the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spying on Myself

While home in Colorado over the holiday weekend, I stopped by my favorite independent theater to catch another showing of the delightful Waitress. While walking out of the theater after the film was over, I found myself beside an elderly couple who clearly enjoyed the film and were busy discussing it.

I overheard the woman telling her companion that she wanted to see the film after reading the review in The Colorado Springs Gazette and mentioned several points in the review that she particularly liked.

It’s the first time I’ve ever heard my writing discussed in public before. I couldn’t help but continue walking beside them for a few moments, listening in, even though we were headed in opposite directions. After a while, a smile on my face, I peeled away and went my own way.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

There’s a lot to be said for knowing one’s place in the world--not aiming too high or sinking too low--but intrinsically understanding one’s station and what’s expected of that station. I am not, thankfully, talking about human beings, but rather films.

There’s nothing wrong with being a popcorn movie so long as you don’t aspire to anything higher. And while popcorn fare may not be fois gras, most of us find popcorn an enjoyable and satisfying snack. There are some films that simply defy the normal critical analysis, that embody the intellectual equivalent of physical horseplay and in so doing are purely and simply enjoyable.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is not such a movie.

If films are made in rapid succession or better yet, simultaneously, their overall quality, whether good or bad, can usually be predicted by the first one out of the gate. The Matrix: Reloaded predicted the continuing mediocrity of The Matrix: Revolutions, whereas the brilliance of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring all but ensured the same sort of radiance throughout the entire trilogy. So it should come as no surprise that, after the staggering disappointment that was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End shouldn’t be far behind.

Ignoring even the slightest expository dialogue to remind viewers where the last Pirates installment left off and why, At World’s End instead launches straight into a plot so muddled and convoluted it is barely worth trying to unravel here. That they began filming without a completed script (no lie) is instantly obvious.

Suffice it to say, our heroes go off to rescue the dead Jack Sparrow, now suffering in Davy Jones’ Locker (which ironically enough, looks remarkably like a bad Terry Gilliam movie); must face the treachery of Davy Jones and Lord Cutler Beckett, now in dark league together; convene all the world’s pirates for one final, epic showdown; set a goddess free, and reunite a pair of estranged lovers. Before it is all over, Elizabeth Swann will take her own stab at Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, her love affair with Will Turner will fold into a bittersweet (and oddly appropriate) dénouement, and Capt. Jack will find himself much as we first met him—marooned and shipless (although, after three films, I was sick enough of him to do the same).

If the script is a cohesive disaster, the special effects are masterful. But then again, what did you think they were spending all of those millions of dollars on, a screenwriter? At World’s End is filled with some utterly transcendent eye candy. Three moments that stick out in my mind are of a pirate’s vessel sailing across perfectly still water that flawlessly reflects the starlight above making it look as if the ship is suspended in space; the Black Pearl set aground in the middle of a vast desert of sand; and the final moments of Lord Beckett as the world shatters into splinters all around him. (The closing credits go on forever, rightly acknowledging hundreds of digital artists. By the way, if you didn’t stay to watch all those names sail by, you missed a final bonus scene tagged onto the very end.)

It’s not so much that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is bad, so much as it is boring. Clocking in at just shy of three hours, the film is laboriously slow going with few substantive action pieces to make the long stretches worthwhile. In forgetting its origins, the third Pirates film, just like the second, also forgets to be fun. This is its greatest sin. We can forgive tedious patches and even muddled plots, but what is unforgivable is when a popcorn movie like this one has indefensible delusions of grandeur.

Perhaps the only thing worse than popcorn pretension is not knowing when to stop. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End does not, itself, know when to end. That it concludes by setting up a possible fourth installment in the franchise is enough to make one question just who are the real pirates and who are the ones being plundered.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"It Happens"

This is Kris Germain, one of my best friends in the world (and has been so since 5th grade!). Kris is an actor/writer/producer in Hollywood and a personal trainer on the side. So this particular piece is doubly appropriate. It is produced by Great Adventure, an improv troupe he helped found.

