The Amazing Double Takes

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

It’s a good time to be a comic book fan, sure — but it’s also a scary time. The marketing for Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” left hardcore fans and film critics alike dubious; with an overabundance of pre-released footage, fears of squeezing in far too many villains, and the looming possibility of butchering years of comic canon, a few nervous jitters were merited.

Courtesy of Sony PIctures

Courtesy of Sony PIctures

But fear not, webheads — with great power and great responsibility, Marc Webb delivers a superhero film to challenge (if not defeat) the likes of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and Warner Brothers’ “The Dark Knight.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the Wallcrawler’s story, “Amazing Spider-Man 2” picks up where the first left off – Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) can do everything a spider can, and Garfield handles the role with a perfect combination of awkwardness and arrogance, webslinging around the NYC besting villains and making quips, saving civilians, and, when he gets a free moment, letting serious sparks fly with love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

Seriously, we can’t emphasize how solid the onscreen chemistry is between these two real-life lovers. Stone conquers one of the most beloved significant others in comics, giving three dimensions to the valedictorian and police captain’s daughter.

But the romantic subplot is perfectly balanced with Spiderman’s rising popularity and the emergence of a deadly new villain: Max Dillon, AKA Electro, played by Jamie Foxx. Not shockingly, Foxx kills the role — first as the mewling, obsessive Dillon into the commanding, deadly Electro.

Unfortunately, some of the writing for Dillon is off-kilter and kitschy, keeping Foxx from stealing the show, and so the spotlight goes to Dane DeHaan, who gives such a powerful and commanding performance as Harry Osborn that you’ll be saying “James Franco who?” for sequels to come.

Plot-wise, we were worrisome because of how the sequel was cramming in a huge supply of new characters, villains and subplots. Fortunately, we were surprisingly impressed for how all of these devices managed to sufficiently blend together. The 2 hour and 23 minute run-time also bodes well in developing the subplots, which include Peter and Gwen’s relationship and Harry Osborne’s tumultuous return back to his father’s estate and business.

Another element in the writing that gets a spike for this sequel is Spidey’s sense of humor. He cracks more jokes than he did in the first film, and Garfield’s snarky line delivery sold just about all of them with a chuckle from the audience. Humor was something that was lacking by Maguire’s portrayal of the character in the original trilogy, but Garfield’s passion for the character allows that important element to factor in.

After impressing us with the style he brought to the first ASM, director Marc Webb ramps up the scale with careful, yet ultimately upright precision. In his fantastic debut film, “500 Days of Summer,” he exhibited a pleasant dose of humanism to the lead characters, which years later in this film, translates beautifully to the endearing relationship between Peter and Gwen.

Furthermore, Webb has an even better handling of the film’s action, which is bigger, better, and more thrilling than the predecessor. Everything from the lushly detailed scenes of Spider-Man web-slinging his way through the streets of NYC, to Electro’s destruction of Times Square, are all thrilling in both their pacing and visual flair.

Best of all, the film’s third act is one that rivals the thrills of “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” but succeeds even more with the emotions it delivers. There’s expertly-filmed action with Spider-Man facing off against his foe(s), but it also carries consequences that could prove detrimental at any moment.

Despite the overall polarizing reception it has generated, we thought “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was well … amazing. Even with the minor hiccups in regard to Electro’s character development, the rest of the sequel is, pun intended, electrifying.

 

Fargo

Courtesy of FX Networks

Courtesy of FX Networks

“Ah jeez.” That’s the first reaction millions of people, including us, had after the announcement that “Fargo” was being turned into a TV series. The 1996 Coen Brothers film is one of the bitingly original films of the 1990s, and the idea of it going to television sounded ludicrous.

However, now that it has finally begun its 10 episode run, “Fargo” delivers the outcome opposite to what we expected, and has instead evolved into being one of the best dark dramedies to grasp the small screen in recent years.

The thing about “Fargo” is that everything is so visually beautiful. The frozen tundra and snow-dusted forests, roads slick with black ice and frozen, glassy bodies of water provide a stunning canvas for so much shed blood. It’s hard to convey just how gorgeous the stark contrast is, spilt blood freezing on fresh white snow — but Bemidji, Duluth and its surrounding counties are essentially otherworldly.

There’s so little American fiction (outside of the original “Fargo”) set in the American far-north, and being from sunny Southern California, we don’t really have a schema for what it’s like to be in some place so cold, so removed — so paradoxically savage and polite. It’s why the original film was so successful — it’s just plain weird up there.

And speaking of the original “Fargo” film, a comparison is of course unavoidable. Here was a film with an A-list cast and some seriously brutal — and often hilarious — sequences that spawned an entire generation’s use of poorly executed Minnesotan accents.

After churning through the first three episodes of the FX series, we had to take a look back at the source material, even though the Coen brothers have essentially nothing to do with the television show, and the plots are only tangentially similar. It’s hard to imagine that the TV show would even compare to a film that won two Academy Awards and made its mark as number 84 on AFI’s Top 100 films of all time, but, frankly, it does.

One might even be tempted to say that the show is better in a lot of ways; after all, in their initial writing sessions, the Coen brothers wanted to create a “Fargo” serial of their own. In the film, Steve Buscemi might’ve been wood-chippered into cherry-red shaved ice, but it’s hard to match Billy Bob Thornton’s shower of blood.

Taking a similar approach to “True Detective”, the ensemble of “Fargo” is headlined by two big-name film actors, Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman.

Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo, a hit man drifting his way through the snowy Minnesota landscape, performing dirty jobs for those that hire him. Once he enters Bemidji, he immediately begins to stir up Joker-like chaos in the quiet town.

In a career comeback, Thornton’s acting as Malvo nothing short of amazing. His trademark deadpan line delivery, pairs sufficiently well with the constant menace of his character, and it also enhances the intimidation of his character’s blunt dialogue. Despite Malvo’s villainous traits, Thornton’s performance transforms the character into an anti-hero that is always a treat to watch.

Sporting a spot-on Minnesota Nice accent, Martin Freeman is also quite good as Lester Nygaard, an insurance salesman that is constantly pushed around by his wife and various townspeople. It’s pleasing to see him in a role like this, and it adds on to his impressive range that continues to expand each year.

Rounding out the supporting cast is Bob Odenkirk, Alison Tolman, and Colin Hanks, all who play police officers investigating the violent path of chaos Malvo continues to build up. Their portrayals of the accent are all on par with one another, and also get to toy around with unique traits that add depth to their characters.

FX has consistently impressed each year with the programming they churn out, and “Fargo” is no exception. With brilliant characters, writing and visual style, would we recommend you watch it? Oh you betcha, ya!