The Great Gatsby (2013) – Movie Review

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Because every American classic novel needs to be turned into a modern movie, here comes Baz Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott Fitzgerlad’s The Great Gatsby in a polarizing effort to say the least.

For the novel’s traditional fans, Lurhmann’s version is too all over the place. For the modernists, it’s an interesting take on the classic. The truth is Lurhamnn’s version exists in some form of limbo between the two.

The Great Gatsby is the story of Jay Gatsby (Leo Dicaprio) who moves to West Egg in Long Island and becomes quickly known for his extravagant lifestyle, which attracts the attention of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) who is sought out by Gatsby in order for the latter to get closer to Carraway’s cousin Daizy (Carey Mulligan) with whom he has a past.

Lurhamnn’s take on The Great Gatsby is uneven at best. The movie’s opening act is chaotic to say the least: from sweeping camera movement that are repeated more than once in a single scene, to a story that doesn’t seem to know how to get developed, to blitz and glitz that doesn’t seem to find a limit.
However, once the director and the movie start to find their footing – especially as chips start falling into place – The Great Gatsby becomes an enjoyable experience that manages to hook you in. That’s if you can get past the fabulousness-theme of the first act without nodding off.

Bolstered by excellent performances by Leo Dicaprio and Carey Mulligan, as well as Tobey Maguire, the movie’s characters are always interesting to watch especially when they interact. Dicaprio’s portrayal of the infinitely eccentric and optimistic Gatsby is spot-on. Tobey Maguire’s transition as the wannabe writer getting used to a life of excess is interesting and Carey Mulligan as the woman torn between the life she has and the life she could have is excellent.

The music of The Great Gatsby, however, doesn’t work. Of course, Florence + The Machine’s song is excellent and Lana Del Rey’s melodrama works here. But why would a movie about the jazz era open up with Jay-Z whose only similarity with the movie is probably his name?
The soundtrack, which plays throughout the movie, serves more as a vehicle for its corresponding singers rather than to bolster the cinematic experience of the movie it’s supposed to support.

The Great Gatsby is one of Baz Lurhmann’s better movies. Despite it being uneven and all over the place sometimes, it remains entertaining enough to pass despite it feeling too lush and shallow and superficial at points. For those who find this novel to be American literature’s most prized jewel, Lurhamnn’s version is an abomination. But if you’re willing to get past that, there’s no reason not to enjoy Gatsby when it allows you to.

3/5

The Lebanese Rocket Society (Documentary) – Review

The Lebanese Rocket Society

Brought to us by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, The Lebanese Rocket Society is a documentary about a phase of Lebanese history that exists between both of our civil wars, from 1960 to approximately 1966, in which a group of Lebanese students at Haigazian University launched rockets as part of a series of scientific experiments.

The above is not science fiction, as I had thought on many occasions when many blogs and newspapers wrote about the society over the past few months, despite it being quite difficult to believe given where we are technologically in Lebanon today.

The Lebanese Rocket Society‘s premise is bittersweet. For its main purpose, it makes you proud that these students not only decided to build a rocket, but also chemically made the fuel the rocket is supposed to use because only superpowers possessed it and were not going to dispense quantities of it to Lebanon. The students even built the radar sensors that they equipped the rockets with after a brief miscalculation which sparked a UN-debaccle with our neighboring Cyprus. Yes, we haven’t been nice neighbors all the time apparently. The Lebanese Army eventually helped them in their scientific experiments for the students were heading into financial difficulties with their ambition growing bigger.

The mere fact that the Cedar-named rockets were all built from scratch is a testament to the ingenuity and the creativity of these young Lebanese students. Too bad such advances are purely science fiction not because such brains are lacking but because of our country’s circumstances.

The most interesting parts in the documentary were, without a doubt, the sections where real-life footage from the many launches that took place were incorporated. The archive is unimaginably great and seeing it is worth the price of admission alone. It’s always interesting to dig up 20th-century material about Lebanon that is not of tanks bombing buildings and of a torn-out Holiday Inn hotel.

The documentary seeks out Manoug Manougian, the student who started it all, currently a math professor at a university in Florida. Manougian shares the archive he kept of what he calls one his life’s proudest moments. You can check out his personal page here.

