project with plenty of maniacal gusto. To make it even better, the film boasts such a fresh and unique concept, making you wonder why no one has ever tried something like this before. Did I also mention that the film gets incredibly freaky when the demons come out to play?

This Is the End begins with Jay Baruchel arriving in Los Angeles to hang out with his old buddy Seth Rogen. The two arrive at Seth’s new home where they instantly smoke a ton of weed, watch Seth’s 3D television, and play video games. When their interest fades in doing that, the two decided to go to a housewarming party that is being thrown by James Franco. While at the party, Jay and Seth mingle with countless other celebrities including Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rihanna, Danny McBride, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, and Aziz Ansari, to name a few (trust me, there is a slew of others that turn up). After Jay grows uncomfortable at the party, he asks Seth to accompany him to the nearest convenience store so that he can pick up a pack of cigarettes. Suddenly, beams of blue light shoot through the ceiling of the convenience store and suck up several customers. Terrified, Jay and Seth flee into the street where chaos has erupted. The two manage to make it back to James Franco’s home in time to warn everyone. Most of the partygoers refuse to believe their story but after a giant sinkhole appears outside and the Hollywood hills erupt with fire, the guests scatter and most of them die horribly. The only survivors of the incident are Jay, Seth, James, Craig, Jonah, and Danny, who proceed to barricade themselves into the lavish mansion they were all just partying in. Terrified and confused, the group begins trying to make sense of their situation and figure out if the destruction outside will pass or if it really is the end of days.

This Is the End marks the directing debut from Rogen and Goldberg, which would automatically make you assume that the finished product would be a somewhat wobbly experience. While there are a few pacing issues, Rogen and Goldberg show that they are extremely competent and confident blockbuster directors who also know their way around a good horror film. Even if they are borrowing most of their wink scares, there are more than a few moments that will have your arms breaking out in goosebumps. The amount of horror in the film is surprising, but it never once gets in the way of the infinite amount belly laughs strung throughout. You’d assume that the film would exhaust itself early on, especially when you get a load of the numerous cameos crammed into the first fifteen minutes. It’s a giddy delight that just keeps getting more outrageous, especially when Michael Cera turns up as an obnoxious cokehead slapping Rihanna’s ass and blowing a handful of cocaine into Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s face. Honestly, even if you have no interest in the film whatsoever, just go see it for his performance. He pretty much steals the movie. Yet when 98% of the partygoers get sucked down to Hell, the film never even misses a beat. The guys instantly start bickering over food, water, beer, drugs, a Milky Way, masturbating, sleeping arrangements, scavenging, and, yes, there is even a conversation about raping Emma Watson. As if it couldn’t get any better, the guys decided to make a homemade sequel to Pineapple Express.

This Is the End #2

Perhaps the most inspired part of This Is the End is that Rogen and Goldberg, who also wrote the movie, decided that everyone should just play a cartoon version of themselves. Using the image that most of the public has of them; the guys and gals instantly crank it up to eleven. Rogen goes fully stoner with a sellout edge while Hill goes full nice guy as America’s sweetheart. Robinson brings his teddybear charm while sweating profusely in his “Take off your panties!” t-shirt and McBride unleashes an even darker version of Kenny Powers, if that was even possible. Franco plays with the idea that everyone thinks that he is a bisexual art snob obsessed with Seth Rogen and Baruchel nabs laughs through the idea that everyone is sort of familiar with him but not entirely. Together, they erupt in a flurry of adlib conversations that are just downright hysterical. What is even more shocking is the fact that these guys really go for the throat, burning Rogen for his gravel laugh and Green Hornet and poking Franco for Spider-Man and Your Highness. It certainly is a set that demanded thick skin and deep-rooted relationships. Just when you think you’ve seen everything that This Is the End has to offer, wait until you lay eyes on the axe-wielding Emma Watson, who completely skewers her innocent public image. You will never be able to look at her or Michael Cera the same way ever again.

