The Films of Marc Webb
(500) Days of Summer (July 15/09)
Featuring an all-too-rare leading-man turn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer effortlessly establishes itself as one of the most entertaining and flat-out original romantic comedies to come around in quite some time - with the affable chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel certainly playing a significant role in the film's ultimate success. The storyline follows Gordon-Levitt's Tom as he meets and falls in love with Deschanel's quirky Summer, with the bulk of the movie subsequently detailing the ups and downs of their relationship in as non-linear a fashion as one could possibly envision. Director Marc Webb has infused (500) Days of Summer with an irresistibly stylish sensibility that nicely complements Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber's thoroughly creative screenplay, yet there's little doubt that it's the authenticity of the central character - as well as the strength of Gordon-Levitt's performance - that initially draws the viewer into the proceedings. The actor does a superb job of transforming Tom - a character who could've easily come off as an indie douchebag in the wrong hands - into a seriously compelling, fully-fleshed out protagonist that the audience can't help but root for, while Deschanel's expectedly charming work ensures that Summer remains likeable even during the film's darker interludes (ie as the narrator indicates at the outset, "this is not a love story"). The almost equal emphasis on comedy and drama is handled especially well by Webb, as the filmmaker does an effective job of balancing the movie's lighthearted moments - ie a truly spectacular sequence in which Tom exuberantly walks to work after sleeping with Summer for the first time - with those of a distinctly down-to-earth variety. The end result is a consistently engaging and uncommonly genuine romcom that's as breezy as it is poignant, with the film's note-perfect conclusion cementing its place as a natural successor to such above average predecessors as Say Anything... and Before Sunrise.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Given that Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie hit theaters just about ten years ago, The Amazing Spider-Man can't help but come off as a repetitive and absolutely needless piece of work that is, for the most part, hopelessly unable to justify its very existence. The narrative, which once again details Peter Parker's (Andrew Garfield) transformation into the title character, suffers from a pervasive sense of familiarity that's nothing short of disastrous, as James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves' screenplay contains virtually all of the beats and plot developments contained within Raimi's 2002 origin story (eg the death of Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben, Peter's conflict with fellow student Flash Thompson, etc). There is, as such, never a point at which the viewer is able to work up the slightest bit of interest in the protagonist's ongoing exploits, which is a shame, certainly, since Garfield generally does a nice job of separating himself from Tobey Maguire's (admittedly superior) portrayal of the iconic web-slinger. (Garfield's costars don't fare quite as well, however, with Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans' bland work as, respectively, Gwen Stacy and Curt Connors effectively exacerbating the movie's irrelevant feel.) Filmmaker Marc Webb's decision to employ a curiously deliberate pace does, when coupled with an unreasonably overlong running time (136 minutes!), exacerbate The Amazing Spider-Man's various problems, and it doesn't help, either, that the film suffers from an almost astounding paucity of compelling sequences. (There are, in fact, only two real respites from the otherwise tedious atmosphere, Stan Lee's expected cameo and an incongruously lighthearted scene in which Spider-Man playfully harasses a car thief.) By the time the needlessly frenetic, headache-inducing finale, which feels as though it'd be more at home within a video game, rolls around, The Amazing Spider-Man has definitively established itself as one of the worst comic-book adaptations to come around in ages (ie the movie is nothing less than a cynical cash-grab designed to appeal to one's inherent fondness for the admittedly charming title character.)