Saturday, April 5, 2014



I have truly exciting news for all of my fans who are eagerly awaiting my spectacular new production, Aida on Ice. Joseph, my manager, has managed to sign that exciting Italian tenor, Andrea Boccelli to play Rhadames. I feel that his legitimate operatic voice will give the show that cachet of quality it truly needs to make it a special, once in a lifetime theatrical event. Mr. Boccelli was able to attend his first rehearsal this afternoon. He's going to have to do quite a bit of work with his skating coach, he kept bumping into the sides of the rink during his big Celeste Aida number. His skating just doesn't seem to have the organic flow it needs.

I've been having some trouble conceiving of an appropriate finale for the show. The tomb scene, as Verdi wrote it, is so dreary, and there's not a lot of opportunity for spectacle. Of course we're rewriting it so Aida lives and takes over Egypt as the new Pharaoh but it still needs a major coup de theatre. I've hit upon the notion of making my entrance for it by flying trapeze, after all it worked for Nicole Kidman. A nice flip followed by a layout over the ice would leave the crowd gasping; and, if we can train that nice Boccelli boy as a catcher, would be sweetly symbolic of the love story.

With visions of aerial glory wafting through my head, I sought out nurse Lynn and off we went to see Sam Raimi's new film version of Spider Man, now playing on half the multiplex screens in the country. I had read a few Marvel comics while a slip of a girl so I was interested to see how Hollywood decided to bring Spidey to life this time around, especially as he was being impersonated by Tobey Maguire, a lovely young actor, but not the first person to come to mind when the words 'super hero' are mentioned.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it concerns Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the proverbial high school science geek who heads off one day with his class to tour a science exhibit on spiders. While there, one of the genetically mutated arachnids escapes and bites poor Peter on the hand. Somehow, his DNA and the spider's become entwined overnight, leaving him with the power to shoot spider webs from his wrists, leap long distances, and have super senses and reflexes. Scientific possibility is not a strong suit in the film - Overnight mixing of arachnid and human DNA is completely illogical, no matter how many nice nucleoside computer graphics in pretty colors they throw at the screen. There's also the web problem. Spiders don't spin their webs with their legs, but the executives of Columbia pictures might have had some problems with thrilling scenes of young Mr. Maguire shooting super spider webs from his bottom.

Peter is an orphan, living with his saintly Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). He's also in love with the beauteous Mary Jane from next door (Kirsten Dunst) and has a cool best friend, Harry (James Franco) who is also his romantic rival. Harry's father, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) is a millionaire industrialist who is researching performance enhancing drugs for the military. He tries them on himself before they are perfected, splitting his psyche and turning himself into the Green Goblin, Spidey's arch-enemy. Throw in a manic newspaper editor (J.K. Simmons, Schillinger from HBO's Oz) who hires young Peter to take pictures of the webbed wonder and you've got a comic book film.

The plot follows the form developed in Superman and in Batman in previous decades. Spend a leisurely hour or so in exposition, giving the back-story to those who aren't comic literate. Throw in some portentous and heavy handed symbolism; add a pinch of gravitas, some comic relief as our hero matures and learns the extent of his powers, and then pour over audience - serve lukewarm. In the remaining hour, quickly develop a story of good versus evil in which there can be narrow escapes, harrowing stunts, and the ultimate triumph of the hero, but usually at some personal cost. I shan't discuss the Spiderman specifics, but there's little deviation from formula.

The script was obviously written by Mrs. Palmer's fourth grade class at Laurelhurst elementary, although it's attributed to David Koepp, one of Hollywood's busiest, if not necessarily best, screenwriters. Previous works in the Koepp oeuvre include the literary masterpieces Mission Impossible, The Lost World: Jurassic Park II, and Snake Eyes. Coherent plot and consistent character aren't a Koepp forte and he comes up with the worlds dippiest lines and clunkiest scenes. Fortunately, this time he's paired with director Sam Raimi who knows what he wants from his film. Raimi has explored this territory before with such films as Darkman and the Evil Dead films and he knows how to give a comic book film forward movement and visual flair. Raimi keeps the film bouncing along from set piece to set piece, throwing in homages to everything from Superman to Breakfast at Tiffany's, stuffing the screen with sly jokes.

Tobey Maguire gives an earnest performance in the lead. Someone took the young man in hand and sent him to the gym for months as he's buffed and built in his shirtless scenes as he explores his new spider improved body. He manages to hold his character intact through any number of highly contrived scenes and becomes a solid emotional center with whom we can identify in this crazy parallel universe. He, the non-human, is the most human one of the bunch. Matching him is James Franco as his best buddy. Mr. Franco is a new performer to me but he's heading for a stellar career. The screen sizzles when he's there and he breathes life into the hoariest of clichés. The third member of the central romantic triangle, Kirsten Dunst, is a disappointment. The only color she gives her role is the bad Miss Clairol Auburn dye job she sports throughout the film. Dunst is usually one of our finest young actresses. I think she was defeated by the silly script and a lack of attention from Raimi who seems much more fixated on the homo-erotic aspects of the story.

The supporting cast is in fine form. Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris play their saintly parts absolutely straight while J.K. Simmons, who seems to have a dead muskrat nailed to his skull, goes for cartoonish energy. Willem Dafoe, as the villain, does a bit of both. His sane persona is constricted and formal while the Green Goblin is wildly all over the place, physically and vocally.

The visuals are bright and there are some lovely sequences of Spidey swinging through the skyscrapers of Manhattan. There are also some awfully cheap looking CGI effects, some ineffectual use of body doubles, and a Times Square scene with giant balloons that looks like a parody of Tim Burton. Some scenes are great fun. You won't soon forget poor Peter's first appearance in an early version of his Spider Man costume. (Where the final version comes from is not explained.)

On the whole, Spider Man delivers what you want of a summer popcorn film. It's fun, it's fast, it's got a little bit of meat to it and, for the most part, it's well performed and well made and doesn't insult the intelligence of its chosen demographic too much.

Spider photography. Lunchroom fight. Cage wrestling. Gratuitous Macy Gray. Oedipal moments. Collapsing balcony. Disastrous Thanksgiving dinner. Upside down Spidey smooch. Gratuitous endangered Roosevelt Island tramway. Wide open sequel possibilities. 

No comments:

Post a Comment