The directors also find Harry Koundakjian, the photographer who documented the Lebanese Rocket Society’s experiments, as well as former Haigazian president John Markarian. However, even though the other participants in the society’s experiments are mentioned, nothing is said about them nor are they mentioned again beyond the movie’s opening scene, which I thought did their work a disservice.

Moreover, The Lebanese Rocket Society goes off-topic often, notably with an entire sequence about the importance of the Arab Spring, as well as many other political subtle messages passed on notably about the importance of the Arab unity under Abdel Nasser. I still have no idea how the entire documentary’s premise fits in the mood of revolutions and freedom and whatnot spreading across Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria but the notion is present.

I also felt it was very misleading that – despite their army source telling them the army had a panel discussing the possibility of turning the rockets into weapons by having one floor of the rocket filled with bombs – the directors were adamant that these rockets were a scientific experiment and build the entire documentary on that premise. It was quite clear that the rockets couldn’t have been possibly done if the army hadn’t helped and if the army wanted to make weapons out of them, they would have been turned into weapons.

The Lebanese Rocket Society ends with a 10 minute or so animated sequence which asks the question: what if Lebanon hadn’t stopped the rocket experiment?

To answer the question, the directors believe we would have a metro network running under Beirut, oil rigs off our shores, an entire space program rivaling that of the U.S.A. (down to basically ripping off Nasa’s logo), etc.

The sequence, in my opinion, did the movie a grave injustice and it shouldn’t have been included at all. It was already established that the rocket experiment was stopped because Lebanon was asked to by higher authorities in countries North, South, West and East. One of the documentary’s strongest scenes was one where a drafting compass drew a circle from Lebanon to where our rocket would have reached. Sinai was accessible. It was already established as well that the rockets were not, eventually, a mere scientific experiment as the students involved kept repeating. Those students didn’t know any better, obviously, but the army did. How does that set up for a future as bright as the one they tried to portray?

Nothing is better than some Lebanese future pick-me-up every once in a while, but at least don’t have it that separate from all the facts the documentary had presented over the course of the previous 80 minutes, especially that the presentation of those scientific facts was very systematic and documented.

I personally recommend people watch The Lebanese Rocket Society when it’s released in cinemas on April 11th despite its shortcomings because it is a documentary that showcases a different side of the Lebanon that we thought we knew, one that has been erased from the collective memory of the country as a whole – all supported by some old footage that will leave you baffled.

3.5/5

Beautiful Creatures [2013] – Movie Review

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You know things are odd when you’ve read the book upon which a movie is based and the movie still manages to surprise you. I don’t mean this in a good way.

Having nothing better to do a few weeks back, and knowing this would be released, I decided to read the novel Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the first in the Caster series. I thought the book was decent enough but figured the movie would be much better as the content is made to be translated to the big screen.

To say I was mistaken would be an understatement and I’m not sure if it’s only because the movie has absolutely nothing to do with the book, except for about 20 minutes which are spread out here and there over a two hour running time.

Lena Duchannes is a newcomer to the town of Gatlin, in the deep American South. She lives in Ravenwood manor, a place that the townspeople don’t look favorably upon nor upon its inhabitant, a man they hadn’t seen in years. When you’re that deep in the Bible Belt, the only thing people accept is Jesus and Republicans. If you deviate from that, then you’re the devil. Trying to fit in high school is some tough business for Lena who finds comfort in Ethan Wate, a boy whom she intrigues. He discovers that Lena is a caster (a fancy word for witch) and that female casters in her family are claimed to either the dark of the light when they turn 16 – and Lena doesn’t have much time left until her birthday.

The movie features an interesting cast that comprises of Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson and Viola Davis. Frankly, I have no idea what they were thinking in signing up to this. Not only is Beautiful Creatures not entertaining, it is an atrocity of monstrous proportions. Nothing in the movie works. The three aforementioned actors come off as amateurs who had never done a movie before. The special effects are cheap. The few moments of snarky dialogue at the beginning are nowhere near enough to make you look favorably at the hours that followed.

If you have read and liked the book, steer clear from this. If you have nothing to do during two hours of your life, steer clear from this. My guess is Beautiful Creatures did such a bad job at turning the book upon which it’s based into a movie that the upcoming parts in the series will never see the light of the day. Good.

