Tag: andrew garfield

Under the Silver Lake


Under the Silver Lake (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Beware: “Under the Silver Lake” is a hundred forty minutes of writer-director David Robert Mitchell masturbating on film and then dunking the viewer’s head onto the pretentious bodily fluid. It is polarizing and perplexing… and yet the same time an argument can be made it is a passionate amalgamation of genres tied together by a central mystery. There is a saying that one man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure. To me, this is trash. Let me tell you why.

I found no enjoyment out of it. The question to be solved involves what really happened to a neighbor (Riley Keough) whom Sam (Andrew Garfield) developed a crush on over the course of one meeting. Sam’s initial investigation suggests that she perished in a car explosion along with two other women and a man. The story takes place in Hollywood and so it is insinuated that the neighbor is some sort of call girl. Throughout the picture the viewer is required to read in between the lines. At times we have no choice but to make assumptions based on other media we had consumed. While not a negative quality, the picture is filled to the brim with bizarre coincidences, many of them leading nowhere. One wonders eventually why the story must be told in a protracted manner. There is no reason for it but to punish even the most patient watchers.

Even Garfield’s performance is awkward and strange. Although I found it fresh that he has chosen to play a boyish loser who has five days left to pay his rent before getting evicted instead of yet another hero or some sort of genius, I did not believe his portrayal. There is not one second when I was not reminded that I was watching Garfield acting. The character’s sense of being changes from one scene to the next—so much so that at one point I wondered that perhaps Sam is a manic-depressive. Here is a man so desperate to find the girl that he wills himself to find clues that may or may not be there to discover. Sam is defined mostly through irrational behavior, but it is a critical miscalculation that the screenplay fails to move this figure beyond that.

It is supposed to be a neo-noir mystery-thriller with a sprinkling of comic touches. Way before the halfway point I caught my mind drifting toward Rian Johnson’s excellent “Brick.” In that film, the investigation is tightly paced, every character we come across matters, and the central mystery is so potent, we get the sneaky suspicion that it may not end well—for anyone. Yet it is not without a sense of humor. They talk funny, they act funny, even the pauses in between are funny. Together, these elements make all the difference. In Johnson’s film, the world is a living, breathing microcosm. In this film, on the other hand, nearly everything feels like plastic decoration. If this is the point, then the commentary is shallow. It is important to change gears once in a while.

If I wanted to watch a series of freaky moments that do not add up to anything significant, I’d log on YouTube. Despite the colorful eccentricities of “Under the Silver Lake,” the overarching message is that there is an insanity to Los Angeles (the mystery to be solved) and yet people all over the world (our protagonist) are drawn to its enigma and/or promise of a better life. But this is obvious, nothing new, certainly not fresh. Neither is its approach. It fails to command tension even in the most rudimentary manner. Then what are we left with as intelligent consumers?

Hacksaw Ridge


Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

His superiors and fellow soldiers believe there is no room for a conscientious objector in the army. After all, how could a person who is opposed to violence able to protect and serve alongside his fellow men in the face of war when such an individual wouldn’t even pick up a gun, not even to practice how to load one, let alone shoot one? So, hoping he’d leave training, they intimidated him, put their hands on him, court-martialed him. Still, they couldn’t rid of him. His name is Demond Doss (Andrew Garfield) and he wishes to serve as a medic in the U.S. Army during World War II. He ended up saving 75 lives—including of those who put in the effort to get rid of him out of fear that he would only serve as a liability.

“Hacksaw Ridge,” based on a true story adapted to the screen by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight, is a war picture that engrosses the heart and mind from the moment it begins until the actual footages of the survivors are shown. Although there is gripping action in which not one moment is wasted, most important is that we understand the subject fully: his religion and his beliefs—the writers make the correct decision to take the time to unspool the difference—and why Doss feels the need to participate in a war that he doesn’t necessarily support from a moral standpoint. This is a film for people who appreciate nuance.

War sequences are intense, thrilling, and horrifying. Several images stick in the mind like gum. For instance, a soldier using a fellow soldier’s upper torso, completely detached from its lower half, as a shield against rapid-fire bullets; flamethrowers being used on the enemy as if the latter were simply roaches to be exterminated; Doss scouring the ridge at night for broken men long after his allies have retreated… while the Japanese are on the lookout for American survivors, wishing to finish them off.

