THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2: Simply amazing


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DIRECTOR MARK WEBB’s delightful movie, “500 Days of Summer” has been reborn into a charming and fun narrative with a certain web crawler who regularly saves the world (OK, not the whole world, just New York) from seriously angst-ridden guys with super-human powers and axes to grind. In this second outing of the second reboot with Englishman Andrew Garfield replacing Tobey Maguire as the nerdy Peter Parker turned Spidey, we’re treated to much more than the usual clash of titans.

At its heart, even as the menacing Omnicorp and an electric charge of a man, Electro, threaten to eradicate all who get in their way, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is essentially about Spiderman’s doomed relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Parker/Spider-Man is haunted by the warning of Gewn’s dying father (Denis Leary as Captain Stacy): that his relationship with Gewn would be the death of her. And so, despite his love for her, Spider-Man recognizes that he has to break their ever deepening bond.

Webb’s skill is that he invests the relationship with enough credibility to make you give a damn, despite the silliness of a romantic lead who’s been bitten by a radio-active spider; and he gives the relationship enough air and lightness not to turn a Saturday matinee blockbuster into a turgid wannabe tragic love-story.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s great chemistry between Garfield and Watson who steal the show from the rest of the stellar supporting gang. And that cast set the bar high: Jamie Foxx is the –main- villain, a down-trodden, near invisible electrician working at Omnicorp who just wants to be recognized. Foxx transforms himself beautifully from Max Dillon, the down-in-the-mouth, balding, badly dressed salary-man to Electro (after a shocking accident involving ravenous electro-charged eels), a man with a bad attitude and, you could say, volting ambition. He must have gotten a serious charge playing the role.

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He’s joined by a rich cast of major players in minor roles: Paul Giametti is Aleskei, truck-driver turned human transformer, Felicity Jones (fresh from “The Invisible Woman”, who we really need to see a lot more of) is Felicia, a secretary; Chris Cooper is the dying Norman Osborne (head of Omnicorp and really the man we need to blame for everything); Sally Field is Parker’s Aunt May and of course Stan Lee is there in his usual cameo role.

What with all this superior talent around, Dane DeHaan (engagingly convincing as Jesse in “In Treatment”) as the heir to Osborne’s Omnicorp and emerging as the Green Goblin, looks menacing but remains pretty insipid throughout.

The story – essentially one about the relationship of fathers and sons – follows the paths of the two friends, Parker and young Osborne, both of whom were essentially abandoned by their parents. Parker, steeled by the discipline of his aunt and uncle (those famous words, “with great power comes great responsibility”) becomes a man with a deep sense of responsibility and commitment to fighting crime; Osborne, let loose in a world of unlimited wealth, grows feral, spiteful and, well, turns into a green goblin.

Writer Alex Kurtzman (also of “Star Trek” and, alas, “Cowboys and Aliens”) along with a team of dozens have managed to weave in enough back stories of the principal protagonists to ensure that their super-human powers become expressions of only too human needs and desires, all of which humanize what can so easily be simply a tale of “bad men gone amok” (think Bane in Batman).

Importantly, they give Gwen a real personality. Usually, the love interests are dehumanized gals whose only functions are to scream and be rescued. Not so Gwen: she’s determined, brainy and fearless. It’s actually she who shows Spidey how to outsmart Electro and it’s she who understands how to re-power the electricity grid. And it is she who Spidey decides to follow to Oxford.

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All of this doesn’t get in the way of the action. There are some false looking bits (a clearly CG plane crash) and some great ones (Electro, much to my joy, wrecks absolute destruction on Time Square. The gaudy neon billboards come crashing down and explode in luminous fountains of sparks. Thank goodness, that’s one part of New York that needs a make-over). Of course “The Amazing Spiderman 2” is all one huge trailer for “The Amazing Spiderman 3”

I’ll be there

THE RAID 2: Gore, Bloody Hell!


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THE RAID 2: RETALIATION is Welsh director Gareth Evans’ follow up to the hugely popular, cult (though its popularity is bigger than the niche status suggested by “cult”) hit, “The Raid” about the deering-do of Rama (Iko Uwais), a fearless lethal weapon of a cop in Jakarta.