A Lot to Talk About I

I've been getting some e-mails wondering why I haven't yet commented on the new reality series, On the Lot. Truth is, I wanted to wait for the series to get some heft beneath it before I chimed in. In the first week, it was scattered and bloated, trying to do in two episodes what American Idol does over the course of several weeks. Now that the finalists have been whittled down to a select few, the true shape of the show can be seen. I am enjoying it, even if it’s plagued with the usual reality melodramatics and hang-ups. Still, it could be a lot of fun, especially as the contestants are given more time and depth to flex their wings—something that will only come as the dross is cleaned away.

Speaking of dross, Carolina Zorilla De San Martin and her cell phone delivery deserved to go. For that matter, so did my NYU classmate Jessica Brillhart (no, I don’t know her, but wasn’t that shot of her walking past our Tisch building on Broadway during her bio great!); her light bulb pic was silly and not a little bit pretentious. The voters decided to give her another chance. Don’t screw it up NYU. I was sorry to see Claudia La Bianca go, not because she made a great film but because she was from my former home of three years, Sicily. It was sad and remarkable how it seemed that the women were getting picked off one by one last night.

Phil Hawkins didn’t deserve to go home already; his 911 call may not have been all that funny, but it did show beautiful promise that we will now never see. The shock of the night, the—dare I say it—Sanjaya moment of the show was when Kenny Luby and his abominable cabbie film survived the cut. What in the world did the voters see in his utterly ridiculous waste of a minute of my life? His days are numbered.

Most of the films and filmmakers showed a lot of promise, even if there was too much reliance on potty humor. Unlike the judges, I really liked Trevor James’ A Golf Story. I also liked Will Bigham’s Lucky Penny, Adam Stein’s Dance Man, Sam Friedlander’s Replication Theory, and Shira-Lee Shalit’s Check Out. However, I don’t think that anyone can argue with the fact that it was Zach Lipovsky’s night with Danger Zone, a short consisting of a single, 360 degree take around a hellish laboratory. I can’t wait to see what Zach makes next, though I hope he has both style and substance as only the later dramas will reveal.

Stay tuned…

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Knocked Up

There is a mystery surrounding the film, Knocked Up and that mystery is how something this funny and crude could also be this moving and pure. Judd Apatow has done it again. Like his hit freshman effort, The Forty Year Old Virgin, Apatow and his team of hilarious writer/actors have delivered a film as side-splittingly funny as it is undeniably poignant.

Ben (Seth Rogen) is living every slacker’s dream. He shares a house outfitted with a swimming pool, American Gladiator-style games and enough pot to last till doomsday with his three best friends (half the cast of TV’s ill-fated Freaks and Geeks, including How I Met Your Mother’s Jason Segel). Ben spends his days goofing off and his nights partying hard. Across town, Alison (Grey’s Anatomy’s Katherine Heigl) couldn’t be more different. An entertainment reporter, Alison is an intense, ambitious go-getter who decides to celebrate a huge promotion by visiting a hip new nightclub. Her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) tells her to “be safe.” As Shakespeare’s Benedict would say, “There’s a double meaning in that.” Too bad Alison didn’t hear it.

We know what’s coming next. Ben and Alison bump into each other at the club and while Ben is not the kind of guy who would ever normally turn Alison’s head, after a few too many drinks, she finds him Prince Charming. One thing leads to another and Alison wakes up the next morning with a pudgy, scruffy stranger in her bed. If you think that is awkward, try calling him eight or so weeks later to tell him you’re pregnant.

With next to nothing in common except their mutual circumstances, Ben and Alison decide that getting to know each other is probably a good idea. They go shopping for baby clothes, read books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” learn how to navigate pregnancy induced mood swings, and are introduced to each other’s friends and families.

Ben, the man who doesn’t ever want to grow up forms an unlikely friendship with Pete (the great Paul Rudd), Alison’s bother-in-law, who’s had to grow up faster than he ever anticipated. Pete and Debbie don’t exactly present a couple Ben and Alison can emulate. “Marriage is like an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond,” Pete tells Ben one guy’s night out in Vegas, “but it doesn’t last 22 minutes…it lasts forever.”