Mel Gibson directs the picture with a keen eye and fresh perspective. There are numerous excellent war pictures, some from America and many around the world, and yet I believe he is able to put a stamp on why this story is worth telling. He personalizes it. For example, notice how there is a very limited number of times where a bird’s-eye view is utilized to depict conflict—certainly less than five. This technique works because by choosing not to pull out of the action, increasingly we feel as though we are one of the soldiers. When someone gets shot in the chest, when a grenade goes off from less than fifteen away, when someone’s face is blown off, we experience the complete horror. Once violence starts, it does not allow us to take a break from the action.

There is a weakness in the film, which I find to be negligible because everything else functions on a high level, and it is in the portrayal of Desmond’s personal life, making up the first act. While scenes at home serve to provide some of the subject’s background information, particularly possible reasons why Desmond is against practicing violence, the parents (Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths) leave a lot to be desired in terms of a full, well-realized characterization. A similar criticism can be applied to the girlfriend named Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). The performers are up to the task but the material does not give these characters enough depth. As a result, the parents and the girlfriend are somewhat interesting but they do not turn out to be compelling.

Yet despite this shortcoming, “Hacksaw Ridge” is essential viewing because it is able to capture one man’s heroism, without turning him into a Christ figure despite his belief in God, amidst the bleakness of war. Unlike some terrible war movies or movies about war, this particular story is composed of different notes as opposed to simply delivering a hopeful story or, worse, propaganda in sheep’s clothing. Broken down to its most basic element, the film, I think, is about one man’s morality—we may not agree with him completely but we walk in his shoes regardless.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

If I could put a finger on the pulse of what is essentially wrong with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” directed by Marc Webb, it would be the bloated, lacking in priority, and distractingly syrupy-cute screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner. The experience of watching the picture is like swimming through cotton candy: delicious visually and initially full of verve but as it attempts to come off compelling or moving, a lack of real substance is revealed on our taste buds.

The first mistake is the execution of the relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). While it is critical that the material explores the struggle between the two young lovers trying to stay together, it does not mean that Peter’s relationship with everyone else should be left on the sidelines to rot. Notice the lack of impact of the most important scene between Peter and Aunt May (Sally Field). It is a turning point in the film because the conversation reveals a certain perception about Peter’s father. However, it does not work because there is a lack of a convincing build-up of elements that will eventually push Aunt May to reveal what she has been keeping a secret for most of her beloved nephew’s life.

A similar problem lies in the friendship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). If one is feeling generous, one can claim that there are only two scenes that hint at the depth of Peter and Harry’s relationship. The dialogue mentions that the two have been good friends since they were kids but the screenplay does not do an adequate job in convincing us of the connection. One or two scenes that shows the lighter side of their friendship is not a big enough canvass for us to appreciate the eventual betrayal and the ultimate ruination of what they share. It does not help that their rivalry takes center stage in the latter half—when it is too late and most underwhelming. Still, I liked the overall chemistry between Garfield and DeHaan.

The action sequences are executed and edited with a lot of energy but I was left unimpressed most of the time. I enjoyed watching Spider-Man soaring through the sky with the aid of his powerful web (and releasing joyous hollering) but when colorful beams of electricity begin to take over most of the shot, the frames turn to an eyesore, like looking at a very busy cartoon aimed toward really young children. This made me wonder if choosing Electro (Jamie Foxx), referred to Max Dillon prior to his tragic transformation, as the central villain was a good idea.

First, the electrical engineer’s admiration-obsession over Spider-Man is not milked for all its worth. I caught my mind referring back to Jim Carrey’s portrayal of The Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever.” By comparison, the latter performer has done a much better job in conveying a creepy mad obsession. Second, Electro’s story—the man who often feels ignored, under appreciated, and powerless—is not written in such a way that underlines his humanity in a genuine way. There is a reliance on showing quirks and behavior but not enough psychology. As a result, the villain is not really all that interesting. He glows but there is not much going on inside.

More discerning viewers will recognize that the heart of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a young man’s quest to get to the root of his father’s secret. It is most unfortunate that the writers were not aware of this. If they were, they would have given our protagonist more substantial things to do—more specifically, a lot less mawkish scenes with his high school sweetheart and more investigation of what Oscorp Industries is really capable of and how far those in charge are willing to go with their scientists’ experiments and discoveries to remain a billion-dollar company.

The Amazing Spider-Man


The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Raised by Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) like their biological son, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has had no closure when his parents never came back for him since the night their house had been broken into. While inspecting a leak in the basement, Peter finds his father’s briefcase which contains scientific research and a picture of Peter’s father with Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), the leading scientist of cross-species genetics in Oscorp. Hoping to learn more about his parents’ whereabouts, Peter sneaks into the building and ends up in a room full of mutated spiders.