User reviews have been near unanimously positive. Listen to some of them: Haider-kazmee notes, “Okay so where do I begin. I saw the first one and it blew me away… while I was watching this sequel my heart was beating very fast and the adrenaline was pumping…”; ebossert gave it 10/10 and notes, “The most highly anticipated film of my life, and it actually met those expectations”. TheIneffable also gave it 10/10 and says it, “…one of the best pure action films of the last decade”; nick-sultana, also a 10/10 hails it as “A Bloody Great Sequel [his caps] that’s better than the first movie!!” Not surprisingly, it scored an 8.9 on IMDB

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I can entirely understand the nature of this effusion of praise. “The Raid 2” cuts to the chase and slashes away such bourgeois niceties as character, plot, semi-coherent dialogue and acting talent. That’s all so yesterday. And thank goodness it avoided the temptation to degenerate into the balletic grace and imaginative art direction of, say a “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. That’s all so Chinese.

Bravo to Gareth. What he gave us is raw brutality, unconstrained by the inconvenience of anything that made sense. For you poor readers who have not as yet had the visceral thrill of this cinematic masterpiece, allow me to offer you a few of the gripping, emotionally nuanced scenes that no doubt caused Haider-kazmee’s heart to beat so fast:

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A woman (Julie Estelle as the appropriately named ‘Hammer Girl’) takes out about a dozen armed men in the narrow confines of an underground train with two claw-handled hammers. She rips their throats out, slashes their faces, bashes in their brains so that they pulp along the windows, and the rest she simply eviscerates. Allow me at this point to give a special shout out to the thirteen man sound department who contributed so much to the joy of this movie and our appreciation of what a ripping throat (gurgling, suppressed screams, squelching blood) or a battered in head (dull thudding along with the reverberation of hammer steel) must sound like.

Or in another scene of pure directorial genius, one of the many baddies (most of Jakarta it seems) slices neatly into the head of a kneeling man with a pick-axe. Again, well done sound guys. Your aural brilliance really helped to bring this one fully alive.

I could go on, but must, reluctantly, finally, herald the choreographed athleticism when one of the protagonists runs amok with a baseball bat (Gareth’s directorial subtlety allows a certain amount of artistic ambiguity to slip in here, so that we aren’t too sure who he is and why he’s actually doing this…but motivation? Hell. Who needs it). How colourful it is when we get that marvelous clash between bat and brain; such an almost Jackson Pollack-esque expressionist splatter of rich vermillions and deep crimsons.

I am so looking forward, no doubt with ebossert to The Raid3. Simply can’t wait

RICHARD HAMILTON AT THE TATE MODERN. Masterly


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Richard Hamilton

If one of the roles of art is to shake us out of the topor of our lives, the work of Richard Hamilton offers a mighty shake. His mercurial, ever changing style feels less about visual experimentation than about an endlessly restless evolution in his thinking and a relentless search to discover… to invent the form and style that would best accommodate his vision, or, in old fashioned terms, finding the medium for his message. It’s the painter’s version of the writer’s search for the right words. Hamilton’s paintings are a series of illuminated insights into both his mind and the world it’s observing. They’re either ruminative introspections or fierce, uncompromising stabs at the day to day lies that are part of the topor. It’s work that is often unashamedly and overtly political in its honest, passionate confrontation with the politicians and politics of the day, no matter their party allegiance. Indeed,  if thinking had form and colour, here’s what it would look like.

For as we continue to sleepwalk through the daily violations – against the planet, the poor, women, the institutions we’ve inherited from a vanishing past, and what have you – with the full knowledge that very little separates our Corporatist politicians (no matter the colors of their politics), thank God we still have the howls of our artists. Hamilton is a howling painter; and you can’t come away from his art without having been shaped by the persuasiveness of his paint, the honesty of his passion.

"just what is it that makes today's homes so Appealing"

“just what is it that makes today’s homes so Appealing”

Hamilton’s (first) extraordinary visual breakthrough, as the artist found the style for his sensibilities, came with his collage of magazine images: “just what is it that makes today’s homes so Appealing”. It helped launch what became (derisively?) referred to as Pop Art – presenting us life as shallow as an advertising montage. Nowadays, it’s a visual style, an easy reference point that’s as much a part of the wallpaper of the galleries of art and meaning that orbit our brains like so much flotsam and jetsam. But then, it must have been such a sudden aha moment. Here’s a painting that must have had the shock effect of “Guernica”. It offered an image of success and affluence thru the – new- lens of a consumerist world that is all surface and design.

The people in the collage (this was just the first of many) are really no more than the sculpt and shape of their bodies, as glittering a display as the furniture and brands that are the eco- system of life. The materials he uses are all clipped from the palette of commerce: cut outs from ads and magazines. The painting suggests a -dehumanized- vision of man as no more than material display and codified visually what was an emerging new zeitgeist.

