Tag Archives: Sam Raimi

I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: Marc Webb’s ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  Each week I’ll cover movies I’ve heard feature prominently in film school, films I believe are worth exploring deeply, classics I’m ashamed to have never seen, and occasional new releases if they strike me.  As these are longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

There is a magic to being the first to do something, even the inconsequential things.  It’s not merely novelty; it’s something harder to articulate.  That is why I felt magnificent sitting in the theater Monday night/Tuesday morning waiting for a midnight showing of director Marc Webb’s update of my favorite superhero’s film franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man.

However, that is when the specialness of being first turned sour.  Webb and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves decided they wanted to be the first to connect Peter Parker’s parents’ story to his superhero journey.  Throughout the movie’s runtime, they sprinkle in little nuggets about Richard Parker’s scientist days and drop ominous overtones on top of his and his wife’s mysterious death.

But here’s the thing: Peter’s parents do not, nor should they, matter to his story beyond their tragic early deaths.  In fact, by making Richard a scientist with a connection to Peter’s fateful run-in with that spider (and don’t complain about this spoiler, because it’s clear in the trailers), it cheapens Peter as a character.  It takes a beefed-up version of the American Dream — orphan comes from nothing and works through constant setbacks to make himself not only a great hero but a brilliant scientist — and turns it into something lesser.  Yes, Peter is still an orphan living with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in The Amazing Spider-Man, but it feels almost like he’s a trust fund kid in regard to his mental inheritance from his father.  If his dad was PhD material, that makes Peter’s brilliance less surprising, and therefore less impressive.  When he’s creating his crime-fighting gizmos, the audience shrugs and thinks, “Oh, that makes sense,” rather than being wowed with how much Peter can do with how little he’s been given.  Peter is supposed to be the only person who can do what he does, but having his father be just as smart, if not smarter, tarnishes that specialness.  When he’s asked by Dr. Curt Connors to be a de facto lab assistant, it’s because Connors worked with Peter’s father and needs Peter for some of his father’s research; even though Connors is impressed with Peter’s obviously prodigious scientific skills, those are not what Connors wants.  Webb and company could have easily avoided all this by dropping the father plot line and just had Peter win Connors’ internship on merit rather than clout.

While that sounds like one aspect of The Amazing Spider-Man ruined my experience, that is not true.  Besides Spider-Man 2, Sam Raimi’s exemplary 2004 sequel, Webb’s work is my favorite of the franchise.  He and Andrew Garfield know Peter Parker’s personality: He’s not the weenie of Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s movies, but he is nervous around pretty girls like most high school boys would be.  He doesn’t flaunt his intelligence.  He sticks up for those unable to defend themselves.  And when he dons that Spider-Man mask, he loves it.  He cracks jokes that actually made me chuckle instead of the bad uncle jokes Maguire spouted in the previous trilogy.  Overall, he has a blast when messing with low-rent crooks early in his vigilante career.  Emma Stone plays a Gwen Stacy who is more than the eye-candy-damsel-in-distress type; she’s capable, smart, and heroic in her own right.  Denis Leary, while underutilized, is good when he is on the screen as Gwen’s dad, the tough-but-fair Captain Stacy.  Rhys Ifans’ Connors/Lizard is a tragic and conflicted villain who doesn’t resort to simple mustache twirling.  I would have preferred to have seen more of Sally Field as Aunt May, but Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben was grounded, loving, and pragmatic; my favorite Uncle Ben since Brian Michael Bendis’ rendition of him in the early issues of Ultimate Spider-Man.  That said, clunkifying Uncle Ben’s “With great power comes great responsibility” speech is a colossal miscue, but not Sheen’s doing, so I cannot fault him for that.