While Ben and Alison’s affection for each other grows, the reality is that they are simply too different to remain together. She accuses him of never taking anything seriously. As the expectant father, Alison needs Ben to be more responsible—i.e. stop smoking pot and get a job. For his part, Ben believes Alison is incapable of lightening up and having a good time. They finally decide that, while they will remain in each other’s lives for the sake of the baby, a romantic relationship is out of the question. Or is it?

This description hardly sounds like the summation of this summer’s most uproarious comedy, and yet that is exactly what Knocked Up is. Somehow, some way, Apatow has crafted that rarest of gems that is equal parts heart and crass. Knocked Up charms even as it uplifts. We forgive the film its more absurdist moments—and trust me, it has them—because it has paid for the privilege with genuinely tender stretches that have no earthly business cohabitating in a film this hilarious.

Ultimately, Knocked Up is a coming of age story. The Ben holding his newborn child at the end of the film would barely recognize the lethargic layabout who followed the opening credits. Sure, the end is predictable, but what makes it work is the perfect balance of testosterone-laden antics and the romantic sweetness of a chick flick.

At just over two hours, Knocked Up is far longer than your usual comedic fare. But the film is certainly no worse for the wear. The one-liners come hard and fast and no doubt many viewers are going to want to come back for seconds just to catch what they missed the first time round. There is no actor here who doesn’t nail his role, from the leads and supporting cast to the half dozen, self-satirical cameos from such celebrities as Ryan Seacrest, B.J. Novak, James Franco and Steve Carell.

You cannot help but leave Knocked Up happy. Having just witnessed copious drug use, a tidal wave of profanity, and the crowning of a newborn baby’s head (yes, you read that right) you exit the theater doors feeling joyful and indeed hopeful. You can say that about very few things in life. Oh, Judd Apatow. How art thou so clever?

To read this story in its original form, click here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Starting Another Internship

I started a new job this week. Last Wednesday was my last day at my Sony spring internship in the Ad Sales Marketing Department. I now work in the Media Relations Department of MediaLink Worldwide.

Medialink is a global provider of news and marketing strategies, enabling more than 3,000 clients as wide ranging as major auto makers, important scientific associations and not-for-profit organizations to reach target audiences with maximum impact on television, radio, print, and the Internet.

My Sony internship was a fascinating glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of the television business, especially how that business runs on the whims of advertising. Specifically, I crunched Nelsons data all day and integrated it into Excel spreadsheets. As revealing and important as it was, it was not the most stimulating work.

I think the MediaLink internship is going to be far more rewarding and enjoyable. Brought on to write, my job will be authoring media advisories and scripts for television and radio spots. Not a bad way to spend a summer devoid of any classes.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Recipe for a Delightful Movie:
- 1 part Writer/Director/Actress Adrianne Shelly
- 1 part quirky story about a pregnant southern woman unhappy in her abusive marriage
- 1 part completely charming actors
Mix ingredients until well blended
Bake for approximately two hours
Serve warm

Waitress is this year’s little independent film that could. Like last year’s breakout Sundance darling, Little Miss Sunshine, Waitress has everything that it takes to be the indie hit everyone will be talking about.

Keri Russell (Felicity, MI3), who appears to finally be on the cusp of some well-deserved success, plays Jenna, a waitress at a small Southern diner that specializes in pies. She is married to Earl (Jeremy Sisto), a weak, narcissistic man who we first meet as a controlling jerk, but by the end is using his fists to get his points across. Jenna has begun hoarding away small amounts of cash and intends to leave Earl as soon as she has enough to support herself. A masterful baker, she dreams of entering the Great American Pie Bake-Off where the grand prize of $25,000 would allow her to be free and clear of her husband for good. “My whole life, all I’ve wanted to do was run away,” she confesses.

Whenever Jenna feels overwhelmed by circumstances, she enters into an almost meditative state in which she concocts the different pies she plans on creating, naming them after her own life experiences.

“I Hate My Husband Pie”

It is about this time that Jenna discovers she is pregnant. For her, baby is a four letter word—no, the other four letter word. She makes it very clear to everyone that she is having the “alien parasite” but is in no way happy about it…and neither should they be. Her two best friends at the diner, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrianne Shelly), give her a baby book as a present within which she writes letters to her unborn child, confessing her deep unhappiness.