1/10

Les Misérables [2012] – Movie Review

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As a person who grew up and went through a French curriculum with Victor Hugo’s novel as its centerpiece at many points, I’ve grown attached to the essence of the novel. I’ve also grown to understand it, know what it contains, understand the message that Hugo wanted to pass on. I’d even joke and say the novel’s impressive spine is a byproduct of Hugo being French – a lot of blabbing for nothing. I’ve taken some of that, as is evident by my wordy blogposts at times. This review will surely turn into one so just skip to the last paragraph if you don’t feel like reading.

My knowledge of Victor Hugo’s most famous 1500-pages novel has led me to conclude that it’s very difficult to turn it into a motion picture. If the previous attempts at this novel weren’t enough proof, Tom Hooper’s take on Les Misérables adds to the growing list of not-nearly-there trials.

The story is known for everyone by now. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is a French man living around the time of the French revolution and is forced to steal a loaf of bread to save a relative’s life. He is subsequently thrown in jail for 19 years at the end of which he’s released on parole. Valjean, however, breaks his parole and ends up making a decent life for himself as the mayor of a small French town in Northern France called Montreuil-sur-Mer. But Javert (Russell Crowe), the prison warden who was in charge of Valjean, appears back in his life during a visit to the factory run by Valjean, now working under a new name. In that factory works a single mother called Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who gets sacked from her job when her secret of having had a child out of wedlock, Cosette (eventually played by Amanda Seyfried), is discovered. Fantine eventually succumbs to becoming a prostitute and is saved by Valjean who promises to take care of her daughter as he runs away from Javert who’d do anything to catch him, to the backdrop of a growing revolution in the streets of the French youth.

Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is a full-blown musical. No, it’s not a musical in the sense of a talking movie with a few songs interspersed here and there. It’s a musical in the sense of three hours non-stop singing where even “thank you”s are sung, where reading letters becomes melodic and where, if you’re not a fan of musicals to begin with or not entirely sure what you’re getting yourself into, you’d end up wanting to pull your own hair out. Yes, this version of Les Misérables is definitely not for everyone. Even if you love – scratch that – adore music, Les Misérables might prove a very tough pill to swallow. And at times it really, really is.

Hugh Jackman, who can sing, ends up grating around the 120th minute mark. Russell Crowe on the other hand entirely sheds his Gladiator image for a singing Javert and with his not-so-pleasant singing voice ends up entirely intolerable a few minutes in. Russell Crowe even looks entirely uncomfortable to be there and it reflects on his character, making Javert – a central figure to the story – comical at times. Hugh Jackman has to be commanded for a job well done as Valjean. Few actors can say they can deliver performances as he did with the close-ups he got throughout the movie.

In fact, the actors and actresses in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables all performed their songs in the movie live. While a piano played in the background to guide them, they acted their songs instead of recording them months in advance and eventually lip-synching them to film.

The single acting performance in the movie that will absolutely blow your socks off is Anne Hathaway, who’s probably aided by the fact that her character isn’t there for long. Hathaway, as Fantine, is brilliant. She deserves all the praise she’s been getting. Her performance of the Susan-Boyle-made-famous song “I Dreamed A Dream” is gut-wrenchingly stunning. She brings the life into her character and gives Fantine a richness which other actors in this movie with more running time couldn’t bestow upon theirs. Hathaway steals every scene she’s in and ends up being the only reason you might walk out of this movie feeling like you hadn’t wasted three hours of your live. Just to watch her do what she does so beautifully. No one is raining on Hathaway’s parade come Award-season time.

Interesting casting choice include Samantha Barks as Eponine, the daughter of the Thénardiers, played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen whose only purpose was to add some comic relief to some tense moments. Barks sings her songs really well and gets you to relate to her character, despite the background. She delivers a nice rendition of “On My Own.”

Les Misérables does have its strong moments, notably the opening scene, Hathaway’s minutes and the ending, but the movie accumulates a lot of off-moments as well that make the result very lopsided. The movie is also extremely long. Thirty minutes (of wailing – singing) could have easily been cut with the story not be affected because few of those songs tell us more about the character and its story, an example being I Dreamed A Dream in which Fantine tells the story of how she reached the misery she was in. The overall result is a movie that feels very in limbo: okay, not great, this is awesome, this is horrible, goosebumps, kill me now. These are all things you will feel while watching Les Misérables.

