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.)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 5/14)
A vast improvement over its worthless predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 follows Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as he attempts to balance his personal life with his ongoing work as the crimefighting title character. The massive failure of 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man is due, for the most part, to its pervasively familiar atmosphere, as the movie generally seemed content to act as a watered-down carbon-copy of Sam Raimi's far superior 2002 original - with the film's few positive attributes, including Garfield's effective take on the character, rendered moot by an interminable exercise in needlessness. It's clear, then, that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 benefits from its fresh take on the iconic character, with the movie, right from the outset, launching into a story that is, for the most part, not instantly recognizable - although it's ultimately clear that scripters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner have packed far too many elements into the movie's narrative. (There is, for example, little of interest to be found in Peter's continuing investigation into his father's untimely death.) And although there are a number of exciting action sequences sprinkled throughout the film's overlong running time - Spider-Man's mid-movie battle with Jamie Foxx's Electro is an obvious highlight - The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is at its best when focused on the relationship between Peter and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy. Bolstered by Garfield and Stone's palpable chemistry together, the Gwen/Peter subplot provides the proceedings with the majority of its emotional content - with the effectiveness of Gwen's character arc often compensating for the film's more overtly underwhelming elements. The end result is a perpetually uneven summer blockbuster that seems to hit as regularly as it as it misses, but given the terminally lackluster nature of its forebear, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 generally fares much, much better than one had any right to expect.
Gifted (April 18/17)
Directed by Marc Webb, Gifted details the turmoil that ensues for single father Frank Adler after it’s revealed that his young daughter (Mckenna Grace’s Mary) is essentially a budding genius – with the revelation eventually bringing Frank’s estranged mother (Lindsay Duncan’s Evelyn) into the picture. It’s clear immediately that filmmaker Webb is looking to take a serious step back from his larger-than-life previous endeavors (including (500) Days of Summer and The Amazing Spider-Man), as Gifted boasts as low-key an atmosphere as one could possibly envision – with the subdued vibe perpetuated by a lackadaisical pace, pared-down narrative, and emphasis on “gritty” camerawork. (In terms of the latter, Webb’s reliance on a handheld aesthetic is annoying and distracting, to say the least.) The film is, in its early goings, not entirely without its charms, however, as Webb elicits an impressively charismatic turn from star Evans that’s heightened by the actor’s genuine chemistry with his quirky love interest (Jenny Slate’s Bonnie) – to the degree that one can’t help but wish that Webb had stressed the growing bond between Frank and Bonnie to a more pronounced extent. The movie’s midsection, devoted mostly to a fairly run-of-the-mill court case, is somewhat interesting yet rarely engrossing, unfortunately, and it consequently does become increasingly difficult to work up any kind of emotional investment in its outcome. (Likewise, Webb’s third-act efforts at eliciting the viewer’s tears fall hopelessly flat.) It’s ultimately difficult to label Gifted as anything more than a disappointingly generic drama that would, stripped of its leading man, feel perfectly at home on Lifetime, which is a shame, certainly, given the distressing paucity of similar-themed fare within contemporary multiplexes.