It won't be summer according to the calendar for another month or so, but it's already summer at the movies. We're already on our second superhero movie of the season! Our second Stan Lee cameo in as many months, people! Read on for reviews of everything that's opening this week, from the obvious (see: Slinger, Web) to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it-but-you-really-shouldn't (Singaporean drama Ilo Ilo, for one). And confidential to late arrivals: the San Francisco International Film Festival is heading into its second weekend; check out our coverage from last week's paper here.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 The best thing about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — the sequel to the 2012 reboot that nobody really wanted in the first place — is the achingly cute chemistry between real-life couple Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy, whose fate is no spoiler to anyone who is familiar with the Spider-Man canon). Can't deny it; those two are adorbs. But since Spider-Man is supposed to be an action movie, not a romantic comedy, it spends most of its time setting up foes for the webslinger (Jamie Foxx as a nerd zapped into the power-mad Electro; Dane DeHaan as bratty rich kid Harry Osborn), as well as rehashing the mysterious deaths of Peter's parents, and underlining for approximately the zillionth time the disconnect between the media's perception of Spider-Man (he's a menace! He interferes with police work!) and the ecstatic love the people of New York have for the guy — understandable, since he's in the business of saving their butts on a regular basis. This isn't a crappy movie by any means; it's entertaining enough, and the 3D swooping-between-skyscrapers FX have gotten quite dazzling. But there's still a heavy air of "This again?" that hangs over the whole thing. Doesn't Marvel have enough dough from the Avengers movies to let Spidey take an extended vacation? (2:20) (Cheryl Eddy)
Blue Ruin The crowd sourced poster child for cinematic Kickstarter campaigns everywhere (it won the International Federation of Film Critics prize at its Cannes premiere last year), Jeremy Saulnier’s nuanced nail-biter of a revenge flick is a model of smart, taut storytelling. The almost mute drifter Dwight (Macon Blair) appears to be living a quiet, rootless life, sleeping in his car and randomly dumpster diving, when he learns that a man named Wade Cleland is about to be released from prison. Returning home, Dwight methodically plans an act of vengeance that quickly spirals out and threatens his loved ones. We learn the truth about what really went down as he goes, carefully rooting through a cabin in the forest, uncovering clues and weapons, playing voice mail, laying his trap, and pissing on a patriarch’s grave. The wooded landscape beside a silent lake is all too familiar for fans of late-1970s horror, although Saulnier is more interested in the unsensational, sad kind of poetry unfolding behind a reluctant participant in a small-town Death Wish (1974) than thrill kills, ejaculatory retribution, and all the spectacle and shame along for the ride. (1:32) (Kimberly Chun)
Fading Gigolo Ah, the charm of a well-aged, seasoned perv … nope, we don’t dare touch the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow abuse allegations — though those recent headlines flit around the edges of this generally benevolent, almost strangely innocuous charmer, written by and directed John Turturro, who also stars as the curiously blank-faced tabula rasa of a title character. The delights of Mrs. Robinsons have been rhapsodized on film, through the lens of worshipful younger men — less so, their male counterparts, as viewed by other hetero men. The danger of bromance surging into the homoerotic is likely too dire for most, yet somehow bookstore boss Murray (Allen) sees the mysterious, submerged sex appeal in his loyal employee Fioravante (Turturro) and taps him to get involved in a ménage à trois with a society dermatologist (Sharon Stone). The soft-spoken Fioravante turns out to be a smash in the sack with the doc, transforming the opportunistic Murray into a wildly successful pimp as his employee takes on the audacious Selima (Sofia Vergara) and the prim Jewish Orthodox widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). The latter character seems to have come straight from another place and time — much like this film, which turns Brooklyn into a something resembling a leaf-strewn European village and recalls odes to revolutionary sexuality in the ‘60s. The movie’s lightly absurd comedy is embedded in the fact that Turturro writes himself into the role of the seducer, the pleaser, while wrapped in the skin of pleasant if everyday-looking Joe, although Paradis, a revelation as a deeply repressed devout mother slowly awakening to her body, points to more serious pleasures, lingering below the surface of all of us. For more on this film, see "Manscape." (1:30) (Kimberly Chun)
