Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

TASM2 posterThe Amazing Spider-Man 2 is short, far short, of amazing. The 2012 original in Sony’s and Marvel’s rebooted series, The Amazing Spider-Man, was less predictable, more character-driven and more focused. This movie is not terrible, not middling, just lacking in cohesion and feeling unfinished.

Centering upon Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield again) and his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone again), both graduating high school as the oldest high school students since any season of Glee, no less than three villains complicate Spider-Man’s already complicated life, not counting the evil Oscorp and its evil business executives in an unfortunately and implausibly anti-capitalist subplot that bubbles underneath the whole movie and finally pops with the impact of slowly deflating bubblegum pfftt. Easily the most developed and interesting villain is an electrical engineer played by Jamie Foxx, recreating his homeless lunatic from The Soloist, that also fades out without a proper finish. The character isn’t really believable as an engineer but he at least has reasons for becoming Electro.

And, taking back what he created, Electro zaps some life into an otherwise flat, lifeless script that doesn’t know what to do with its sense of humor or story, spreading Peter Parker’s doubt too thin and wasting time with disjointed scenes that result in a wildly fluctuating and self-contradictory movie. The throughline is misanthropy, which is shared by everyone from Parker’s photojournalist, who is never seen working at the Bugle, to a baggy-eyed business heir, gothic secretary and of course poor Maxwell Dillon/Electro (Foxx) who is lonely, invisible and misunderstood. Joined by Sally Field as Aunt May and Campbell Scott in flashback as Parker’s father, they all flit in and out of this kitchen sink sequel with abandon. The boozy Oscorp kid is not for a second plausible as someone who could contemplate what time it is let alone running a big business that powers Manhattan and the only one whose character makes some internally logical sense is a hammer-and-sickle tattooed Soviet type (Paul Giamatti) in what amounts to a cameo as a mad dog Russian bent on mowing every New Yorker down for kicks.

All of this takes place in large, cartoonish action scenes in 3D (I saw the picture in IMAX 3D, which adds nothing) and only the most invested and diehard Steve Ditko, Stan Lee and Marvel fans will want to shell out the cost of parking and movie ticket to see the twists (which most will see coming) and feel satisfied. The rest will leave the theater feeling subjected to a Wagernian exercise in overkill that magnifies everything but what matters to the max. The result reminds movie people that Marvel is capable of losing touch with what made its Captain America: The Winter Soldier a fine film – strong lead character, purposeful story and a meaningful theme – and getting caught in flat tales of misanthropy. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is at once incomplete, underdeveloped and overblown.

Essay on Los Angeles Riots (1992)

LA Riots book coverMy 2012 essay, “Remembering the 1992 Los Angeles Riots,” is reprinted with my permission in Cengage Learning’s Greenhaven Press textbook, The 1992 Los Angeles Riots (April 2014). Read the essay, originally published on Capitalism Magazine, here. The book is part of Cengage’s Perspectives on Modern World History educational series.

According to the publisher, each volume in the series opens with background information — including primary source material — covering periods leading up to, during and after the event. Then, each volume offers an in-depth perspective on the controversies surrounding the event and the current implications or long-lasting effects. Each volume concludes with first-person narratives from people who lived through or were directly impacted by the event.  Cengage says that essays are compiled from a variety of sources and included to provide context for readers unfamiliar with the historical event. I worked with Cengage and approved the reprinted essay and pull quotes. My thesis is that the riots were fundamentally caused by President George H.W. Bush. A slightly longer version of the essay, which included a personal account of how I escaped an attack by rioters, was posted on my Web site. Cengage says that Perspectives on Modern World History exists to foster critical thinking skills, support student debate assignments, increase global awareness and enhance understanding.

Features of each volume include annotated table of contents, introduction to the topic, a world map, three chapters that contain essays focusing on general background information, multinational perspectives and first-person narratives, full-color photographs, charts, maps and other illustrations, sidebars highlighting related topics, a glossary of key terms, chronology, bibliography of books, periodicals and Web sites and an index. I wrote the essay in conjunction with the riots’ 20th anniversary.

We the Living in 2014

Ayn Rand was asked to adapt her first novel, We the Living, which was published 78 years ago this week and has sold 3 million copies since, for the theatre and I recently learned that two never-before published versions of her stage play will be published this fall.