“Pregnant Miserable Self Pity and Loser Pie...Flambé of Course”

Jenna goes in for a check-up, meeting the handsome, new doctor. Evoking more than a little of Cary Grant’s clumsy, screwball nature, Dr. Pomatter (Firefly’s Nathan Fillion) is a clumsy wreck, instantly smitten with his gloomy patient. Like Old Joe, (the impeccably cast Andy Griffith), the crotchety patron who constantly tells Jenna to run away and “start fresh,” Dr. Pomatter sees in Jenna what she cannot see in herself—a beautiful and extraordinary soul yearning to be free. For Jenna’s part, no one has ever shown her such tenderness and respect. “I was addicted to saying things,” she writes in her baby book, “and have them matter to someone.” It isn’t long before she and Dr. Pomatter (she never once uses his first name) find themselves madly in love and in the midst of a steamy affair. Jenna claims to be a deeply unhappy person, but every time she has a “doctor’s appointment,” you’d never be able to tell.

“I Can't Have No Affair Because It's Wrong and I Don't Want Earl to Kill Me Pie”

In the end, the birth of Jenna’s baby has exactly the opposite effect she thought it would, though we in the audience may have suspected all along. Slowly but surely, she realizes her tremendous worth and finds her voice, asserting herself in ways she never dreamed possible and awakening to the beauty that was there all along.

Waitress was written, directed and stars Adrianne Shelly (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust). Shelly has crafted a film that, at times, seems half a century older than it actually is, evoking a sort of quirky sentimentality that feels both outdated and sorely missed. She has crafted a story populated with enduring, memorable characters and has given them delightfully funny things to do and say. That the film manages to so deftly handle its infectiously humorous elements alongside genuine hopelessness and drama is completely Shelley’s talent. That she found such gifted and capable leads in Russell and Fillion is the icing on the…pie.

Sadly, despite how heartwarming it is, Waitress is suffused with tragedy. Seven months ago, as the finishing touches were being put on her film, Adrianne Shelly was found dead in her New York City apartment. At first ruled a suicide, it was later discovered that she had been murdered by a construction worker with whom she’d had an altercation. Waitress is a beautiful and poignant swan song for what should have been the vanguard of a blossoming career.

Although this delicious film ends brimming with hope, one cannot shake the sad, bittersweet melancholy. I chose to not even try. I simply left the theater, walked straight to my local diner and ordered a large slice of Coconut Cream pie.

To read this story in its original form, click here.


Luc Besson’s Angel-A is a remake, though Besson and his producers would never admit to it. The sad truth is, we’ve seen this film before.

Jamel Debbouze (Amelie, Days of Glory) plays Andre, a down-on-his-luck gambler who has fettered away his last dime and now finds himself hopelessly in debt to several local gangsters. Given an ultimatum—repay everything within 24 hours or else—Andre decides to end it all by throwing himself off a bridge (half of this movie takes place on bridges) into Paris’ River Seine. Yet, just as he is about to take the plunge, another despondent Parisian throws herself into the water just before him. Diving in to save her, Andre pulls Angela (Rie Rasmussen) to safety. Beautiful, blonde and with legs that go up to her neck, Angela agrees to pay Andre back for saving her by helping him out of the hole in which he’s dug himself.

If you’re not already saying to yourself, “Hey, that sounds a lot like the beginning of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life,” you should be. Despondent man? Check. River of death? Check. Angel who throws herself into the river, forcing a rescue and ultimately a redemption of our protagonist? Check.

Of course, we’re not told outright that Angela is Andre’s guardian angel, but we’re given some pretty hefty clues. (One beautiful moment occurs when Angela stands perfectly poised behind a the statue of Nike, the headless winged statue that currently resides in the Louvre, marble wings seeming to sprout magically from her back). “People don’t believe in miracles anymore,” Andre claims until Angela, breaking “the rules,” demonstrates her origins beyond a shadow of a doubt, both for him and for us.

