Happy belated Independence Day, movie fans! Now that the barbeques, firecrackers, and sunburns have subsided, we can’t think of a better way to ring in America’s 236th birthday than with a trip to the theater. This weekend, you can celebrate with an excursion high above the New York skyline, competition in an amateur Olympic event, and a shootout with drug dealers. Or perhaps you prefer a haunted house? And all while Katy Perry’s “Firework” rings out across the twilight’s last gleaming. Happy Fourth (or, you know, Sixth)!
The newest comic book reboot sticks its landing as Marvel’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” directed by the very appropriately named Marc Webb, soars into theaters this weekend. Raised by his aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) after his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) are killed in a plane crash, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an awkward, lonesome teenager with an unrequited crush on lovely classmate Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). That is, until a meeting with Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans) at the science-technology-megacompany Oscorp, leads to a bite from a radioactive spider which, in turn, leads to the acquisition of superpowers. You know, the usual ones: super strength, super speed, web slinging, an awesome unitard with matching ski mask. Now spider-tastic, Parker can take on The Lizard, an accidentally genetically modified Dr. Connors, before he terrorizes Manhattan. Written by James Vanderbilt, Allen Sargent and father of the “Harry Potter” octuplets, Steve Kloves, the film sports little that was unseen in the Sam Raimi versions, and suffers from badly sliced Swiss cheese syndrome: lots of hacked up pieces, lots of holes. Our review commends the actors’ performances and the character development but is less thrilled with the CGI-overloaded, illogical plot, and says, “as a comic book movie, it’s pretty terrible. But as a film involving relationships between human beings — arguably the first in the genre — it’s something of a success, just unfortunately not an unequivocal one.” Rotten Tomatoes: 72% Metacritic: 66
Directed by Dan Cutforth and Jape Lipsitz, “Katy Perry: Part of Me” documents the titular pop star’s 2011 world tour, while also delving into her back-story with surprising depth and pathos. The pop doc includes a surfeit of stage numbers – all stamped with the shy, nearly sweet sexiness and My Little Pony color scheme that have become the singer’s signature – laced with stories of how Perry grew from the child of two preachers to preaching a pop gospel that has broken world records in music sales. The crescendo/nadir that is the musician’s whirlwind romance, troubled marriage, and eventual divorce from Russell Brand also features prominently. Our review calls the film “an entertaining look into her world,” and says, “you can’t help but be taken by Perry…you can feel her commitment to her fans, her willingness to work hard for what she perceives as perfection, and her desperate fight for the survival of her marriage. It’s powerful stuff, even if it is wrapped up in goofball imagery and a kind of manic, cluttered energy.” RT: 78% MC: 57
Orange County-based pot dealers are drawn into the powerful Mexican drug cartel in Oliver Stone’s new film, “Savages,” based on the novel by Don Winslow. Buddhist Ben (Aaron Johnson) and former Navy SEAL Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are life partners, of a sort: they grow and sell really great weed together in Laguna Beach, and Ophelia (Blake Lively) takes them both on as lovers. Yet this vision of paradise is shattered when the leader of the Baja Cartel (Salma Hayek) demands a partnership with the duo, then effectively declares war on the bromance by kidnapping their paramour. Ben and Chon enlist the help of a DEA agent (John Travolta), hoping to wage combat successfully, and win back their sex toy. Benicio Del Toro, Emile Hirsch, and Demián Bichir co-star. Our review says the film “is at times a long-winded crime picture that attempts to appeal to the thinking man, but really just sits there on the screen with little weight – emotional, dramatic, or otherwise – to move it about. It’s disappointing to be sure, especially when certain instances in the film will make you hold out hope that it’s all going to turn around, but you’re left with that unfulfilled sense of anticipation. Yes, there’s violence. Yes, there’s a tawdry and uninteresting ‘love triangle’ if you will, but unfortunately the rewards in Stone’s latest are too few to really offer much of a recommendation.” RT: 56% MC: 61
In Adam Sherman’s semi-autobiographical and semi-romantic comedy, the trust fund-funded Zach (Lukas Haas) lives one depraved drunken, drugged-out night to the next, until he meets Rebecca (Madeline Zima, best known for playing Mia, the Lolita on “Californication”), whom he promptly falls in love with and nicknames “Crazy Eyes.” It’s a romantic gesture that would sweep any woman off her feet. Conveniently, she also likes to drink a lot; inconveniently, she has a boyfriend. But that won’t stop Zach! His family issues come into play here as well, creating some (assumedly) added tension… because it’s not enough that Rebecca’s condition for sleeping with Zach (boyfriend notwithstanding) is that he must strangle her first. Jake Busey (another Busey?) and Tania Raymonde (Alex Rousseau from “Lost”!) co-star in here somewhere. Ultimately, watching this film should be a lot like drinking alone: tedious, nausea inducing, and kind of depressing. RT: 25% MC: 29
“The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” from Mark and Jay Duplass, tells the story of two estranged brothers, Mark and Jeremy (Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly), reunited under the very guise that drove them apart in the first place: competing in a do-deca-pentathalon. But the disastrous split happened in high school, and the two men are older and wiser now, so surely this event will patch things up. Right? Well, apparently, insane competitiveness takes a long time to be purged from the system, and both Mark and Jeremy are back in the fray faster than you can say, “no, mine’s bigger.” So yeah, wrong. Our review says, “the conceit feels like the premise for a short film. As a full-length feature, it’s punishingly boring and pointless,” explaining, “the concept is too weak to hang a full feature on, and the dramatic movements within the story are not compelling, surprising or meaningful in any way.” RT: 76% MC: 63
“The Pact,” from director Nicholas McCarthy, offers a modern twist on the haunted house scary movie trope. After her mother dies and her sister, Nicole (Agnes Bruckner), goes missing, Annie (Caity Lotz) returns to the small California town she grew up in, hoping to set things straight. With help from a local cop (Casper Van Dien), Annie sorts through her family’s memorabilia, and her own unhappy family memories, in order to find answers about its seeming dissolution. Then the nightmares, fueled by evil forces, and text messages, sent from the beyond, begin. The film lags a bit at its start, but a satisfying combination of old-fashioned (or, perhaps we should say, “tried and true”) monster makeup and info-age CGI create one terrifying bloodbath of a conclusion. RT: 64% MC: 54
New York playwright Robert Longfellow (Martin Donovan, also the film’s writer and director) finds an unlikely “Collaborator” and a new verve for his craft when he returns to his hometown of Los Angeles. After failing to live up to a much-hyped reputation as the next “voice of a generation,” the writer retreats home, seeking inspiration and solace by caring for his aging mother (Katherine Helmond). Once back in LA, Longfellow encounters a childhood neighbor, Gus (David Morse), a staunchly conservative casual alcoholic who has frequent run-ins with the law. Though his polar opposite in every way imaginable, Gus helps Longfellow to move beyond his stuffy, intellectual persona to a place where he can once again create “honest work.” Our review calls the film, “a sometimes-intriguing character study” and commends Donovan’s stage-inspired direction, but dislikes the latter’s performance and finds his characters too “dim” and “singular…to make this cat-and-mouse game indicative of anything other than one isolated culture clash.” RT: 60% MC: 52