UncconqueredPalMacmillanAccording to Amazon’s book page for The Unconquered: With Another, Earlier Adaptation of We the Living, the hardcover volume by Rand will feature “the first and last versions (the latter entitled The Unconquered)…[w]ith a preface that places the work in its historical and political context, an essay on the history of the theatrical adaptation … and two alternative endings…” The new work is edited by philosophy professor Robert Mayhew, whom I interviewed five years ago about the novel. He also teaches at OCON.

WetheLivingWe the Living is a bitter tale of a triangle in Soviet Russia and an epic story of ideas, love and life. The 1936 novel, which I wrote about for an article distributed by Scripps Howard and again in a review of the movie adaptation, is haunting, unforgettable and helpful to living everyday life.

The Press Defies the State

PPThough serving what is largely a symbol of pretentiousness, the Pulitzer Prize juries boldly defied the American government and awarded the highest prizes to those who reported facts disclosed by an American who worked for the government, defied the government, fled the country, heroically spoke against total government control and was deemed a traitor by the state.

The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize today for a series of stories that exposed the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance programs. An award also went to a team associated with the British-based Guardian newspaper, which also reported extensively about the NSA’s secret programs. The Guardian’s NSA articles are also based on classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former government employee and contractor who fled to exile in Russia.

In a statement about the awards, the Jeff Bezos-owned Post‘s executive editor, Martin Baron, said today that the NSA reporting exposed a national policy “with profound implications for American citizens’ constitutional rights” and that “[d]isclosing the massive expansion of the NSA’s surveillance network absolutely was a public service…In constructing a surveillance system of breathtaking scope and intrusiveness, our government also sharply eroded individual privacy. All of this was done in secret, without public debate, and with clear weaknesses in oversight.”

But, as far as what barely remains of a free press is concerned, the best part of what Baron said is that, without reporting on Snowden’s disclosures:

  We never would have known how far this country had shifted away from the rights of the individual in favor of state power.”

Today’s press is bullied, pressured and dominated by the state, and permeated by faith in either the dogma of statism or traditionalism, as evidenced by most of media including MSNBC and Fox News, a fact reflected by the worst part of what Baron’s statement says: “… As even the president has acknowledged, this is a conversation we need to have.”

The free press is not based on need and does not exist to have a conversation, though a conversation may be fostered and may occur, whether a conversation is acknowledged by the leader of the executive branch in a republic based on individual rights. By using the language of the Obama administration, which controls the government that has a monopoly on the use of force and has seized unprecedented power through unconstitutional means, the Post‘s editor undercut the truth of what he said – that individual rights are paramount. The press exists to express, report and speak in free exercise, but at least the editor identified, named and defended individual rights, he said it out loud, and he said it in defiance of a government that exhibits contempt for the rights of the individual, aims to destroy the nation based on this sacred ideal and seeks total power over every aspect of the individual’s life, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness.

The nation’s capital newspaper editor defied the nation’s government in explicit support of “the rights of the individual.” This fact, and the free exercise of press independence, is pure progress.

Music Review: Hotel Sessions by Olivia Newton-John

hotel+sessionsAn extended play recording of seven unreleased demo tracks by legendary artist Olivia Newton-John is on sale (for a steep price, too, at $20) exclusively at Olivia’s new residency venue in Las Vegas, The Flamingo. The set goes on sale soon on her Web site and iTunes.

The new songs – titled Hotel Sessions because the music was recorded between 2002 and 2011 at various hotels in Olivia’s hometown, Melbourne, Australia – come in conjunction with her new Las Vegas show “Summer Nights” opening this week (read my exclusive review here).

Produced by Olivia’s nephew, Brett Goldsmith (except where otherwise noted), who wrote or co-wrote three of the songs and whose iPhone photos provide CD cover art, Hotel Sessions is a fresh, mature and surprisingly polished series of techno-pop demo cuts. The opening song, “Ordinary Life”, is a simple guitar looping, driving anthem. The buoyant “Best of My Love” is an instantly enjoyable ode to someone who is hard to love and there’s a dance remix included as a bonus. “End in Peace”, co-written by Olivia Newton-John, is a ghostly prayer for better days which faintly recalls “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” in melody and vocals, “Bow River” rocks and pops with ONJ torching it against backup vocals, piano and synthesizer and Olivia’s cover version of Mister Mister’s 1980s’ hit “Broken Wings” is, in Olivia’s care, less strained and slightly faster. I never liked the original much and I like her rendition here fine but the dance remix of the cover, which with piano added and ONJ high notes and bass enhanced is more urgent, is even better.

The independent ONJ Productions EP, which is being released after the death of Olivia’s sister, is thoughtfully “Dedicated to our sister & mother Rona Newton-John”.