3.5/5 – - new rating system.

Argo – Movie Review

Argo, based on a real story, is set in 1979 Iran, after the Islamic revolution at the heart of the American hostage crisis of the Carter era. 6 Americans were able to escape the confines of the embassy as it was overtaken, seeking shelter with the Canadian ambassador who harbors them as they wait inside the four walls of his house for salvation and for a rescue that never seems to come.

69 days after the American embassy in Iran events, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA agent, is called in to a secret meeting to discuss possible rescue scenarios for those 6 Americans who are at the most immediate danger with them being as exposed as they are. Mendez comes up with the ingenious idea of orchestrating a fake movie, with the help of John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood make-up artist, who brings a producer to the team in order to get the plan going. And Argo is set in motion.

One of the most intense thrillers you will watch, Argo keeps you glued to your seat for the entirety of its two hour run. The intermingling of historical footage with the movie’s lead-in scenes immediately draw you in. The movie has a dark tone throughout, one that doesn’t let down – even with the many comic moments that are there to lighten the mood in stark contrast to the overall grim setting of the time during which the events take place.

Ben Affleck delivers his best movie yet as a director and with a list of movies that have all been well-done, his talent as a filmmaker is beginning to surpass that of him as an actor even though he also delivers a decent performance here. The comic relief I mentioned earlier is provided by good old John Goodman and Alan Arkin as a couple of movie-makers who are quirky and fun. The trio, Affleck included, also deliver subtle criticism at a movie industry which chases blockbuster flicks and leaves those which advance the art of filmmaking behind.

Argo brings life to a Tehran ravaged by the revolution of the 1970s. It showcases the morbid atmosphere, the oppression and the desperation present everywhere in Iran at the time. It gets your feelings regarding the country, whether positive or negative, to the surface. It doesn’t shy away from historical accuracy, even if it involves showcasing American shortcomings. It doesn’t shy away from showing all the help that America’s neighbors to the North provided, proving insurmountable to the rescue efforts. And as one of its final scenes, involving an airport, sets in, you are so taken in you can barely breathe. You feel for the characters on screen. You may already know the resolution but you can’t not be afraid for them. And if you’re not, then the only thing I have to say to you is: Argo!@#$ yourself.

9/10 

Two Black Cadillacs (Single Review) – Carrie Underwood

 

Carrie Underwood’s new single, off her platinum selling album Blown Away and as a follow up to one of 2012′s biggest country hits Blown Away, is Two Black Cadillacs, a song which sets an ominous tone the moment the first note strikes.

Two black Cadillacs driving in a slow parade. Headlights shining bright in the middle of the day. One’s for his wife, the other for the woman who loved him at night, Underwood sings as a dramatic melody plays in the background. She immediately throws us into the setting of a funeral where a preacher man is saying the man being buried was a good man and his brother says he was a good friend.

But the two women in the black veils have a secret to hide. The story could very well serve to make a movie drama and Underwood delivers it effortlessly in a few minutes.

Two months ago his wife found the number on his phone, turns out he’d been lying to both of them for far too long. They decided then he’d never get away with doing this to them, Underwood lets the plot thicken. The women, taking turns in lying a rose down on the coffin and throwing dirt into the deep ground, also have a secret to hide. So they share a crimson smile and leave their secret with the man they killed, at the grave, to die with them.

Two Black Cadillacs is a hauntingly dark song by Underwood that serves as a one-two punch by the country star as she delivers her album’s most critically acclaimed tracks as back to back singles. The darkness with which her tone delivers this song would make you think she’s lived these events herself but it’s only telling of the caliber that Underwood has turned into as a performer. As she sings “bye bye” to signal the women biding farewell to the man who betrayed them both, you can feel her voice pierce through.

Two Black Cadillacs is a song where the musicians playing couldn’t stop after it was done so they kept playing and playing. Part of them jamming is found on the album track and will probably be cut with the radio edit. The song goes fifty shades deep and is Underwood’s darkest and most thought-provoking single release to date. From the haunting thumping melody that is reminiscent of a funeral march to the rich and multi-layered storytelling lyrics, Carrie Underwood delivers. Releasing a “softer” song may have been a safer bet. But Underwood is here to let her detractors know that Blown Away was just a storm warning. Bye bye, bye bye. 