The Amazing Spider-Man is both a deeply flawed and surprisingly effective movie.  I’m sure a lot of people are jumping on the “IT’S FANTASTIC!!!” or “IT SUCKS!!!” bandwagons, but like most movies, it doesn’t fit in either pigeonhole.  The film’s insistence on providing more Parker family history is a massive problem, but the acting is better than any summer action movie I’ve seen in a long time, and its main plot thrust feels like the Spidey adventure of the Stan Lee-Steve Ditko-John Romita days.  While messy, the film mostly does the characters justice, which was the only goal I wanted the film to accomplish while walking into the theater.  I finally got the Spider-Man characterization I’ve long wanted, the one I’ve cherished more than most of the people in my life, and that is something worth cheering.

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Rob’s Creative Midterm Paper

I’m 22 years old and still haven’t finished college, so to say I’m a little bored with writing traditional papers would be underselling a bit my feelings on the subject.  I’m sick of never being able to use my own voice, feeling distanced from the material, and checking my passion at the door in order to churn out an auto-piloted version of something that would probably be far more interesting in a different medium.  It is for those reasons I’ve decided to get a little creative for my Social Media class, as this paper’s prompt says, “Social Media has had a profound impact on society and the process of communicating. How have these changes affected the process and what does it mean?” Given the title of the class, I felt writing a Ten Commandments-sized blog post an apt way to complete the assignment.  Instead of regular in-text citations — ones which you know won’t really be checked — I’ll utilize hyperlinks and videos within the body of my text to not only show that I did my research but so you can also check things out for yourselves.  Besides, I don’t know how you can write about films without offering actual footage of them.  So chew on my punk rock aesthetic, college, because I’m totally too cool for school.  And now, without further ado, here is my Social Media midterm paper.


Rob Samuelson

Don Krause

Social Media

2 March 2011

Filmmakers Further Their Careers Using Social Media

The New Crew

That looks familiar, right? You’re somehow acquainted with it, but it’s different from what you know, leaving you with a deja vu sensation which you can’t quite place. That’s probably because you spent the summer of 2009 being inundated with the imagery developed four years earlier in this short, Alive In Joburg, by director Neill Blomkamp and expanded into the feature film District 9.

Blomkamp is among the crop of modern Hollywood success stories who have scrounged for years in film schools and dead end jobs, searching for financial support in order to fund their little passion projects; they are the people who have slickly used social media websites like YouTube to market their skills to Hollywood.  In Blomkamp’s case, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson took notice and originally shepherded him in an attempt to adapt popular video game Halo into a film.

And yet nobody has seen a Halo movie.  Why not?  Because that’s what happens in Hollywood.  Sometimes things don’t work out as expected/hoped/fantasized.

When Halo didn’t pan out, Blomkamp and Jackson refocused their energies on something they knew had potential: Blomkamp’s original Joburg short.  All’s well that ends well, as they completed District 9 on a budget of around $35 million — chump change for a science fiction ‘splosion spectacular such as this — garnering critical praise and earning a cool $115 million in box office receipts. Oh, and it also received four Oscar nominations, including Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.

Blomkamp has since returned to the viral video well, releasing a minute-long teaser for Wired Magazine that may or may not have anything to do with his upcoming project, Elysium, other than generating interest in his abilities as a filmmaker who can tell a compelling story.  Or maybe he wants his fans to know he’s still around and has not forgotten them.

Blomkamp’s story may be the most complete, but he’s not alone in finding success through YouTube.  Federico Alvarez, an Uruguayan director, has found himself being mentored by Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Spider-Man) based on the merits of his produced-on-the-cheap alien invasion short, Panic Attack!, which was released on YouTube in 2009.

Panic Attack!, which runs less than five minutes, currently has upwards of six million YouTube views, which is no small feat considering how it only cost Alvarez a few hundred dollars to produce.  Now that Raimi’s production company, Ghost House Pictures, has signed Alvarez to develop a “genre” — probably in the science fiction realm — project, Alvarez appears set to reap the rewards of a professional filmmaking career.