While This Is the End certainly benefits from its fast and furious humor, there are still a few guffaws that fall painfully flat. This doesn’t happen often but be prepared for one or two lines to be met with the sound of crickets. Despite these fizzlers, This Is the End never looses its momentum and it arrives at a towering inferno climax with a few more cameos and sight gags that are guaranteed to have you doubled over in laughter. The film also dares to get a little preachy in a few places and its interest in the biblical apocalypse was certainly unforeseen, but This Is the End delivers a message that this viewer could stand behind. This message is simple—don’t be a jerk and you’ll be just fine when you meet your maker. Fair enough. Overall, with an inspired idea and a cast that is game to poke fun at themselves and each other’s public persona, This Is the End is ablaze with uncapped creativity, pop culture references, and stoner charm. It may not be for everyone and it is sure to offend your mother, but this is one comedy that begs to be seen with a huge audience ready to have a raucous and raunchy good time.

Grade: A-

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

by Steve Habrat

With remakes, sequels, and prequels being the name of the game in Hollywood today, I don’t really think it surprised anyone to hear that the iconic musical The Wizard of Oz was getting a prequel. It seemed that Hollywood had the good sense not to even attempt trying to update that one! Could you imagine someone other than Judy Garland belting out ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow?’ Yeah, I didn’t think so. Well, enter director Sam Raimi, the man who gave us The Evil Dead and the Spider-Man trilogy, and Disney, who seems to have their hands in everything these days, and, once again, we’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz! Truthfully, Oz the Great and Powerful isn’t a bad movie at all and it is all the more interesting that Disney handed the project, which is based on the works of L. Frank Baum, over to a director like Raimi, who seems more comfortable tossing body fluids all over his actors rather than exploring the land over the rainbow. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that Oz the Great and Powerful is actually quite fun, charming, impeccably acted, and, dare I say, cool, but there are also a myriad of problems buried beneath all the eye candy (pacing, character development, chopped editing), which may prevent it from ever reaching the classic status of the original film.

Picking up in 1905 Kansas, Oscar Diggs (Played by James Franco) or “Oz,” as he is called, is working as a small-time magician for a traveling circus with his assistant, Frank (Played by Zach Braff). Oscar is a fast-talking womanizer, giving every pretty girl he meets a music box that he claims belonged to his grandmother when in actuality he has several of them waiting to be passed out. After Oscar is revealed to be a fraud during his magic act, visited by his true love, Annie (Played by Michelle Williams), who is planning to marry another man, and chased out of the circus by an enraged strongman, Oscar manages to crawl into a hot air balloon and float away from all of his problems. Shortly after making his escape, Oscar is sucked up into a tornado and transported to the mystical land of Oz. Upon his arrival, he stumbles upon Theodora (Played by Mila Kunis), a beautiful witch that believes Oscar is the wizard that will save them all from the clutches of the wicked witch. She explains that if Oscar can save the people of Oz, he will become their beloved wizard and king. Theodora takes Oscar to the Emerald City, where he is introduced to the skeptical Evanora (Played by Rachel Weisz), who guards the Emerald City throne and acts as the aid to the wizard. After some convincing, Oscar reluctantly agrees to help the people of Oz and sets out to track down and destroy the wicked witch. As he ventures deeper into the land of Oz, he meets Finley (Voiced by Braff), a flying monkey in a bellhop suit, China Girl (Voiced by Joey King), a porcelain girl with broken legs, and the beautiful Glinda the Good (Played by Willaims), who all agree to aid Oscar on his quest.

First, let us discuss the good parts of Oz the Great and Powerful. Raimi kicks things off with a dazzling funhouse opening credit sequence that really comes to life in 3D. He then continues to play with the 3D effects as he presents the opening fifteen minutes in scrunched black and white (fire breathers blow flames out at you while debris is thrown into the black bars on the side), transitioning to Technicolor widescreen as Oscar floats into Oz, an obvious nod to the original film.  Oz itself is absolutely breathtaking; a dream world with massive flowers, neon hummingbirds, and toothy river fairies filling the widescreen to the point where you fear the screen may burst. And then there is the meticulously recreated Emerald City, which is absolutely magnificent and almost always sparkling gloriously in the background. I also can’t forget the two animated travel companions that align themselves with Oscar, China Girl and Finley, both of which look utterly fantastic in all their CGI glory. It is clear that this Oz is all about how lavish the filmmakers can make this fantasy land look and you have to hand it to the special effects department. They do construct an environment that will have the adult viewer speechless and the children reluctant to leave the theater.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