From that moment on, the two share a bond. As they venture the streets of Paris, crisscrossing its quant boulevards and tourist-thronged monuments, Andre begins to come face to face with himself, a self he doesn’t exactly like. “If you think you’re crap,” he confesses to Angela (and I paraphrase his colorful language) “you’re drawn to crap.” As Angela insists on his tremendous, untapped beauty and goodness, Andre the rogue and swindler begins to come undone, revealing a wounded man who quite simply needs to be loved. In so doing, we discover Angela has analogous secrets of her own. Whereas Andre needs love, Angela needs to give it, leading her to wish she could remain on earth with her charge.

If you’re not already saying to yourself, “Hey, that sounds a lot like the plot of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire,” you should be. Mortal man? Check. Immortal angel? Check. Angel who ultimately risks it all to remain on earth with the man she loves? Check.

Director Besson began writing the screenplay for Angel-A over a decade ago but felt he wasn’t mature enough to complete it, setting it aside until he was. Now, six years after he last picked up a camera, Besson has returned to Angel-A and has created something unique in his career—a film that is built almost exclusively on talking and not the stylized violence for which he is so well known. Besson is a hit and miss director for me—usually miss. While Leon/The Professional is one of the best action movies ever made, his follow-ons (The Fifth Element, The Messenger) each left a lot to be desired.

Now he has attempted to make a film in the quintessential French fashion—psychological and deeply existential. The only problem is, it doesn’t work. Besson simply doesn’t have it in him. Angel-A lacks any sort of charm and grace. While it has moments of genuine depth, they are the exception rather than the rule. Ultimately Angel-A never takes flight, weighted down by an overabundance of metaphysical clichés stolen from other films.

Angel-A isn’t a complete loss, to be sure. Besson and his cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast, shot the film in black and white, adding rich, complex contrasts to a city that is already picture-perfect. Shooting primarily in the early morning light, Besson has said that the film helped him rediscover Paris, and his love for the City of Lights is obvious…and infectious. As such, Angel-A plays like a supernatural noir, undeniably beautiful and intriguing. Both Debbouze and Rasmussen are terrific, especially Debbouze known primarily for his comic talents. Here, he successfully dons the mask of a tragic figure.

Following the premiere of Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, I wondered if Tarantino had an original bone in his body. While a tremendous filmmaker, his work seems derivative and plagiaristic, a hollow shell built not upon but around the work of those who’ve gone before him. I cannot help but think the same of Besson with Angel-A. Transferring the city from Berlin to Paris and changing the language from German to French does not alter the most inescapable fact that this film has already been made—and far better, too. Save yourself the ticket price and head to your local video store instead. Ask for Wings of Desire.

Friday, May 18, 2007

FOXy Party

Earlier this week I had drinks with Lisa, a friend from high school who works freelance in Hollywood, though she used to be employed as a script supervisor for American Idol and Mad TV. She was in town for FOX's upfronts, the week in which all the studios reveal their new shows in a bid to draw advertisers. Tonight was the closing party and for it, FOX took over the famous Wollman skating rink in Central Park (now obviously not full of ice), erected massive tents and threw a lavish party for thousands of people. Lisa called earlier in the day to invite me to join her and of course I accepted, spending an evening mingling with producers, directors, plenty of "the little people" that truly make Hollywood run, and of course, "the talent."

Among the actors I bumped into was Fraiser's Kelsey Grammer, Everybody Loves Raymond's Patricia Heaton, 24 cast members James Morrison and Mary Lynn Rajskub, The Office's Rashida Jones, Good Will Hunting's Cole Hauser, and MAD TV's Michael McDonald.

I really have to find a way to get myself invited to these sorts of things more often!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Dolittle is gone!? It's not as if she isn't riding off into a glorious sunset of success and fame, but still, I have to say, I NEVER saw that one coming!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Am I Out of My Mind?!

So another semester is at an end and I realize that once again, despite a personal goal to make this blog much more reflective of my grad school experiences (rather than just film news and reviews), I’ve failed miserably. I'm not entirely sure why that is. Perhaps I simply thought that a daily commentary about my school life would be profoundly boring to anyone who stumbles across this site. Perhaps I wasn’t willing to indulge that amount of time and effort. Perhaps I've continued to wrestle with disillusionment since starting grad school and haven't wanted to admit it to myself, much less put it in writing.