A.

Skyfall – Movie Review

This is the end. Hold your breath and count to ten, Adele croons as Skyfall’s breathtaking opening scene comes to an end. A car-turned motorbike-turned train chase in the busy streets of Istanbul is as big of an adrenaline rush as you can get. The one-two hit of Skyfall‘s opening ten minutes is more than enough to keep you hooked in your seat for the ride that is going to unfold.

James Bond is assumed dead. MI6 is threatened, right in its heart. And M is taking all the blame for it. But she is resilient and set to find out who’s the player in the shadows causing all this mayhem – after all, it can’t but be someone she has worked with before, someone who knows MI6 as well as she does. Could M and James Bond finally meet their match in the series’ most unhinged villain, so reminiscent of The Dark Knight‘s “The Joker” in its complexity?

Daniel Craig’s greatest legacy as James Bond is bringing humanity back to the character. Long gone are the gimmicks, the overt supernatural technologies that filled installments such as “Die Another Day.” Long gone are the days of James Bond being near indestructible, near invincible. Long gone are the days where James Bond doesn’t show his emotional side. Long gone are the days where James Bond is just a killing machine that doesn’t fail physical tests, doesn’t get shot. Long gone are the days where James Bond is anything but weak. We had gotten a glimpse of that with Casino Royale. It slipped in the horrid Quantum of Solace. But Skyfall is a great return to form for the character and the actor.

Judy Dench as M is captivating as the wounded agent who has given her life for the agency that’s now crumbling before her eyes, trying so hard to cling to the only thing she’s ever done well and terrified at the prospect of having everything she knows change.

The new additions to the roster such as Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem do exceptionally in their corresponding roles. Skyfall boasts a terrific British cast that knows what they’re doing every second they are on screen.

Sam Mendes, the director of this installment, has to be credited for breathing new life into a series that seemed to be nearing its final breath with Quantum of Solace, a movie that threatened to bring the reboot to its knees. His take on the franchise roots it in the real world than any other 007 entry, making Skyfall oddly relatable and passionate for a movie about a spy agent.

Skyfall is definitely an addition to the 007 series to be proud of. It is a movie that will make you stand tall after it’s done and as everything crumbles around our favorite agent. The lengthy run time of over two hours will feel surprisingly short as you’re immersed into their oddly familiar world. I believe it is one of the best 007 movies of the entire series. And as the movie reaches its climax, you realize that Skyfall is where it ends. Skyfall is also where it begins again. So hold your breath. And count to ten.

9/10

The Dark Knight Rises – Review

Opening 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises opens with an optimistic Gotham city enacting the Harvey Dent act that has made the city more secure. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Batman haven’t been seen in those 8 years. There was no need for them. It is then that a masked man named Bane (Tom Hardy) kidnaps a Russian scientist from a CIA extraction operation and kills everyone on board of the plane so the wheels of his plans start spinning. Bane wants to bring Gotham its reckoning. He wants to break the city that has sunk so low in decadence.

In the meantime, Wayne enterprises is no longer making profit because of a very ambitious and expensive environmental-friendly project. There’s also a new player in town: Selina Kyle (Ann Hathaway), a very cunning jewel thief, who’s seeking a way to absolve her past. And as events progress, Gotham and its people sink into despair as a false sense of justice is set in. And as Bane rises, the necessity for the Batman rises as well. But will he be able to match Bane? Or will the Bat break, taking with him any hope Gotham city might have?

Simply put, The Dark Knight Rises is a very slow movie to start. And at an almost three hours running time, that’s a lot of time for it to get going. The sad part is when it gets going, it doesn’t capture the epic feel of its predecessor. It doesn’t come close to the sense of urgency that The Dark Knight entailed. It doesn’t come close to the sense of dread, fear and danger that the Joker was able to put in us – even though Bane’s plan was more dangerous.

Tom Hardy does a good job at portraying the masked villain. He is ruthless, powerful, dominating and frightening. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and the Batman does his best portrayal of the character in all three movies of the trilogy. His characters are weakened, losing hope, wanting to feel strong again and wanting to save the city they love. He manages to convey all those opposing emotions very well.

