Movies: 'The Amazing Spider-Man,' 'People Like Us' and 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN"
There are many ways to spin a familiar fantasy, but this webslinger is decidedly different from Sam Raimi's previous Marvel Comics-based trilogy. While the plot -- a teenager bitten by a genetically modified spider, develops incredible powers that inspire him to become a vigilante crime-fighter -- remains intact, the characters are more fleshed out and the new stunt work is splendid.
As embodied by Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network"), angry, rebellious Peter Parker wonders why, one night when he was little, his parents dropped him off with his Aunt Mae (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and disappeared forever. After he finds scientific papers in an old briefcase belonging to his dad (Campbell Scott), Parker diligently tracks down his father's former colleague, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), at Manhattan's OsCorp research center, where his savvy Midtown Science High School classmate, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), is leading a guided tour. Invigorated by Parker's discovery of his father's formula specifically relating to cross-species limb regeneration, psychologically pressured Connors injects himself -- with monstrous results.
Scripted by James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves and Alvin Sargent, it's directed by Marc Webb, whose "500 Days of Summer" was a charming romantic comedy. So it's not surprising that Webb invigorates the Parker/Stacy relationship with that same kind of awkward wistfulness, adding a palpable sense of mystery and danger, epitomized by "We all have secrets: the ones we keep and the ones that are kept from us."
Plus it helps that there's obvious chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone ("Easy A," "Crazy, Stupid Love"), who playfully cautions, "Easy there, bug boy."
John Schwartzman's spectacular cinematography is amplified by James Horner's score, while Vic and Andy Armstrong's second-unit and stunt work introduces the French sport of parkour, in which athletes run, jump and climb in urban environments, and reinvents the way Spidey zips from building to building.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Amazing Spider-Man" is an awesome 8, delivering emotional truth along with spectacular visual effects. Be sure to stay for a pivotal, provocative scene after the closing credits.
"PEOPLE LIKE US"
Fast-talking Sam Harper (Chris Pine) is an East Coast trade negotiator who discovers the delivery of his latest bartering deal is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission on the same day he learns that his music-producer father has died in Los Angeles. Reluctantly returning home with his supportive girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde), Sam conveniently arrives after the funeral, further infuriating his estranged mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer). Then the family lawyer hands him his father's leather shaving kit containing $150,000 in cash that he's supposed to deliver to a half-sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) that he never knew existed. A recovering alcoholic who regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Frankie is a stressed-out single mother with a troubled, precocious, adolescent son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario), who is having rebellion problems in school.
What will Sam do? How will he explain this shared paternity to Frankie, his newly found nephew and his mother? Rather than immediately tackling the odious task of revelation, ambivalent Sam gradually insinuates himself into Frankie's life by befriending Josh and promising to teach the boy six important life-lessons, leaving us wondering when he'll finally reveal the truth. Meanwhile, it becomes obvious that while Frankie bitterly resents having been abandoned by her father, Sam realizes that this same father was barely around for him either ... until an unexpected explanation is revealed.
Scripting with his long-time production collaborator Robert Orci and screenwriter Jody Lambert, novice director Alex Kurtzman ("Cowboys and Aliens," TV's "Fringe" and "Alias") tackles this superficially suspenseful, if occasionally exasperating, character-driven drama/comedy, dissecting a contrived dilemma that's loosely based on his own family history, finding out that he had a half-sister from his father's other marriage.
Superbly cast Pine ("Star Trek," "Unstoppable"), Banks ("The Hunger Games," "Man on a Ledge"), Pfeiffer ("Dark Shadows"), Wilde and D'Addario delve into the poignant desperation of their characters, delivering far more emotional naturalism than the script delineates.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "People Like Us" is a simplistic, sentimental 7, an unexpectedly soapy sibling story.
"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER"
Before you dismiss the absurdity of the pulpy title, consider that the 16th president of the United States was a strong, rail-splitting outdoorsman and, according to some historical scholars, quite capable of throwing an axe at the blood-sucking undead.
Unfortunately, the metaphorical concept never lives up to its power-packed potential, even as Honest Abe explains: "History prefers legends to men."
As a child, Lincoln kept this secret journal, revealing that he and his father clashed with villainous slaver Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), whose bite killed Lincoln's mother, Nancy. Years later, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) learned the art of vampire assassination from Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper). So by the time he's settled in Springfield, Ill., studying law, Lincoln has become adept at eliminating ghouls using an axe with a silver-tipped blade. Despite Sturges' warning not to become too attached to other people, Lincoln woos and wins young Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and is reunited with his childhood friend, former slave William Johnson (Anthony Mackie). But when Lincoln eventually slays Barts, he becomes the target of the Southern vampires, led by New Orleans-based Adam (Rufus Sewell), who's politically aligned with the Confederacy during the Civil War because slavery enables vampires to legally purchase humans to satisfy their blood lust.
Based on Seth Grahame-Smith's comic novel, directed by Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted," "Night watch") and produced by Tim Burton, this idea for this relentlessly gruesome thriller was spawned when Grahame-Smith was touring the country in 2009, promoting his previous book "Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies," which was displayed along with Lincoln biographies and the "Twilight" vampire romances.
"I thought, rather cynically, if you combine those two, you'd be on to something," he told the WonderCon convention in Anaheim. That's how Abraham Lincoln became a 19th century superhero.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is a ridiculous, revisionist 4, redeemed only by Bekmambetov's inventive, R-rated action sequences, particularly the CGI horse stampede. The horror and decapitation carnage is even more vivid in 3-D, if you're into grisly gore.