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Picks and Pans Main: Movies

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The Amazing Spider-Man

Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone | PG-13 | 3 Stars


Let’s settle the debate. Did we need a Spidey reboot five years after his last outing? Nope. This Spider-Man’s solid script and capable effects simply aren’t vibrant enough to warrant rehashing high-school shutterbug Peter Parker’s life-altering spider bite. The performances, though-now, those are extraordinary.

Start with the supporting cast. For gravitas Martin Sheen and Sally Field play parental figures Uncle Ben and Aunt May, with Sheen giving Ben the fiery righteousness needed to orient Peter’s moral compass in darker days. Rhys Ifans adds nuanced edge as mad scientist Curt Connors, while Dennis Leary stiffens his spine as police captain George Stacy, out to nab a certain web-slinging vigilante.

For magic, though, look to the stars. Garfield is beautifully expressive as Peter, that bundle of teen angst on a steep learning curve about what he can-and should-do with his new powers. Emotions flit across the actor’s face like quicksilver, a keen intelligence shining through. Equally impressive is the soulful Stone as Gwen Stacy, the captain’s brainy daughter and Peter’s first love. The real-life couple have brilliant chemistry, making even the occasional pointless scene engaging. Sometimes, like when Peter is desperate to save a boy from plunging to his death, or reveals his secret identity to Gwen, the movie meets the actors on their level. If that doesn’t happen quite often enough, it’s because these two set the bar so high.

Katy Perry: Part of Me

PG | 3 Stars


Concert films are fun for fans, and torture for everyone else. Part of Me offers a third way, a backstage pass that even non-fans of the “Firework” singer can enjoy. The 3-D movie hits all the standard notes: Perry’s Christian upbringing, bubbly charm and kooky style. Surprisingly, it lets us witness the free fall of her marriage to actor Russell Brand, showing her wrenching near-breakdown in Brazil, even as it ducks anything unflattering about Perry. Part of Me only shows her best parts.


Taylor Kitsch, John Travolta, Salma Hayek | R |


If you can wrap your head around the idea that Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), two of the hottest drug dealers in the world, happily share one dippy girlfriend (Blake Lively’s aptly named “O”), then Savages should be a fun ride. Don Winslow’s pulp novel about mellow pot-growers battling a Mexican cartel’s hostile takeover gets the Oliver Stone treatment, with gory violence punctuating the boring stretches. Benicio Del Toro is fantastic as a loathsome (yet funny) soldier in vampy Hayek’s drug army, while Travolta kills it as a weaselly DEA agent. Too bad the young guns (particularly O) are so blah.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry | PG-13 |



Hushpuppy (Wallis) is a tiny lioness. The fierce sprite lives with her father, Wink (Henry), in an impoverished yet idyllic patch of the Louisiana Delta called the Bathtub. With her old-folks’ sense, the motherless girl knows that animals have secrets, that she can reach her hand into the Gulf to pull out dinner, and that monsters are coming. She has no idea how many.

Wink will fall gravely ill, floodwaters will engulf the Bathtub and, in an inspired use of magical realism, giant prehistoric beasts will emerge from Arctic ice, charging toward Hushpuppy. Will they devour her? Freshman director Benh Zeitlin keeps us gloriously bewildered, open to wild possibilities. That such a film exists, and with astonishing turns from novices Wallis and Henry, may be the wildest of all. Please, seek out Beasts. It’s worth the hunt.