Marion Cotillard, as Melinda Tate, a board member of Wayne Enterprise, manages to hold her own but her character is so underdeveloped that her entire presence feels underwhelming. She doesn’t manage to do what she does best and that is steal the show whenever she’s on screen. On the other hand, Michael Cain as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler, and despite the little screen time that he gets is great as the man who wants to keep the boy he raised safe, out of harm’s way, and most importantly alive.

However, the most interesting cast choice was actually Ann Hathaway. She was absolutely brilliant as Selina Kyle and was probably the most fun to watch. She is terrifying, fun, quirky, powerful, afraid, vulnerable, strong…. And she manages to bring forth empathy in the viewer despite her many flaws. She’s fits into the tone Nolan set for the movie perfectly and betters it.

Gary Oldman returns as commissioner Gordon. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as John Blake, with an interesting middle name, a new addition to the police squad and a firm believer in the Batman. Morgan Freeman returns as Fox, the genius behind all the Bat techs. There are also many other characters from the previous Batman movies that will make an appearance as well. The purpose of The Dark Knight Rises is to bring things full circle.

However, instead of bringing things to a closure with a bang, The Dark Knight Rises fizzles away and ends the epic trilogy with a thud. Perhaps I expected more from the movie. Perhaps its only purpose was to bring the Bruce Wayne story arc to its emotional end. But with the long running time and the employment of so many different story lines that don’t go at odds with each other, the stage was set for The Dark Knight Rises to be much more.

The movie boasts brilliant special effects to the backdrop of a masterful score by Hans Zimmer, the best of which is Rise which plays at the movie’s last scene. But even with all of those epic components, The Dark Knight Rises falls short. It is definitely a good movie by all measures – perhaps even better than good. But the standards set forth by both of its predecessors and by Nolan’s previous works as well set the bar way too high and it seems Nolan has faltered and fallen short.

Should you watch it? Definitely. You will more than enjoy it. You will get goosebumps and you will get emotional. But you won’t go out of the movie theatre shocked like you were with The Dark Knight and you won’t go out of the theatre raving about the brilliant movie you just watched. One thing to be grateful for, however, is Nolan breaking the boundaries of comic book-based movies and delivering an Oscar-worthy trilogy that will never see any golden statuettes.

Rise, Nolan. Rise.

7/10

The Amazing Spider-Man – Review

Forget dreary Tobey Maguire. Forget melodramatic Kirsten Dunst. Forget depressing spidey. The world’s most popular superhero is back.

The Amazing Spider-Man is more or less the same story of the first Spider-Man movie that saw light in 2002. Peter Parker, a 17 year old high school student who lost both of his parents years before, gets bitten by a spider while visiting a high-tech lab and develops spider-related abilities such as cunning senses and extra sticky digits. He is the victim of radical biological experiments involving cross species hybridization, which his father had started before his death. Soon enough, this research takes a bad turn when its power begins to be used for purposes other than the one it was intended for.

Andrew Garfield, at 28, is far more convincing as a teenager than Maguire, who was even younger when he acted in the first Spider-Man movie. You’d think Garfield just had his growth spurt and is still getting accustomed to his new self. He’s extra shy around the girl he likes: Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), he’s awkward and agitated. He’s also great to watch on screen.

Emma Stone is great as well as Spidey’s love interest in this movie. What’s interesting about her character is that it doesn’t melt in the whole love-aspect of things but stands alone as a credible female character that can surprise you, entertain you and stand up for herself when needed.

Garfield and Stone have stunning chemistry together on screen. They work so well together you can’t but wonder at times where this combo had been hiding for years. Of course, they are helped by a terrific supporting cast in the form of Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Peter’s aunt May and uncle Ben, respectively.

Director Mark Webb, yes that is his real name fitting as it is, does a great job in breathing new life into a story we all know and giving it another dimension we hadn’t been exposed to before. His previous work is the very entertaining 500 Days of Summer, an indie comedy. He pulls off the blockbuster aspect of things in a great way and even adds a little touch of the humanitarian aspect present in copious amounts in indie movies to his reboot of Spider-Man.

