Spider-Man, amazing or not, is the big film this week, although Katy Perry has her own adoring fans anxious to see her movie. Woody Allen and Oliver Stone are back and modernism in architecture and mysterious science fiction play out right here in Vancouver. Here’s the list:
The Amazing Spider-Man: 3 stars
Katy Perry: Part of Me: 3
To Rome With Love: 2
Coast Modern: 4
Beyond the Black Rainbow: 2
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: It’s already a big hit and many of the fans seem to approve. I found it not very involving. It’s less intense than the first one, directed by Sam Raimi 10 years ago and best remembered for a hot kissing scene in the rain. There’s no equal here although, with Marc Webb now at the helm, and his sole previous feature being the quirky romance (500) Days of Summer, young love is again the most appealing part of the film. It tops the action scenes that come later.
Peter Parker, now played by Andrew Garfield (he was the co-inventor of Facebook in The Social Network) and Gwen Stacey, played by Emma Stone (she was the writer in The Help) develop a high school relationship that’s sweet and endearing. Just as involving is Peter’s search for answers about his parents who disappeared mysteriously years before. He learns about his father’s work in inter-species genetics and meets an old colleague (Rhys Ifans) who is trying to gain a lizard’s ability to re-grow his severed hand.
But as happens in comic book stories, he actually turns himself into a giant lizard and thrashes cars around New York streets and bridges. Peter, after a bite from a radioactive spider, gets spider-like wall-climbing and web-slinging abilities and ultimately a showdown with the all-too implausible lizard. The action scenes are less than amazing. They’re big and dazzling but low on tension and sometimes hard to follow. 3-D makes the film look dark and murky. The 3-D looks better on a TV at the Sony store where they will play you the trailer. (Dunbar, Scotiabank, Park, Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
KATY PERRY: PART OF ME: I saw a couple of young girls at a theatre the other night looking wistfully at the poster for this film. They said they love her music. I asked how old they are. “I’m five,” one said, “and she’s seven.” So, it seems it’s a good thing this film made on a mammoth concert tour is almost squeaky clean. No bad language, no suggestive images and, as people who’ve seen her show will notice, a sexual gesture discreetly missing during her song Peacock.
Her fans get a big dose of her candy-colored stage show, all of her big hits from I Kissed a Girl to the current one, Wide Awake, with their poppy bounce and self-affirming lyrics, and enough peeks behind the stage to feel they’ve been let into her private life. Briefly it looks like they have been. The camera is there when Katy gets word that her husband Russell Brand, the English actor, is divorcing her. She’s lying flat, crying and distraught as another show is already starting but drags herself up to perform. The film charts her rise from preacher’s daughter and failed gospel artist to the mega-star she is today. She’s only the second person to have five number one hits off one album. Michael Jackson was the other one. The film captures the vitality of her show and much spirited singing-along by her fans. Songs like Fireworks speak to them. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
TO ROME WITH LOVE: After bringing us terrific stories set in Barcelona and Paris, Woody Allen is only a tourist in Rome. He hits the main spots, (Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Coliseum) and a few neighborhoods to tell four stories. He claims the city is so lively and diverse, just one wouldn’t do. Unfortunately they don’t connect or add up to much. They’re minor tales that don’t say anything distinctive about Rome.
Woody stars in the weakest one. He and Judy Davis are a married couple visiting their daughter and her fiancé, whose father is a powerful singer. Woody puts him on stage in a shower stall. Elsewhere, Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page appear in a better story. He’s an architecture student married to Greta Gerwig and she’s a visiting actress who seduces with her vulnerability. Alex Baldwin hangs around as a cautionary voice and the story’s only source of vitality. Italians figure in the others. Roberto Begnini, as a nobody who is hounded as a celebrity in repetitive sequences, and a honeymooning couple who find themselves accidentally separated in the bustling city. The groom benefits from another accident when a prostitute (Penélope Cruz) is wrongly sent to his room. He has to pretend she’s his bride. Promising ideas, but often dull, uninspired or drawn out results. Short on Woody’s wit and humor too. (5th Avenue, International Village) 2 out of 5
COAST MODERN: The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous; the message a bit disconcerting. Modernist architecture, according to one expert in this film, is “a beautiful failure” that never caught on because people thought its sharp angles and walls of glass were too strange to live in. And, new examples, according to Douglas Coupland locally and a critic in San Francisco, are often built for people who want to show off. The film makes the case that at its best modernism creates “a habitable work of art.” It’s uplifting. It doesn’t enclose you but connects you to nature and the landscape outside. A man living in the Arthur Erickson-designed Eppich house even claims there are health benefits.
The film is a celebration of the style from its beginnings in France in the 1920s to a post-war surge in California which came right up the west coast. We tour houses in Los Angeles, Portland. Seattle and here and get very personal impressions from architects, critics, like Trevor Boddy locally, and people who, like Coupland, live in one. Some of these places don’t look all that cozy; more like office building lobbies. But local filmmakers Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome make a spirited case for their livability and their esthetics, especially when they flash a montage of ugly monster houses built here in the 1980s. They’ll attend the weekend screenings (at 6:45) to discuss more. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW: Several times as I watched this film I thought of Scientology. The comparison may not be intended at all. It may be just me trying to make sense of a story that doesn’t explain itself and traffics in mindbending vibes and visuals instead. Imagine a pastiche of moody science fiction from years ago mixed with echoes of David Lynch, early Cronenberg and various other (both art and B-movie ) purveyors of enigmatic trips.
A young woman (Eva Allan) is getting treatment in an institute that offers “serenity through technology.” The sessions are cool, hypnotic and creepy. She’s told she’s too sick to leave, she doesn’t know herself and anyway the world outside is in chaos. Her therapist snuffs out any defiance with a harsh diamond light and eventually she tries to escape. Yes, that’s the Bloedel Conservatory she’s exiting in the picture above. The film was made here by Panos Cosmatos, who recently moved over from Victoria. (His father made the second First Blood film.) This one is for devotees of the odd and inscrutable delivered with hallucinatory style and atmosphere. The director and cinematographer will be there at tonight’s (Friday’s) 8:30 screening. (VanCity Theatre) 2 out of 5
SAVAGES: Let the title be a warning. In this movie you’re going to spend well over two hours with a bunch of extremely unpleasant people. Not the main leads, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Blake Lively. They’re the good guys. Taylor, as an Iraq war vet, and Aaron, as a do-gooder who helps out Africans, both grow marijuana in California. It’s so good they get up to $6,000 a pound for it. Blake loves them both and has sex with them individually and in a threesome before the main story even gets going.
That involves the baddies including John Travolta, as a crooked drug enforcement agent, Salma Hayek as the leader of a Mexican drug cartel, and Benicio Del Toro, as her smirking enforcer. The cartel wants to start a joint venture with the boys and when they refuse, kidnapping, torture, point-blank killings, a military style assault and prolonged scenes of inflicted pain follow. Also a video of beheaded bodies but that’s just a cautionary message. This is too grim to be a caper movie. There’s little fun in it, and, unusually for an Oliver Stone movie, almost no political themes. Only a brief suggestion that pot should be legalized because the war on drugs is bringing Mexican-style violence to the U.S. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
NOTE: The images are movie stills provided by the producers and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.