This is not a phenomenon which will disappear anytime soon.  Given Hollywood’s obsessive-compulsive need to replicate success, agents, producers, and studio moguls will feel the pressure to find the next Blomkamp or Alvarez, even at the expense of the sanity of parents everywhere.

YouTube: The New Bootleg

Up and coming filmmakers aren’t the only ones benefitting from the exposure YouTube provides. For all intents and purposes, YouTube has replaced typical street vendors at the bootlegging game, providing for the masses things that had only previously been available in rare collections and by illegal means.

Fans of such Oscar winners as Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers can view early work and oddities, and compare those with the filmmakers’ more famous output.

Take Scorsese’s (Goodfellas, Raging Bull) NYU student film, What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This?, for instance.  It’s a surrealist comedy so far removed from his typical subject matter of gangsters and male inadequacy that it’s almost unrecognizable as a Scorsese film. But that is just part of the fun of exploring the depths of what YouTube has to offer.

In startling contrast to Scorsese’s attempt to find himself as an artist, all 30 minutes of noted auteur Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) short film Cigarettes & Coffee — not to be confused with Jim Jarmusch’s almost identically named Coffee & Cigarettes can also be found on YouTube.  It finds Anderson already with a firm grasp of what kind of storyteller he wants to be, as much of the film was expanded into his first feature, Hard Eight; or Sydney, if you ask Anderson himself.  To the best of my knowledge and research, I cannot find any other form in which this film has been released, and given the cult following the man has developed in his career, this is an important satiating resource for fans to utilize while they await his next film, whenever he makes one.

Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, No Country For Old Men), much like Scorsese, would not have the chance for people outside of Region 2 DVD releases to see their section of the film anthology Chacun son cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema), entitled World Cinema.

This short, while a simple oddity filmed during the production of No Country For Old Men, displays a certain playfulness creeping into the collective consciousness of the biggest names in today’s filmmaking.  It’s a feeling that not everything needs to be a sweeping epic in order to excite audiences.  Writers and directors can simply play a little; they can use these shorts and miniature conversations as practice for their larger, more long-term projects.  Whether they’re attempting to create a new visual style for themselves or write in a dialect that’s eluded them thus far, I can’t imagine the creators doing anything other than having a blast working on these things.

Twitter; Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Fan Interaction

Jon Favreau.  David Lynch.  Rian Johnson.

It’s all right there in Johnson’s Twitter profile description: “[B]ig time [H]ollywood director.”  That’s what these people are, and they are 140 characters away from interacting with their fans.

The connection of modern artists to their fans is at the highest point it’s ever been, thanks in large part to social media, particularly Twitter.  Instead of fearing about even more of their private lives being exposed, these celebrities act to be even more connected to the people who follow them.

Favreau, a one-time prolific actor now doing mostly big budget directorial work like the Iron Man movies and the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens — a film I absolutely cannot wait to see, but that’s a story for another time — tends to connect to fans the most, utilizing Twitter’s @ function with great regularity to answer questions and voice his thanks for the support he receives.  He also offers updates from first the set and now the editing room of Cowboys & Aliens, providing an insider’s peak into the process of how a massive blockbuster gets made.

Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) does much of the same, although he generally takes a more businesslike approach to selling his film, the currently filming Looper.  He often cross pollinates his promotion by posting to Twitter production photos located on the film’s Tumblr site.  He takes a mysterious approach to doling out information about the film, which follows the lead of recent ad campaigns for films like Cloverfield, which are supposed to be all about the suspense and “what could this possibly be about?” hype.

Lynch tends to take a more relaxed, day-in-the-life approach, as he is not currently producing a film.  Given his tendency toward dark and idiosyncratic filmmaking — to put it lightly — it is surprising to see him writing thoroughly normal things like birthday wishes to actress Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, huzzah!).

These three directors display the symptoms of a phenomenon which is creating an even stronger sense of connection between artists, their art, and the art’s appreciators.  Where these artists take this phenomenon remains to be seen — 140-second short films? — but what can be assured is the presence of social media at every turn.

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