The story may be familiar. The last Spider-Man movie, horrible as it may have been, was only five years ago. But The Amazing Spider-Man is a more than welcome restart of a franchise I had thought is long gone by now. The movie exceeded my expectations. I never thought I’d be this entertained by it. I never thought I’d be taken in from the first frame that poped on screen and never let go until the credits started rolling. I never thought it would be this well-casted. The Amazing Spider-Man advances with great pace, works well with its buildup and even has a few tricks up its sleeve so freshen the story up. The special effects are more than well done but in an age where this is becoming easier and easier to accomplish, where The Amazing Spider-Man rises is in it having substantial amounts of heart.

Some parts of the story are left open as the movie ends, to be resolved in subsequent installments. Even the characters’ personalities are not developed until they’ve been turned dull, which makes The Amazing Spider-Man even more interesting to watch and to predict what might come next. It sure doesn’t hurt that the screenwriters are some of the best in the business such as Steve Kloves, the man who brought you Harry Potter. But this is what the original Spider-Man should have been about.

The Amazing Spider-Man is amazing, indeed. Welcome back spidey. You’ve been missed.

9/10

Snow White & The Huntsman – Movie Review

It’s official. We can call 2012 the year of Snow White. Let’s see, there’s a whole TV show – Once Upon a Time – centered on her story. There has already been a movie, Mirror Mirror, which tackled the infamous fairytale with a comic approach and now Hollywood has decided to bring the world yet another adaptation which plays with the Brothers Grimm story: Snow White & The Huntsman.

Following a war that he wins, the father of Snow White (Kristen Stewart) finds a hostage with his enemies and he’s entranced by her beauty (as an aside, who wouldn’t be?). The woman’s name is Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and he immediately marries her. However, on their wedding night, Ravenna kills the king and takes over his kingdom, taking the still-young Snow White as a prisoner. Years pass by and Snow White comes of age, threatening the queen not to remain the fairest of them all. As she manages to escape her prison, Snow White joins forces with the huntsman the queen hires to kill her (Chris Hemsworth) and eight (yes, not seven. Eight.) dwarves to try and dethrone the queen.

Snow White & The Huntsman starts off promisingly but quickly fizzles away as Theron gets less screen time. In fact, the only person cast correctly in the movie is Charlize Theron who manages to do the impossible: pull you to her side. You actually root for the bad person in this movie and do so whole-heartedly.

Kristen Stewart, on the other hand, is entirely miscast. I have seen Stewart in other roles (no, not Twilight) and despite what people want you to think, she actually has potential. But she keeps choosing the wrong roles. Snow White is no different. To begin with, when it comes to being the “fairest of them all” how could she exactly compete with Charlize Theron? But let’s leave that argument aside for now. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I may have a thing for blondes. Her performance is not as riveting as Theron. She dwarfs in comparison when their scenes come after each other. Their characters meet only twice, one of which is an entire action scene. Theron still outshines her there.

She’s not feisty enough and when she feigns strength, it comes off as forced and not natural. Perhaps she could pass as Snow White in another version of the story. But in this Joan of Arc-esque take on the fairytale, Stewart fails miserably. She’s sulky and passive most of the time, while she needs to be commanding and strong. The attitude just isn’t there.

Chris Hemsworth is simply there most of the time. He doesn’t add anything substantial to the movie as he does in, say, The Avengers. He just hovers around, providing input when needed. Apart from that, the role of the huntsman in the story of Snow White is nowhere near how this movie makes it out to be. But I guess twists to the fairytale are needed in the 21st century.

When it comes to Snow White & The Huntsman, the movie’s main problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It aims at being an epic version of the story of Snow White but still manages to take Snow to a land of fairies and legendary elks. It aims to keep the feel of the fairytale alive but fails at that, totally losing the charm of the story the people fell in love with many years ago. It relies heavily on its visual effects, which were very well done – the eight dwarves are all regular-sized actors, as an example, but loses itself in the fact that it has diluted the story up to a point where those visual effects serve as the wheel moving the movie forward.  At the end of the day, Snow White & The Huntsman is visually pleasing, enough so to keep you entertained for two hours, but is essentially hollow. Blame it on the Hollywood rehash of the story.

Walt Disney’s 1937 take on the story still stands unscathed.

6/10