After a hiatus, this month’s Home Movies explores a handful of 2012 films that slipped through the cracks during my regular viewings and/or are simply new VOD releases. With only a few weeks away until the end of the year, I’ll be catching up on films that I missed out on to insure that my annual top ten for 2012 takes into account as many films as possible – the list is currently slated for posting on December 27th.
From an inviting, if not unnecessary, reimaging of a popular superhero to a surprisingly thoughtful feminist take on vampire mythology, my recent home viewings have consisted of an eclectic bunch of films worth delving into.
One could barrel down reasons why a reboot was unnecessary for the Spider-Man franchise, which saw its start in 2002 and finale in 2007. Despite a five year absence, the whole notion of superhero fatigue was palpable prior to the release of The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s something that Marc Webb’s reboot attempts to shake, particularly through the casting of Andrew Garfield in the lead role. It’s a pleasant enough effort, one distinguished through its casting but limited through its material and lacking directorial presence.
The Spider-Man mythos is plagued by it’s rather cumbersome comic sensibilities. Webb and his co-writers deviate somewhat from their source material, but it’s still a cornball effort. The picture’s greatest shortcoming stems from Webb’s unrefined directorial presence – he simply doesn’t have much sense as to how to unite and construct the images of his films. That’s where Raimi’s effort, despite its obvious flaws, trumps this reboot. The talented array of actors manage to elevate the material in spite of Webb’s shortcomings – therein making any comparison between the original and reboot a wash.
As the new golden age of animation (2007-2011) reaches its twilight, it’s disappointing to see Pixar follow up their subpar effort in Cars 2 with yet another cliché-ridden disappointment with Brave. Note that the film itself is hardly bad – rather, it’s a disappointment coming from an animation house with such an impressive track record that included Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. Few other studios have a claim to a continuous stream of impeccable films. Brave secures a position in the bottom-tier of Pixar’s work, largely for its patchwork design – elements of the picture are functions as a conglomeration of ideas that really doesn’t work together in any conceivable away. While not the worst of Pixar’s films, it’s certainly one of the worst paced. Brave excels in its more action-oriented sequences, but ultimately, that’s not something that I tend to gravitate toward when I’m watching a Pixar film – I’m looking for a film with grander emotional scope and ambition.
Amy Heckerling, of Clueless fame, reunites with Alicia Silverstone in a feature of surprising emotional weight. Combining her sort of sorority humor with vampire mythology, Heckerling displays finesse in tonal control, opting less for cheap laughs and rather patiently waits for a larger payoff. Silverstone contributes significantly to the believability of the material as well, balancing a sense of naivety while becoming capable of reaching greater emotional plains when needed.
Vamps is one of the few features of its type where I could sense a greater level of sincerity in its presentation - there seem to be many attempts to branch out and subvert expectations. Like with Clueless, Heckerling layers the dramatics without ever really succumbing to overt melodramatics. Her ambition ends up getting the best of her though, particularly in a run of sequences that depend heavily on special effects. Heckerling’s has a fine grasp of human drama and comedy, but some of the more sensational aspects of her film stick out oddly. Despite this misstep, Vamps could have easily been a major misfire – that Heckerling was capable of instilling the material with enough genuine emotional heft is a feat in itself.
Whereas Vamps displayed sharper instincts in its feminist probing, For a Good Time, Call… possesses a particularly insipid worldview. Here’s a film with a limited sense of developing character and grimly associates friendship with fiscal and sexual dependency. For a Good Time, Call… has an especially difficult time humanizing its characters – motives and actions could have the irksome sense of being constructed to benefit of its paper thin narrative.
The efforts on behalf of its cast, particularly from the jubilant Ari Graynor, suggest potential. But the eventual fault lies in a screenplay that is so damned formulaic and contrived that any rousing energy the cast manages to inspire is immediately extinguished. The whole thing barely registers as anything more than a lousy Judd Apatow knockoff.
Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris stood out in 2007 as a surprisingly insightful and comedic look into the disintegration of a relationship. Featuring Delpy and Adam Goldberg, the film remains one of my favorite films of 2007. In this follow-up, Delpy follows a logical transgression in her character’s life but substitutes the pathos of the first feature for a more slap-stick approach. The effect is a significant departure in tone and presentation, ruminating on the dash-and-go New York lifestyle rather than the brooding musings found in Paris. In the end, it culminates in a picture that is significantly less insightful and less funny than its predecessor, though it is salvaged by an infectious charm that almost excuses the tonal diversion. If 2 Days in New York is part of a proposed trilogy, one can liken it to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy – like Three Colors: White (the second film in the trilogy), 2 Days in New York is significantly less emotionally taxing, but comedic enough to make it a likable effort.