While all the eye candy is pleasant enough, it still can’t conceal the fact that there are a number of problems with the film. Oz the Great and Powerful runs slightly over two hours, fairly lengthy for a children’s film. It seemed like Disney was afraid that the length would turn some viewers off, so they asked Raimi and his editing department to cut certain scenes short. This chopping and slicing severely wounds some of the character development and trips up the pacing. Without saying too much, one of the witches is not fleshed out properly, making a major transition within her character seem a bit hollow when it should have hit with some major emotional force. The early scenes between Oscar and Theodora also seem clipped and rushed, with a love story developed and then quickly discarded. And then there is the dragging middle section, which goes on and on as the characters pace around and debate how to deal with the wicked witch. Screenwriters David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner then decide to introduce several more characters too late in the game, yet ask us to really become attached to them even though they haven’t been in the film twenty minutes (I’m looking at you, Master Tinker and Knuck). And then we have Oscar’s arrival in Oz, which found our hero barely batting an eye or questioning this strange new environment. He was just a little too clam and nonchalant about the bizarre things he is seeing and being told.

Even though characters are not properly developed, the performances are still quite strong, which is surprising. Many have said that Franco was miscast as Oscar, but I actually liked him despite the fact that his character is a heartless jerk. Franco is certainly enjoying himself and his enjoyment is infectious. It has come out that Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp were considered for the role, but I can’t really picture Downey in the role and Depp seems like he’d be a little too quirky. Then there is Mila Kunis, who I personally felt stole the entire film. Even though her scenes as Theodora are brief, she makes the best of them and tries to work her way into out hearts before her stunning transformation. I don’t really want to spoil anything, but Kunis really nails her massive part. Weisz is seductively evil as Evanora, who is skeptical of the overly confident magician Oscar and quietly manipulative of her poor heartbroken sister. Rounding out the witches is the sweet-as-sugar Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good, a radiant sunbeam that gushes over the munchkins and China Girl. It is almost impossible not to fall in love with her. Then we have our to CGI characters, Finley and China Girl, both who could have become seriously annoying but end up being rather clever additions. They actually steal some of the films best lines, especially the feisty pint-sized China Girl.

While Oz the Great and Powerful suffers from a number of problems, one can’t deny that Raimi doesn’t craft a rousing twenty-minute finale. It has everything you could possibly want and then Raimi puts a cherry on top in the form of fireworks just because he can. I really can’t rave enough about it, mostly because epic blockbusters like this fail to muster a satisfying climax. For the fans of Raimi’s earlier work, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find the director refusing to soften during the eerier moments of the film. His flying baboons will nab a few jumps, his trip into a haunted forest will send chills up and down your spine, and he even throws in a haggard old witch that looks like she would have been right at home in The Evil Dead or Drag Me to Hell. Rest assured that there are no evil trees ready to violate any of the female performers. Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful is going up against gigantic hype and inflated expectations, which basically sets it up for overwhelming disappointment. While it certainly has its fair share of problems, Raimi doesn’t forget to give this epic a big heart and irresistible charm, which single handedly makes up for everything else. Oh, and make sure you see it in 3D. You’ll thank me later.

Grade: B-

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.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

by Corinne Rizzo

If the first installment of the Spider-Man trilogy didn’t quite drive home the idea that Sam Raimi can and should always create a villain, Spider-Man 2 should be able to convince any audience that Raimi is essentially the king of all that is evil.

Here in the second installment, the viewer meets Raimi’s portrait of Doc Ock, or Doctor Octavius—a man that shares a love of science with Peter Parker as well as the capacity for good and for hope. For the most part though, Octavius reins darkness over the film as he attempts to show investors his latest energy experiment, harnessing a man made fusion, similar to the effects of the sun. When all is said and done and the experiment is near a successful exhibition, the villain can’t exist unless something goes wrong and surely it goes wrong in every possible way.

With Peter Parker foreshadowing the idea that the good doctor could blow the entire city to smithereens if the procedure isn’t handled correctly, Octavius loses control of the fusion experiment and is left with the death of innocent spectators, and a terrible mutation leaving him and the doctors who are trying to save him in a predicament they’ve never encountered.