“The Amazing Spider-Man,” based on the screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, is a mostly rousing entertainment with its roots firmly attached to its heart, but it is at times hindered by computer graphics so sleek, so willing to awe us with its technical wizardry, that it ends up looking too much like a cartoon. The picture excels in showing us Peter as a boy up until he learns to adapt to his new spider-like abilities. Especially with the latter, the emotional heft of the material is neither too light nor melodramatic; there is an overall joyous feeling in his discovery that maybe being different isn’t so bad.

The pacing is quick and to the point, almost deceptively too simple, but it remains highly watchable due to the fiendish charm of Garfield as the conflicted young adult underneath the Spider-Man costume. Garfield seems to fit the role because he is believable as someone who is bullied by a jock (Chris Zylka) as well as a person who oozes an aura of intelligence, keeps to himself most of the time, a sort of outcast with excellent taste, his wall sporting geek-chic to retro-cool.

With the addition of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter’s eventual romantic interest, it is interesting and surprising that the picture manages to balance Peter’s lives as a teenager, as a son on a quest to find justice and closure, and as Spider-Man who feels responsible for protecting his community, from petty criminals to diabolical villains like The Lizard who wishes to turn New Yorkers into reptiles.

After the villain is introduced, however, it is the point when the visual effects becomes the star which is not always appropriate. When the camera focuses on The Lizard, the visuals are effective—a mix of wonder and horror at the sheer size and ugliness of the thing. The computer graphics forces us to appreciate the creature, from its greenish slimy skin to its firm muscles that could easily crush a car, that our superhero will inevitably face.

However, when Spider-Man and The Lizard engage in close combat, while still visually arresting due to the amount of destruction created around them, I began to wonder what percentage of the images on screen is created using a computer. I almost had to snap out of that thought and remind myself that Spider-Man is in danger. In other words, the action isn’t quite an enveloping experience on a visceral level. We only get to fully appreciate that the man behind the mask is human when blood and bruises are shown after a fight. It shouldn’t be this way.

“The Amazing Spider-Man,” directed by Marc Webb, is not without unique touches such as leaving us off-guard with its early revelations of secret identities. However, the screenplay could have been much leaner by excising a handful of scenes in the middle portion that disrupt much of its flow thereby making room for its themes to feel more vibrant and fulfilling.

Never Let Me Go


Never Let Me Go (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Kathy (Izzy Meikle-Small), Tommy (Charlie Rowe), and Ruth (Ella Purnell) lived in Hailsham, an English boarding school led by Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling), all their lives. The three children shared a strong bond. Kathy and Ruth’s beds were next to each other so they learned to become friends over the years. Smart and artistic Kathy began to have feelings for Tommy who was kind-hearted but often rejected by his peers. Ruth, on the other hand, was one of Tommy’s passive tormentors but she wanted to make Kathy jealous so she began to spend more time with the social outcast. Miss Lucy’s (Sally Hawkins) arrival in Hailsham made an important impact in the trio’s lives because she revealed their true purpose. Many reviews kept their readers blind about the dark secret involving the children. I don’t think it’s necessary because the children being clones and future organ donors was just the template of this morally and emotionally complex story which was based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The core of the story was how Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth (played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, respectively, in later years) dealt with the revelation that they weren’t going to live long lives or realize any of their long-term dreams. It made me question how I would start living if I’ve been told that I could be notified at any time that someone needed my organs and I could possibly die for someone I haven’t met. None of the three tried to run away after their discovery. I was curious why they didn’t. Maybe they thought it was a selfish thing to do. Having made aware that they were clones, they were always on the lookout for Possibles, their look-alikes, the models in which they shared 100% of their DNA. The material made powerful implications that genes had more impact than the environment from which one was raised. For instance, Kathy’s belief that she was modeled from a prostitute or a pornographic actress because she had strong urges to have sex even as a child. She tried to stop those urges which made her shut down other important aspects of herself like acting on her attraction toward Tommy. Another moving element in the picture was Tommy’s misplaced expectations about a possible deferral from organ donations given that a couple was able to prove their love for one another. His willingness to look into the impossible reminded me of David’s quest to find the Blue Fairy in Steven Spielberg’s highly underrated “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” Both characters wanted to be with someone they loved so desperately. They wanted to live a meaningful life so badly, they were willing to turn to the fantastic. “Never Let Me Go,” adroitly directed by Mark Romanek, was a poignant film that wasn’t solely about the ethics of organ donations and the cruel destiny laid out for the characters. Personally, I thought it was more about the powerless making small but critical decisions with the cards that they were given. The odds were against them, comparable to why we often find ourselves rooting for the underdogs in competitions.