For No Good Reason For No Good Reason is a jungle gym of a movie: loud, active all over, one tumble after another. Made over 15 years with the close collaboration of its subject, the artist Ralph Steadman, the film is obviously a work of love, an ode to this man, and his life’s work. There is archival footage of Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson (each gave the other’s art a relief and elucidation) mixed with Steadman showing Thompson’s unofficial weirdo heir, Johnny Depp, around Steadman’s home and studio, talking and telling stories all the while. There’s constant music, too, from an odd variety of rock ’n’ roll artists, and the effect is rather exhausting, if slight and genial. For No Good Reason switches between the timelines as egged on by Steadman’s storytelling, and given further life in animating his illustrations. Sometimes the film stops in its “narrative” tracks, as it were, to show Steadman splat out the start of a painting — they all seem to start with ink thrown at a canvas — then spend 10 minutes watching him build the painting, which may be the most fascinating bits captured by director Charlie Paul, who's otherwise content to toe the hagiography line of one of his artistic heroes. (1:29) (Ryland Walker Knight)
Friended to Death Everybody's got one: that Facebook friend obsessed with turning every single waking moment into social-media fodder. Self-centered parking-enforcement officer Michael (Ryan Hansen of Veronica Mars) updates his status dozens of times a day, not realizing he's just as obnoxious online as he is in real life. When he's suddenly fired and his best friend (Zach McGowan) dumps him, Michael enlists dog-obsessed mama's boy Emile (James Immekus) to help him fake his death, unaware that he's being stalked by a mysterious woman (co-writer and director Sarah Smick) who is actively plotting his downfall for reasons of her own. Michael's attention-grabbing scheme goes predictably awry in this sitcom-ish film, which advances the valid theory that spending too much time online will render a person incredibly shallow and narcissistic. The humor is hit-and-miss, though co-writer Ian Michaels, as Michael's meathead nemesis, has a funny running joke involving his character's affection for calling people "bro" with a celebrity twist, as in, "Chill out, Broseph Gordon-Levitt!" (1:34) (Cheryl Eddy)
Ilo Ilo Set in 1997 Singapore at the onset of the country's recession, Ilo Ilo focuses on one family, who could be any family: father Teck (Chen Tianwen), who's been let go from his sales position and is working various hourly jobs, hoping his wife doesn't find out; pregnant Hwee Leng (a dynamic Yeo Yann Yann), a secretary who's been the "bad cop" in the relationship so long she's kind of grown into the role; and bratty Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), a 10-year-old terror who disobeys at home and gets into fights at school. Into this swirl of domestic tension comes Teresa (Angeli Bayani), a housekeeper-nanny who's left her own family behind in the Philippines in search of a better way of life. It's hell at first — "Auntie Terry" is no Mary Poppins, but she has the patience of a saint, putting up with Jiale's antics and Hwee Leng's ice-queen routine. Slowly, however, she builds a rapport with her young charge, but since Ilo Ilo is firmly interested in realism, there's no quick fix to the problems that lie beneath the family strife, despite the kid's obsession with lottery numbers. A remarkably assured debut film from 29-year-old director Anthony Chen, Ilo Ilo picked up the Camera D'Or at Cannes, in addition to multiple other fest prizes. The accolades are well-earned — rarely has a film so effectively and subtly captured the day-to-day frustrations of middle-class financial uncertainty. (1:40) Four Star. (Cheryl Eddy)
The M Word TV station KZAM bills itself as LA’s “last independent TV station.” So why are two henchmen from “corporate” visiting the station to cut the fat? There are some contradictions in Henry Jaglom’s newest comedy of escalating emotions and descending intelligence, but one thing you can say is he’s still going — Jaglom’s been working in indie film since the '70s and operates unhindered by age or what The M Word refers to as “bleeding viewership.” His “naturalistic” dialogue is an acquired taste and his characters are the expressive sort who transform conversations into arguments conquerable with screaming. Jaglom’s co-conspirator and real-life partner, Tanna Frederick, stars as Moxie, the actress turned documentarian trying to understand her mother (Frances Fisher) by filming her menopausal tumult. She invites a hottie henchman (Michael Imperioli) to her house to pitch the product of her process: a doc about menopause to blow the doors off the subject and open the station to an untapped niche market. When layoffs begin, Moxie uses her newly inflated activist-ego to rally the employees in a sit-in to save their jobs. This is when you really feel Jaglom’s presence. It’s never clear if he’s celebrating his characters’ successes or laughing that such absurd attempts could gain traction. Why should Moxie’s achievements be predictable on paper and confounding in action? Call it misanthropy, call it distrust — but don’t call it comedy, because funny it ain’t. (2:00) Roxie. (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)