Though it is the scene that follows the downfall of the experiment that makes the film a signature Raimi film and that scene is one of operating rooms, slain nurses and doctors, loads of horrific screaming and operational power tools buzzing about, blood splatters. Four extra limbs, mechanical, maniacal. The scene is straight out of a horror film and for a minute, the viewer is no longer watching a summer blockbuster, but a suspenseful and graphic thriller.

In fact, the sequel in this trilogy is probably the best out of the three films and one could say that it’s Raimi’s style to not only make the horror film, but make the sequel to the horror film one debatably superior.

Parker finds his own struggles in this sequel and becomes even more tortured than last the viewer received him. The charade with M.J. is on-going and is almost too belabored. For the sake of the audience, it can be assumed that Raimi made the choice to cut the romance dance short and just get the two kids in love and talking marriage already, which makes Spidey happy, which makes Spidey possible. All things the audience responds to.

Meanwhile, the darkness inside of Harry Osborne rises and becomes just another threat to Spidey, after Spidey killed his best friend’s father. No longer are the headlines making things rough for Spider-Man, it seems as if his competition is multiplying as well. Will the conclusion to the three films be a villain paradise?

Grade: A-

Spider-Man 2 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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

Spider-Man (2002)

by Corinne Rizzo

If ever a man could give a modest superhero the edge of one who not only slays science fiction-y comic book villains but ones who truly threaten our psychologically modern society, Sam Raimi would be that man.  In his first attempt at a feel good blockbusting summer flick, Raimi takes an undertortured and understated high schooler turned college student and turns that character not only into our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but a superhero of classic proportions. Raimi shows the story of Peter Parker, not by using the drama of his own life, but the drama involved with the villain, which any viewer or Raimi fan can tell, is the character type he seems most comfortable with creating.

Though Raimi does forge Spider-Man’s character without the drama of Uncle Ben and Aunt May, the Mary Jane saga or the idea that Peter and his best friend are as estranged as long lost cousins, Raimi does seem to pile the heaviest load of drama on to the villain in the first of the three Spider-Man films.

In the first installment, Raimi’s villain of choice is the Green Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe. Dafoe is a surprising choice for such a summer blockbuster, as he can be truly menacing in appearance while also offering a cynical yet terrifying psychological aspect to his characters. Dafoe does this with the Green Goblin as he illustrates how Norman Osborne is so bent on the results of his laboratory, that he tests his latest chemical weapon on himself, spawning the Green Goblin’s character.

But what sets apart the development of this villain is the style with which Raimi exposes the viewer to the grit and horror involved with these changes. While Peter Parker simply gets bitten by a spider and gets a bit of a fever, the villain is clearly shown to the audience while in the midst of change. Locking himself in a glass chamber and exposing himself to a gas that has been shown to increase violence and aggravation in rational men, Osborne seizes and foams at the mouth, his eyes roll back into his head when his assistant attempts to stop the experiment, Osborne murders him almost immediately. Then in a fit of exhaustion, Osborne falls asleep and awakes with no memory of the events and experiences a sort of schizophrenia, a divide within his personalities of ration and greed. Dafoe’s face becomes even more upturned and menacing, his voice just a bit more terrifying and now rounded out by a villainous laugh.

Raimi does well to ensure a wholesome superhero like Spider-Man doesn’t become a film about a boy scout trying to better his city and save his girlfriend from evil-doers, by focusing on the villain, which is where the most creativity can be found in this film and the subsequent Spider-Man films. Though here in the first film, it is as if Raimi’s imagination is too much for the practical applications available to him at the time.

The film, printed in 2002, already looks its age. At a time when a lot of great strides were being made in CGI film editing, the magic was in not indistinguishable from reality. Many scenes appeared as though one could almost see the green screen in use, as though no wool was being pulled over the viewer’s eyes. This gives the film a super-campy effect, but with no real sense of itself.

While Raimi does an excellent job of keeping the action and fear alive in the film, he attempts to cover too much ground, which is unfortunately a common situation when dealing with the presumed massive exposure of a character only truly familiar with comic hero buffs. The attempts to tell back story, while creating the current story of Ben becoming a victim of a car-jacking and Aunt May being lonely and warm hearted, don’t really come alive, as the viewer might feel a sense of being rushed into knowing them—in other words, Peter Parker’s drama doesn’t seem as interesting and it is because so much is being introduced at once and so rapidly that one loses sight of who is important and why the audience should care.