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974


Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Andrew Garfield stars as Eddie Dunford, a journalist on a quest to solve Britain’s infamous Yorkshire Ripper case. When a girl was found dead with wings stitched onto her back to make it seem like she was a fallen angel, everyone knew that the murder wasn’t a typical one. Everyone talked about it but no one was willing to come forward to the authorities or members of the media because they feared for their lives. I expected this film to be a procedural because it was such a popular case so I was a bit underwhelmed when it turned out to be otherwise. While I did enjoy the way the picture was shot and the dark undertones just boiling above the surface, it could have used a laser-like focus on the case at hand while exploring important questions such as why Eddie’s friend and fellow journalist (Anthony Flanagan) was killed. Instead, our protagonist became entangled in an unethical affair with the murdered child’s mother (Rebecca Hall), who may or may not know more than she lets on. I could have been more invested in the material if it had taken the time to explore and demonstrate how strong the bond was between Eddie and his friend. While Hall was strong as usual, the romantic angle grew stale pretty quickly because their relationship didn’t evolve. The script hinted at something insidious the more passionate the couple became but there were far too many scenes in the bedroom when the two would get intimate. Knowing that Eddie was keen at solving the mystery surrounding her daughter’s gruesome murder, I would think that she would encourage him to go deeper into the case and not into her. The film also consistently touched upon the corruption of the cops, journalists, and businessmen. Were they protecting each other because everybody wanted money or was it because something about the murder was mishandled in some way? There is no definite answer because the movie was too busy asking questions. The more questions were asked, the more frustrated I became because a lot of information thrown at us just did not make a lot of sense when I applied it to the big picture. Since this is the first of the trilogy, I am hoping that more of my questions will be answered the deeper I get into its mythology. Based on the novel by David Peace and directed by Julian Jarrold, “Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974” left a lot to be desired. The performances were engaging and the look of the movie reflected the times. It just needed more editing so it focused more on the actual case and less about our protagonist’s secondary adventures.

The Social Network


The Social Network (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The first thing I did after watching David Fincher’s “The Social Network” was log on Facebook to check if I had any notifications. Whether one’s feeling toward Facebook and other social networking sites be love or hate, no one can deny the fact that such simple inventions changed how people communicate. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) desperately wanted to fit in Harvard when he was an undergraduate. He wanted to get into a private club but he didn’t have the means. He was smart but he wasn’t likable. In fact, he was far from likable. When his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) broke up with him, he went up to his dorm room and posted insults about her body and her family on LiveJournal. His only real friend was Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who also wanted to belong. Eduardo’s emotional intelligence was higher than his friend’s. Eventually, the two became partners in creating Facebook but when it was launched, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) claimed that their idea was stolen. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster, came into the picture in order to bring Facebook to an international level. The film benefited from very strong performances from Eisenberg, Garfield, and Timberlake. I was delighted with Eisenberg’s performance because even though I’ve seen him play nerd-chic multiple times prior (with relative ease), I felt like this was his most complete and challenging performance yet. I hated him, I rooted for him, I hated him some more, and I felt sorry for him. The final shot of him refreshing a certain someone’s Facebook page was pitch-perfect because it showed that despite all the money and the acclaim, he had nobody so his life felt empty. Garfield, who’s been doing fantastic independent work for a while, is finally given the spotlight past overdue. He had a lot on his plate because he was the heart of the picture. He was David who had to face multiple Goliaths equipped with brains. We all knew it would take more than a slingshot and some pebbles for him to, not necessarily succeed because we all knew what would ultimately happen, but to take what he deserved. I was invested in his character because he struggled to remain loyal to his friend even though his friend had no sense of loyalty to him. Lastly, Timberlake did a wonderful job playing Parker, a fierce and forward-thinking businessman who knew exactly he wanted and wasn’t afraid to grab whatever he desired even if it was on someone’s else plate. His ego was probably as big as his ambition to be relevant again. Fincher’s confident direction mixed with Aaron Sorkin’s intelligent script made a wonderful film that highlighted not just the story of college students lives’ being broadcasted over the internet or the drama of the creation of Facebook, but also the highly ambitious, although sometimes misguided, natures of young adults today.