It's not as if I've exactly kept it a secret. And while there was really only one class this semester that made my skin crawl and my ears bleed, I still cannot help but feel that this program was nothing like I expected. Come to think of it, I am not exactly sure what I expected. Am I blaming NYU when this is a matter not of misrepresentation but of perception and expectation? If it is, I am not the only sufferer. A non-scientific, informal poll among my class reveals almost categorically that the program has not come remotely close to satisfying our desires and expectations.

We stay now because we have only one semester left. We stay now because our resume will still forever have “NYU: Tisch School of the Arts” on it and that should, all things being equal, be enough to offset any future career issues. (A friend who got her MBA at Harvard once told me that, "you don't go to Harvard for the education. You can get that anywhere. You go to Harvard for the contacts and the resume.")

So theoretical as to have little to no practical use, I yearn for a program that would allow me to study not only the art of filmmaking, but the science as well. I have tried to break away from ridged theory classes only, reaching for screenwriting classes and anything else that might augment my overarching frustrations with the lack of integrated, holistic film education.

And then, last week, Variety announced this! It is perfect…almost exactly what I have been looking for. On the downside, it is three more years and another 100+ grand. On the upside, I leave NYU with an MA, an MFA and an MBA! That, along with the experience and contacts (not to mention the earlier Cinema Studies MA) should make for a bulletproof pedigree.

Am I stupid for even considering it? What do you think?

Monday, May 14, 2007

He's the Yau-Man!

This was easily one of the best seasons of Survivor ever.

Up until Yau-Man--who played the game better than any contestant of the season and perhaps the entire game--was voted off, I was biting my nails down to bloody stumps. However, it's interesting (and not a little bit disappointing) that one of the most tense, exciting, engrossing seasons should then end with the single most preordained, foreseeable and frankly boring votes for the winner. It was not a surprise whatsoever that Earl got the historic, positive shutout vote. What was the alternative-the slacker or the backstabber?

Yau-Man, almost single-handedly, made for one of the best seasons of Survivor's entire run.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Star Crossed

I've lived in New York City for nine months now and in all that time, I have yet to experience my first "celebrity sighting." That's what I get for living on the Upper West Side--good for brunch and parks but bad for rubbing elbows with the stars. My friends who live in lower Manhattan constantly come to me with their latest brushes with the rich and famous but, aside from scheduled interviews or Q&A sessions, I've had no such luck.

That is until last night when, walking down 14th St. on my way to a friend's apartment, I ran into Parker Posey...and her little dog too.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I Knew People Would Ignore My Review!

According to "The Hollywood Reporter," Spider-Man 3 utterly shattered all existing opening weekend records, making a staggering $375 million dollars (accounting for both domestic and limited international revenue)!

Just like that, the most expensive movie ever made (Sony admits to $258 million, but industry insiders say it was was easily over the $300 mil mark) made back every penny and then some. And this is just in its opening weekend.

As a Sony intern, do you think I'll be getting a bonus!? My Spidey Sense says no.

Friday, May 04, 2007

"Read All About It!"

The Editor's Note says it all: "This review marks the debut of Brandon Fibbs, The Gazette’s new film critic. Brandon grew up in the shadow of Pikes Peak but now lives in the shadow of the Empire State Building as a second-year cinema studies grad student at New York University. He attended the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where he majored in English literature and minored in film studies. Brandon loves movies and is bummed that his first review is a pan. Oh, well..."

To read my Spider-Man 3 review at the newspaper's website, click here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Rumor has it that Sam Raimi, director of the wildly successful Spider-Man franchise, has been approached to direct J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings helmer Peter Jackson ran afoul of his bosses at New Line Cinema. If Raimi were to embrace the offer, it would undoubtedly mean he’d abandon future Spider-Man projects to concentrate all his energies on Middle-Earth.