It was painted around 1956/7, the same year of Vance Packard’s seminal book, “The Hidden Persuaders” with which it seems much aligned and foreshadowed those icons of pop, Andy Warhol’s whose “100 Soup Cans”(1962) and Lichtenstein’s’ ‘Wham” (1963). There was a simple stylistic truth behind these works: like Hamilton’s they seemed to prove the point that the medium was the message. So obvious now, so revolutionary idea then via Marshall McLuhan’s “The Gutenberg Galaxy”.

Certainly few artists have been able to tap into the zeitgeist of the time like Hamilton. His is the shout that makes heard the hypocrisy of so much government pomp and the silent outrage so many share

An iconic paparazzi photo of Jagger in handcuffs, snatched (Jagger that is, not the photo) by the ever vigilant British police (those same police more often than not nowadays in the docks for their entrenched racism and serial abuse of power) even as the country marketed itself as Swinging Britain is repositioned brilliantly as “Sweinging Britain”. This is one of many ‘paintings’ where Hamilton used blown up photos, snap-shots really, and customized them to his perspective. It’s as though he’s turned the intrusiveness of the photographer, the gloating paparazzi voyeurism away from its ostensible subject – Mick’s arrest – into its own subject. This is Hamilton as semiotician at play. He offers us multiple views and renderings of the same photo – it’s the artist enfolding the viewer into the process, into his processing of the image into thought

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His near-realist portrait of Blair, as a fully kitted-out cowboy summarizes everything about the ex-prime minister with the witty precision of a political cartoonist. His choice of a style of heightened reality is a play on realities…on what is shown, the brand being created and the unseen reality ( what we’re seeing isn’t real, it’s a fiction, simple art- ifice). This is a dual image: a smug, self-satisfied Blair of his own warped fantasy: the badass, Clint Eastwood tamer of the wild West and of the reality beneath the image: a striving, showy, megalomaniac appropriating the costume of the culture he danced to. The image of British colonialism has shifted from the pith helmet to the Stetson.

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In this painting of Hugh Gaitskell – who rejected a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament – aptly entitled “Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland” the politician is presented as a bogey-man (hiding) behind a mask.

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It’s a mask divided into two halves – the two faced man; an image of deceitfulness and disguise… not so much the portrait of a person, more a portrait of a class of people… of politicians as a whole.

With Hamilton’s work, the viewer is an absolute participant in his work and often, to fully participate, needs some background grounding to appreciate the significance and wit of his imagery.

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In this installation of Thatcher/torture, I was there when a group of visiting French students, unfamiliar with the iron lady and her excesses stood non-plussed at what they were seeing. (And maybe in fifty, a hundred years time, audiences will also be non-plussed by the details of meaning just as most modern audiences are non-plussed by much of the arcane symbolism behind so much Medieval and Renaissance art). Here Hamilton has moved away from what might be the aesthetic distractions of painting to an installation. He wants to immerse the viewer in the reality of Western interrogation and, wittily, the horror, the horror of being subjected to an infinite loop of Thatcher’s preaching – surely the epitome of inhuman punishment Sometimes all it takes to illustrate a point is a simple ‘show and tell’.

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Here Hamilton offers us two maps: one before the Israeli settlements began their encroachments into Palestine; the other, several years later. Perhaps Putin should have proceeded via “settlements” rather than the “annexation” of Crimea to avoid the hypocritical censure of the West.

It’s not all political comment. His art’s reference points are often to art itself; and there’s always the tacit understanding that artist and viewer share the intimacy of these references. They become a means of de-familiarization and shock, and the springboard to a point of view being expressed.

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Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation” – a worshipful, reverential, symbol-laden painting of devotion and faith – and such a part of our store-house of Renaissance images is reimagined through these various naked women.

