DID YOU READ

“The Amazing Spider-Man” review: Peter Parker is back and better than ever

The Amazing Spider-Man

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It’s been just over a decade since Tobey Maguire first swung across the Manhattan skyline as Spider-Man, and three blockbuster films later, we have a brand new Peter Parker in Andrew Garfield and a fresh spin on the web-slinging hero’s origin story in “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Still, the bar is set pretty high for Spider-Man’s return to the big screen, with the previous three-film franchise earning almost $2.5 billion worldwide and receiving generally positive reviews across all three installments. For the studio’s gamble to pay off, “The Amazing Spider-Man” must not only succeed on its own merits, but also win over fans of its predecessor with a new director, star, and tone for the wall-crawling, web-slinging hero.

And thankfully, that’s exactly what it does — and what’s more, it goes a long way toward posing the question, “Tobey who?”

It’s worth noting early on that I’ve long considered 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” not only the best of the previous franchise, but one of the best comic-book movies made in the last decade. Even so, when the credits rolled on “The Amazing Spider-Man,” I found myself wondering whether Garfield’s debut as teenage superhero Peter Parker might actually be a better film than “Spider-Man 2” — or either of the two other films, for that matter — in Sam Raimi’s blockbuster trilogy.

Visually, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the natural evolution of the webslinger’s big-screen adventures, seamlessly combining fantastic practical and digital effects that blur the line between the superhero’s world and our own. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible to tell where the computer-generated elements end and real-world sets and stunts begin, and just as the scenes of Spider-Man swinging through Manhattan grew more impressive with each installment of the previous franchise, the reboot shows every minute of the four years it had to improve on the effects of “Spider-Man 3.”

Along the same lines, the 3-D in “The Amazing Spider-Man” doesn’t show any of the normal issues associated with films that feature a lot of fast-moving, colorful elements, and manages to enhance the experience rather than distracting from it. Basically, it’s 3-D done right, and it shows you just how much the format can add to the theater experience — especially during some of the brilliant sequences shot from first-person perspective that director Marc Webb included in the film.

Plot-wise, “The Amazing Spider-Man” falls short of telling the “untold story” that the movie’s tagline promised, but that’s only because the movie stays closer to the character’s comic-book origin than any of the previous films. From Peter Parker’s mechanical web-shooters to the mysterious circumstances surrounding his parents’ death, to the presence his very first love, Gwen Stacy, “The Amazing Spider-Man” manages to be both a modern retelling of Spider-Man’s origin and the most faithful adaptation of those early comics we’ve seen thus far.

And where the previous films glossed over many of the moments that defined Spider-Man as a character in the comics — most notably, his relationship with Gwen and her father — “The Amazing Spider-Man” clearly isn’t afraid of taking the time necessary to develop the mix of emotional extremes that are a hallmark of the character. Fans know that Peter Parker is at his best when he’s grappling with the demands of his sense of responsibility and the unbridled glee of being a teenager with all of these amazing powers, and Webb delivers a film that captures that dynamic perfectly.

That’s not to say that “The Amazing Spider-Man” is without a few flaws here and there, though. Much like the previous trilogy, Spider-Man spends a bit too much time in costume without his mask, making the notion of his identity remaining secret a little far-fetched. At a time when every parking lot, street corner, and phone has a camera, the idea that Peter Parker’s hijinks sans mask could go unnoticed is a little sketchy.

The film also has some problems here and there with its primary villain, The Lizard, due to the amount of digital effects required to make actor Rhys Ifans into a massive, scaly monster with a tail the size of a compact car. A few close-quarters scenes with Spider-Man and Lizard feel a little too heavy on the computer-generated visuals, but Webb has a good handle on when to rein these scenes in before they run away with the film.

A scene from Amazing Spider-Man

The cast of “The Amazing Spider-Man” also seems to have a good grasp of the subject matter, and Garfield makes a strong case for himself as the new standard for Peter Parker. While his take on the character is less awkward and nerdy than his original 1962 counterpart, he clearly draws a lot from the modern-era Peter Parker introduced in Marvel’s line of Ultimate Comics, which filter popular heroes’ origin stories and adventures through a contemporary lens. (This is the same line of comics that Marvel Studios drew inspiration from for “The Avengers” and the rest of its recent films.)

Unlike his predecessor, Garfield seems to be conscious of the change that takes place in Peter when he puts on his costume. When he becomes Spider-Man, his movements become quick, jumpy, and spider-like, and Webb deserves credit for reflecting this in the action sequences. The hero of “The Amazing Spider-Man” uses his abilities in much the same way as a spider would, wrapping up his opponents with webbing in fast, darting attacks that are 100-percent arachnid, and using the strands of his web to sense what’s around him.

It’s a clever move by Webb that leaves you wondering why the original trilogy didn’t think to do the same.

Emma Stone also goes a long way toward bringing the Gwen Stacy of the comics to life on the screen, and along with being a visual match for the character, her chemistry with Garfield offers a great reminder of why Gwen Stacy is remembered so fondly by fans. First and foremost, she’s attracted to Peter, not Spider-Man — and she sells this key difference in the film. While the film’s duo move from casual acquaintance to tell-each-other-every-little-secret a little too quickly, Webb and his leads do a nice job of showing you why the pair were once one of comics’ most popular couples.

When the credits do finally roll — and make sure to wait until they stop rolling for an extra scene — it seems silly to think of “The Amazing Spider-Man” as anything but the best Spider-Man film we’ve seen so far. From the massive improvements in visual effects and action sequences to a more appropriate tone and leads who better embody everything fans love about the characters, Webb’s spin on the Marvel wall-crawler is proof that looking at a character with fresh eyes can sometimes be a good thing, and that “reboot” doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

In the end, it’s entirely appropriate that “The Amazing Spider-Man” opened in the period between “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” as it occupies a spot that’s tonally equidistant from both films. Where Marvel’s big team-up movie was a lighthearted, fun adventure and Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman finale is likely to be a dark, brooding exploration of its hero’s soul, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a balanced mix of bright and dark, fun and angsty, fast-moving and deliberately ponderous — just like its hero.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” opens July 3.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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