It would explain a lot, actually. Like why he and his cohorts turned Spider-Man 3 into an exercise in gratuitous overindulgence, a film so burdened by the need to outshine its predecessors that it sinks beneath the weight of its own extravagant excesses. It’s almost as if Raimi suspected this might be his final installment (Sony has ordered up three more, with or without him) and rather than let certain ideas die in his head, he’s dumped every last one of them into this one film. One love interest not enough for you? How about two? Two villains too few? Have three.

Spider-Man 3 picks up where Spider-Man 2 left off. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is excelling at college by day and crime fighting by night, his beloved Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is debuting on Broadway, and estranged best-friend Harry (James Franco) continues to plot sweet revenge for the death of his father in the first film. But when Peter becomes too caught up in his own cult of personality to notice that M.J.’s career has gone awry, she turns to Harry for solace, derailing Peter’s plans to ask her to marry him.

The Spider-Man films have always been good as cotton candy morality plays complete with their own handy sound bites. If the first film told us “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the second film affirmed that “there’s a hero in all of us,” the third installment adds, “It’s our choices that make us who we are.”

In Spider-Man 3, Peter spends much of the film choosing poorly. In his defense, he’s under the influence of extraterrestrial black goo that hitches a ride on an asteroid and lands in Central Park mere feet from where Peter is standing. Isn’t that convenient. The goo feeds on negative emotions like anger and aggression, amplifying Spider-Man’s powers but subsuming Peter’s goodness in the process. When Peter discovers that his uncle’s real killer is still at large, he has plenty of anger and aggression to vent.

Spider-Man 3 is up to its gills in villains. Raimi and Co. obviously didn’t learn anything from the travesty that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman contributions. At one point in the film, after getting himself clobbered, Spidey muses out loud, “Where do all these guys come from?” We’re trying to figure that one out too, buddy.

Remarkably chiseled and angular, Thomas Haden Church (Sideways) is cast as the unwilling villain, Flint Marko, aka The Sandman, a monster pushed into a corner because of his love for a sick daughter. We are meant to take pity on Marko, and indeed we do. He’s so compelling, in fact, that he could easily have sustained the film by himself or been left for future installments. But instead, he’s merely one of three.

It’s always a joy to see the delightful Topher Grace (That 70s Show), who makes his appearance as a deceitful sycophant who gets transformed into the razor-jawed Venom. And then there’s Green Goblin Jr. who picks up where Green Goblin Sr. left off. (It’s a credit to Franco that a character who has long overstayed his welcome can be so rejuvenated this go ‘round). In their own ways, each of the villains act as doppelgangers to Peter/Spider-Man, who, of course, is already dealing with a dark double in the form of the alien symbiote who makes Peter do really dark and nasty things like tousle his hair and disrespect his elders.

There may be too many villains to keep track of, but they sure are fun to watch duke it out. The special effects in Spider-Man 3 are fantastic. (What do you expect for $250 million dollars!?) This time, instead of sweeping wide-shots capturing Spidey as a speck careening through the steel and glass canyons of Manhattan, we stick remarkably close as our hero performs his astonishing acrobatics, the cinematic equivalent of going tandem skydiving. Marko’s transformation and subsequent incarnations as The Sandman are breathtaking. A high-rise rescue (evoking more than a little homage to the original Superman) is enough to induce vertigo.

The film gushes with love for New York City, incorporating almost every landmark in your “Let’s Go” guidebook and never wasting an opportunity to present the web-slinger as a personal hero and protector of the Big Apple.

While exceptional talent like the exquisite Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) and James Cromwell (The Queen) go to waste, eagle-eyed viewers should watch for the prerequisite (and hilarious) Bruce Campbell cameo as well as a walk-on by Spider-Man creator, Stan Lee.

Despite the film’s far darker tone, there’s a lot more humor in this one than in past offerings. On the whole, the comedy is inoffensive, if implausibly diverting. That said, at one point the movie goes so over the stop, so completely out of character, so inappropriately and absurdly over the line that it looses all emotional resonance and never, ever gets it back. As a result, a penultimate scene meant to evoke tears instead invites laughter. On the way out of the theater, I overheard one costume-clad audience member remark that he wasn’t sure if he’d just seen a Spider-Man movie or a remake of Jim Carrey’s The Mask.


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