Tag Archives: Marc Webb

Gifted (2017)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Gifted</strong> (2017)

(On Cable TV, January 2018) Frankly, I expected the worst schmaltz from this family melodrama featuring a genius-level kid. Hollywood seldom deals well with genius, and the temptation to turn this into a syrupy rote “brain doesn’t matter at much as heart” Hollywood pap seemed irresistible from the plot synopsis. But Gifted actually works better than expected thanks to a few winning performances and generally well-executed conventions. Chris Evans is rather good as a smart-but-troubled ordinary guy trying to raise his genius niece despite significant challenges. McKenna Grace is fine as the genius kid, while Jenny Slate is immensely likable as a teacher trying to help. Octavia Spencer does her best with a limited role, while Lindsay Duncan is suitably hissable as the antagonist. Director Marc Webb returns to simpler drama after disappointingly overblown superhero films, and the genre suits him much better. Otherwise, Gifted is a straightforward family drama, not too syrupy and decently heart-warming when it needs to be. Some of the plot turns aren’t necessarily happy (and the conclusion is bittersweet enough). The details are interesting: there’s a cute Lego reference, and the look at mathematical academia is intriguing despite a bit of showboating with a celebrated “unsolvable” problem. Gifted doesn’t avoid the usual “heart> brain” stuff, but it does seem to come to its conclusion honestly. It could have been much worse, and the result is palatable enough.

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

<strong class="MovieTitle">(500) Days of Summer</strong> (2009)

(On TV, December 2014)  Romantic comedies are too-often considered from the point of view of the woman that it’s still a bit of a novelty when one is told from the point of view of the man.  It’s even rarer to tell a very funny film about a relationship that doesn’t end well.  I’m not spoiling much about the film given its definitive title and non-linear narration, in which we jump back and forth between the seasons of a romance, and know that it’s not going to end with the union of the protagonists.  How we get there, however, it more than part of the charm.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt (offering an interesting counterpoint to his latter role in Don Jon) plays the protagonist, a young man infatuated with the idea of romantic love and having the misfortune of loving someone who definitely doesn’t.  The film is told from his perspective so closely that the female lead character isn’t much more than a superficial façade behind which he stuffs his hopes and dreams.  (Ironic points for casting Zooey Deschannel, often better liked for her persona than her specific characters)  That it doesn’t quite work like that is part of the film’s ironies.  Fortunately, the writing of the film is crisp and hip (musical number?  Sure!), blending modern cynicism with very real heartbreak.  That it works, and ends on a relatively high note (not only punning on the film’s title, but appropriately – for a budding architect- climaxing within Los Angeles’ Bradbury building) is an eloquent testimony to the film’s peppiness, from two likable lead actors to a style that throws everything on-screen in a dizzying montage of narration, pop music, flights of fancy and plain old good moviemaking –it’s an impressive debut for director Marc Webb, who should take a break from the meaningless Spider-Man films and get back to these kind of films.  Occasionally hipsterish, (500) Days of Summer nonetheless feels like an original take on an overdone genre, and more than worth a look even for those who think they are tired of romantic comedies.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Amazing Spider-Man</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, March 2013) Here is the key to this film’s seemingly-pointless existence: A long time ago, before it took ownership of its characters’ movies rights (a process that eventually led to The Avengers), Marvel sold the rights to the Spider-Man character to Fox studios, with a clause saying that movies about the character had to be produced every few years, otherwise the rights would revert to Marvel.  Combine that with the fact that the original cast members of the Spider-Man trilogy have all gone out of contract and into a much higher income profile and you get a perfect excuse for a reboot, whether you like the idea or not.  Ten years is a long time when it comes to the teenage audiences at which the Spider-Man films are aimed.  So it is that The Amazing Spider-Man is nearly a plot-beat-per-plot-beat rethread of 2002’s Spider-Man.  You’d think that modern audiences, familiarized with superheroes through fifteen years’ worth of such films, could be spared another origins story… but no.  Still, a reboot may be a disappointment, but it’s not necessarily a substantial knock against the finished film: it’s all about the execution, and a deft take on familiar ideas can outshine plodding originality most of the time.  Sadly, the biggest problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that it can’t be trusted to present a satisfying version of the Spider-Man mythology.  It doesn’t do much with the expected elements of the Spider-Man origins story, and by strongly suggesting that non-nerdy Peter Parker is meant to become Spider-Man, it seriously undermines one of the charms of the everyman character.  This, added to evidence of late tampering with the script (as in: the trailers show more than what’s in the finished film) and the obvious non-resolution of enough plot-lines to point the way to a film trilogy, make The Amazing Spider-Man such a disappointing experience.  Oh, it’s not as if the film is worthless: The two lead actors are better than the previous trilogy’s lead actors even when they’re not given equally-good material (poor Emma Stone doesn’t have much to do than show off her knees), director Marc Webb has a good eye and the wall-to-wall special effects show how much the industry has improved in ten years.  This Spider-Man has better quips (one of the characteristics that establish him as a distinct alter-ego from Peter Parker), Rhys Ifans is intriguing as the mad-scientist villain and the film is slickly-made.  Still, from a storytelling standpoint, it seems as if all the worst choices were made in the service of a mechanically-conceived piece of pop-culture merchandizing.  It’s entertaining enough, but it could have been so much better…