THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2: 3 STARS

At two-and-a-half hours the new Spider-Man movie is almost equal parts action and story. The first fifteen minutes contains not one, but two wild action sequences that'll make your eyeballs dance. If you haven't had your fill of special effects for the week your thirst will be quenched early on. Then the onslaught of story begins. Jammed packed with plot, bad guys and lots and lots of moony-eyed love, it's the busiest superhero movie in recent memory.

Fresh out of high school Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is being pulled in two different directions. He loves Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) but is troubled by a promise he made to her late father (Dennis Leary) that he would never let anything bad happen to her.

Meanwhile, Peter's old friend Harry Osborn (Dane De Haan), heir to the OsCorp fortune, is battling a hereditary genetic disease he thinks can be cured with a dose of Spider-Man's blood and Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a low level OsCorp electrical engineer, has an accident that rewires him into Electro, a highly charged villain with the power to control electricity.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is this is a movie with several well-crafted dramatic moments. Too bad most of them feel like they're lifted from another movie and dropped into this one as placeholders for the action sequences. Peter Parker is shedding tears over his love life one minute, swinging on webby vines through the streets the next. Both tones are well executed, but they often feel forced together.  

Garfield works to distance himself from Tobey McGuire's Spider-Man. First thing you notice is that he's not as mopey as McGuire; as Parker Garfield is nerdy and angsty, not downcast and ennui ridden.

Secondly, he's witty when playing the web slinger. The Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" movies didn't use Spidey's comic book sarcasm but Garfield's Mach 2 version isn't shy to let loose with some entertaining trash talking.  

His portrayal is bright, punchy and more akin to the comic books than anything McGuire or Raimi put on film.

Emma Stone's football-sized eyes and smart smile rescue Gwen from the simply fulfilling the girlfriend role. She brings some spark to the character and shares some good chemistry with (real life boyfriend) Garfield.   

Speaking of sparks, Foxx could have used a few more as Electro. A bundle of neurosis before his electro charged accident, Max becomes one of the rare villains who was more interesting before he got his powers.   
 
De Haan, who was so good in "Chronicle," is interesting as Harry / Green Goblin. His obsession with finding a cure for his disease is a springboard for his transformation into the Goblin and Da Haan embraces a malevolence that makes the character memorable.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" has good actors-plus a fun cameo from Paul Giamatti-a love story and some good action-you will believe a man can swing through the streets of New York-so why does it feel somewhat unsatisfying?

Maybe it's the two-and-a-half-hour running time, or the something-for-everyone mix of action, heartbreak and comedy, or perhaps it's the fact that it feels like a well made copy of the first Garfield "Spider-Man" movie, which itself was a riff on the McGuire movies.   


JOE: 4 STARS

David Gordon Green has one of the strangest careers in Hollywood.

He made his name directing keenly observed art house films about life in the rural South like "George Washington' and "Undertow." They are rich with details, if sketchy story wise.

He's probably better known, however, as the filmmaker behind the ribald comedies "Eastbound & Down" and "Your Highness."

His career is a study of contrasts, of high art and low culture. His latest, "Joe," rests somewhere in the middle. Like his early work it's a Southern Gothic, set in a rugged small town where rusted pick-ups are a prized possession and there's only work when the sun is shining. The outrageous humor of his comedies is absent, but what "Joe" lacks in laughs, it makes up for in story.

Nicolas Cage is Joe Ransom, foreman of a work crew who poison healthy trees so a forestry company can come in, raze the area and raise more valuable saplings. He's also an ex-con, constantly struggling with a volatile temper.  

When he meets and hires fifteen-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) he finds a kindred soul, a damaged kid with a drunken violent father (Gary Poulter). Gary is a hard worker-the main breadwinner for his drifter parents-and looks to Joe as a role model.    

Emotionally involved, Joe puts himself in the middle of a father-and-son conflict.

Like Green, Cage's career is marked with high highs and low lows. "Joe" sees him hand in his best performance since "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans." He's not exactly understated here, but he is textured and nuanced, giving Joe some real depth. The histrionics that earned him the nickname "Ragin' Nic Cage" are mostly absent, replaced by an actor who convincingly portrays a raw nerve of a man who fights against his impulses on a daily basis.

He is supported by Sheridan, who delivers on the promise he displayed in the Matthew McConaughey film "Mud." He's a terrific actor and doesn't allow Cage to overpower him.

The film's tour-de-force performance comes from the late Gary Poulter in his film debut as Gary's violent degenerate sot of a father. Green plucked him from the streets of Austin, Texas, where decades of addiction had ravaged his body. He passed away two months after filming was completed, drowned, after a night of heavy drinking. In the movie the 53 year-old is menacing, dangerous and disturbing in a role that requires him to pimp out his own daughter and physically abuse his son. It's the work of a pro and it's a shame we won't see more of his work.
"Joe" may be mainly a character study of the three men, but it doesn't skimp on the story. It's bleak, with little relief from scene to scene, but is a happy medium for Green, melding his indie work with his Hollywood films in an interesting and satisfying way.


 

SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER: 3 STARS

"Super Duper Alice Cooper" is an authorized biography of one of the biggest rock stars of the 1970s.

Perhaps it's a bit too authorized.

Fans will love seeing the concert footage, rare archival tape and the inventively presented visuals-old photos spring to life-and hearing the story as told by Alice and Cooper regulars like Denis Dunaway and manager Shep Gordon, but there's little here that hasn't been reported elsewhere.

Most interesting is the film's attention in Cooper's early years in Phoenix, playing in bands like Beatles' wannabes The Earwigs and then The Spiders. It's the most engaging part of the film and filmmakers Sam Dunn and Reginald Harkema wisely take their time detailing how Vincent Furnier, a preacher's son from Arizona, morphed into a chicken killing rock star who found fame under the name of an seventeenth century witch.  

Once Cooper and band hit the big time, however, the details get a little sketchier. Their second album, "Easy Action," is not even mentioned. Ditto "Killer," a 1971 platinum album. The doc-or "doc opera" as the filmmakers are pitching it-does have some good warts-and-all information on the years Cooper lost to drugs and alcohol, and an interesting take on how Alice came left the original band to strike out on his own.  

It's here the doc falters. Instead of an insider's look at what happens when a band falls apart we are given a version that feels a bit too managed. Perhaps time has healed some old wounds but original members Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway, who were stripped of their rock star status as soon as Alice split, don't dish any dirt. Instead they provide what feels like an authorized version of events. Some grit here would have given "Super Duper Alice Cooper" more of an edge.

As it is, however, the movie is a fan friendly pastiche of images, sounds and info on one of the most outrageous rock 'n' roll acts ever.