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Here Hamilton is deliberately conflating nakedness with nudity. Kenneth Clark in his seminal work, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, observes that: The English language, with its elaborate generosity, distinguishes between the naked and the nude. To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition. The word “nude,” on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenseless body, but of a balanced, prosperous, and confident body” He notes that “The body is not one of those subjects which can be made into art by direct transcription — like a tiger or a snowy landscape. . . . We do not wish to imitate; we wish to perfect” So the nude is about a striving for perfection for an ideal of beauty. Hamilton’s ‘nudes’ update this perspective. In “The Passage of the Angel to the Virgin” he’s made a clear separation from the artistic and fake looking arches to the ‘realism’ of the women.

the Balzac

the Balzac

The other painting shown here is “The Balzac”. It references an image we’re all familiar with and was inspired by a story from Balzac, about the artist’s – inevitably fruitless – search for perfection (represented by the nude). In his final –unfinished – work, we’re confronted with the incongruous image of three older men discussing something, in the presence of a naked woman. The men shown here are Poussin, Courbet and Titian, representing youth, middle age and the elderly, and also representing a sense of the timelessness of the artistic pursuit not just of beauty, but of an ideal. The three are rendered in an almost impressionistic style – it’s a painting of painters. She however is, like his annunciation, presented to us with the realism and naturalism of photography. The women live in different ontologies from the rest of the paintings In both the women seem to remain indifferent to the shock or the leers of their viewers. Somehow, their nakedness does not render them vulnerable or defenceless. Their self-absorption separates them from outside harm. Indeed, Hamilton’s updating of the idea of the nude seems to be suggesting that these women do not need the artist’s ‘improving’ touch. Such an improvement would be more of an intrusion from which the artist, as demonstrated by the two ontologies, is excluded Art is often – always? – prescient and unafraid in its honesty and observance of the zeitgeist ( which is why so many politicians fear it ).

An historical perspective such as the Tate’s exhibition sadly shows how much things have clearly degenerated since the early 60′s. Art’s power to effect change remains limited. And Life as a succession of well-honed brands (is Blair any less of a brand than, say, Kleenex…or more appropriately Uzi?) has simply been shaped by an Establishment that has co-opted the howl of Hamilton and made his rage just another part of corporate decor. We can but hope art keeps raging. Nothing else will save us

NOAH. Drowned


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To: Darren Aronofski from Paramout Pictures

Hi Darren, we have a project we thought you’d be interested in.

For the last year or so (as you may have read in Variety), we at Paramount (having not had a hit at all this year) have been perfecting our new algorithm that’s guaranteed to get us a hit (according to our accountants)

And boy, do we think we have a winner.

Let me ask you: what’s our greatest fear as a species these days (now that the energy companies have stopped bribing so many ‘scientists’)?

Climate change.

We’ve all just had terrible storms in North America, half of the UK was flooded, there were terrible fires in Australia and, of course Vanuatu and Kiribati sank (or maybe they’re still just sinking) without a trace

What are our favorite movies types these days?

People with swords or survivors after the world has ended

Where does fervent, trembling Christian belief and fervent trembling big money come together?

In the US, where still half of all movie goers live (apart from India. But who cares about them?)

Bring ‘em all together, with some Marvel type special effects, real brand name recognition, a hugely talented author (God) and, voila, I bring you Noah!

Think about it: animals, survival techniques, floods (this will be the disaster movie to end all disaster movies), a sound moral story. It’s a winner. Especially if you come on board. We just loved what you did with “Black Swan”. You brought Stephen King to ballet. Genius.

To Paramount, from Darren Aronofski:

Many thanks for thinking of me. But I’m not really a believer. And frankly I think the story’s a bit silly.

To Darren from Paramount:

Duh! That’s why we chose you. You’ll bring edge and great story-telling skills so people won’t remember how silly the story really is. And you won’t get bogged down in pieties or too much detail. It’s the modern way of religion. you see, the story will bring in the Christians. Your name will bring in the non-believers, like Scorsese with “The Last temptation of Christ”

To Paramount from Darren:

Actually, I like it. I’ve been giving it some thought. Let me add a few thoughts of my own:

Who’s the biggest sword and sandal actor alive?

Russell Crowe. Mr. Gladiator himself. He’s brilliant – he can look butch and play bonkers at the same time

Who’s the only woman who seems to be able to play his wife?

Jennifer Connelly (“ A Beautiful Mind”, “A New York Winter’s Tale”)

Who’ll get the teenagers to come in?

 

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Emma Watson aka Harry Potter’s girl

Guys, we’ll go big. I see warring armies. I see fallen angels made out of rocks (hey, if Peter Jackson can have walking trees, why can’t I have walking rocks?). I see huge CGI effects. I see the tribe of Cain as an ugly cockney type. Let’s get Ray Winston and have him eat the heads off small animals. We can allude to WAR AS A BAD THING…just to keep the critics happy. I’ll need to drum up some sort of back story. And throw in some romance somewhere. That always works. And even after all of mankind is dead, we’ll still need to end happily. I’m in. When can we start.