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New films: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Le Week-End

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Directed by Marc Webb

This is the second installment of a reboot of the Spider-Man story that seemed to arrive surprisingly quickly after a series of three somewhat mixed films starring Tobey McGuire (2002, 2004, 2007). The material is so familiar that watching the stories told again so soon, at least for those who have watched the earlier films, is largely dependent on enjoying the new cast inhabiting the same roles. Fortunately for me, I like most of the people involved this time around (not that I disliked the earlier group) and the whole enterprise delivers enough light fun that it’s easy to forget the timing choices and short attention spans of Hollywood executives. But along the way you also have to avoid thinking too hard about other details as well.

This time around Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is more comfortable with his powers but more concerned about the risks his exploits cause for girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).  At the end of the first film, her father had asked him to steer clear of her, to protect her, and Peter is haunted by that image. This causes their relationship to stumble as he withdraws and she seeks a separate path to a successful future.

But, naturally, much of Peter’s attention is taken up by the requisite super-villains – and this is a film that almost crowded with them. The main focus is Electro, a mild-mannered but somewhat delusional electrical engineer who has an encounter with a tank full of electric eels that’s somewhat like Peter’s own encounter with a spider. He can draw upon and channel electricity and appears to have trained at the Supreme Chancellor Palpatine school of fingertip energy projection. There are also recent flashbacks to the disappointing “Transcendence” as the character loses his own tangibility (in a manner that ruins the logic of Peter’s plan to defeat him – but there I go thinking too hard again).

The problem with stories like this is that we’re shown our hero always being interrupted in some meaningful conversation or commitment in order to save a child/city/world in danger. In reality, of course, they would always be so sought after and busy that such conversations and commitments couldn’t ever be initiated, let alone interrupted. It’s not like there would ever be a moment where somebody didn’t need to be saved from something/somebody else.

That said, it’s a fun ride albeit somewhat tonally inconsistent along the way. There are high highs and low lows, which is OK for a film that mixes popcorn antics with romance and drama, but some of the character details are occasionally grating. This is a Spider-Man who can’t swing or fight without a steady, upbeat banter of wisecracks – it’s as if the filmmakers are concerned that we might forget that Andrew Garfield is playing the role if we don’t get a steady feed of his voice while the stuntmen and computerized Spidey are at work. But it’s still an entertaining start to the summer blockbuster season and will rule the week’s box office – although it will be competing for at least some of the same audience as next week’s “Neighbors.”

 

Le Week-end
Directed by Roger Michell

Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) have been married for 30 years, during which time they’ve evolved into the sort of couple who communicate largely through bickering and picking fault with each other. As such, they’re not so much celebrating their wedding anniversary as simply experiencing it by spending a weekend in Paris, following in their own honeymoon footsteps.

They’re also recent empty nesters, challenged by the possibility that their son might want to move back in with them. This is fine with Nick who enjoys things remaining the same but angers Meg who fears stagnation. And this one point might both reflect and define their relationship: Nick fears losing Meg while Meg fears keeping Nick.

Nick is also a worrier about money and struggles to deal with Meg who has decided that if they’re going to be in Paris, they might as well do things in style. Along the way they meet an old friend of Nick (played by Jeff Goldblum) who has all the success Nick has never achieved and all the surface trappings of a seemingly happy but mostly shallow life. This includes a distant and under-appreciated son, played by Olly Alexander, who quietly steals scenes with few words but the same yearning eyes and wild hair seen previously in the U.K.’s “Skins” and opposite Greta Gerwig in “The Dish and the Spoon.” He and Nick are decades apart in age and yet somehow kindred spirits, each orbiting brighter stars.

“Le Week-end” is ultimately satisfying although the pacing is a little slow at times, picking up slightly towards the end. It’s directed by Roger Michell whose past credits include such fine work as “Notting Hill,” “Venus,” and “Hyde Park on Hudson,” with this latest film being essentially a character study of a couple who haven’t so much fallen out of love as fallen into a blend of habit and ennui. The end result is an interesting consideration of a point in two lives where something needs to change but it’s uncertain quite what that something might be.

 

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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