Ultimately, Raimi wins the affection of the viewer by trusting him to build a truly terrifying and psychologically thrilling villain and surrounding circumstances. By using his talents for creating fear and anxiety with his typical scary movie formula, Raimi successfully turns an underwhelming, seemingly too classic for true nail biting potential, into an edge of your seat thriller that at the very least, leaves you open to a sequel.

Grade: B-

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

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

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

by Will Nepper

If you’d have told me a decade ago that there was any banana juice left in the Planet of the Apes franchise, I’d have expected you meant it in a straight-to-video capacity. Tim Burton’s Apes — just like his Alice and Willy Wonka — seemed to reflect a filmmaker with little understanding of what made the source material great. (And when I apply the adjective “great” to anything PotA-related, I don’t mean it so much as in a “cinematic-achievement” way, as I do a “Tony-the-Tiger” way.)

The PotA series is beloved by many but not because its all that special. It’s a sci-fi movie that was in the right place at the right time. Its effects were state-of-the-art and fairly convincing. (I mean, if man evolved halfway back to ape … I could see it looking like that I guess.)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may represent the first shot of dignity the series has ever been allowed. It’s a well-acted, well-structured prequel that establishes a loose origin story for a series that actually deserves one. (How did those apes get so smart anyway?)

James Franco looks a little bored as some top-shelf genetic medical mad scientist-lite type of guy who has invented what is supposed to be the “cure to Alzheimer’s” (or just “The Cure” in the original trailer). When tested on apes they find that its brain-building properties turn chimps into little cheeping Steven Hawkings! Cool! –wait! Not cool! That’s how the Statue of Liberty got buried!

When things go to shit in the test-monkeys-to-cure-Alzheimer’s wing of Franco’s Mega-Medical-Corp employer, he finds himself adopting Caesar, the first recipient of the AMAZING only-temporarily-cures-Alzheimer’s-but-makes-monkeys-rule-the-Earth serum.

Franco is impressed with Caesar’s ability to communicate, emote, and make it okay to like CGI again (and let’s not forget how uh-dor-a-bullll and natural he looks in kids’ clothes!) that he decides to bring the hairy kid home to meet Dad (John Lithgow, underplaying it for as change) who — and you may be one step ahead of me here — happens to have Alzheimer’s.

But as much as Franco seems to love living with his genetically-altered monkey-old-man sitcom-ready duo, his genetic animal specialist or whatever girlfriend has the good sense to mention that this situation might be on a collision course with an action-packed last reel. After an unfortunate incident in which Caesar damn near takes Franco’s neighbor apart he’s sent away to an ape … storage … facility? … or Hell Zoo? … or some Animal Planet version of the Truman Show? I don’t know…it’s been a few weeks since I screened the movie.

When Caesar sees that he’s rejected by both human and ape alike, he makes like Charlie Bronson and takes the law(s of nature) into his own hands. After making friends with a gorilla and an orangutan, he breaks out, steals the secret formula and blesses all of his monkey pad-mates with the gift of accelerated evolution. You can guess what happens next? Or maybe you can’t — either way, Rise is worth your time.

Its story is constructed with the dramatic heft found in a lot of late 70s sci-fi without sacrificing the stuff that makes you want to see a PotA movie, like battles and clumsy sociological subtext.

Fans of any of the Apes’ earlier incarnations with a keen eye are endlessly rewarded with references, in-jokes and meaningful connections. For a broad example, Rise establishes the Gorilla-as-militant, orangutan-as-thinker, chimps-as-sensitive-and-kind dynamic that runs consistently through all Ape endeavors.

Some of the dialogue is clunky and as much as I usually enjoy James Franco (really!), I didn’t buy him in Rise. It kinda seemed like hiring Cheech Marin to play Albert Schweitzer. Beyond that though, I don’t have many bad things to say about Rise. It represents the best that the science fiction genre has to offer; the binding together of known science and fantasy in a way that takes hold of the imagination. Add to that what may be the most convincing digitally-rendered characters I’ve ever seen (How about that motion-capture technology? Amiright?), an impressive (if not completely absurd) action finale, and it makes sense that Rise has become the sleeper hit of a summer stuffed with crap you couldn’t pay me to see…and Captain America. Grade: B