Thursday, November 8, 2012

WHY PRESIDENT OBAMA MUST EMBRACE LEGALIZATION TO SAVE THE ECONOMY

I rarely if ever get political, but recent events have compelled me to write this, and direct it AT President Obama.

Consider this scenario: The economy is diving. Republicans and Democrats simply can't get it together and work with each other for the good of the nation. The country looks to its President for leadership. We've already had bailouts and stimuli, but we can't risk the rising $16trillion+ national debt. Employment is tanking.

What can we do to reinvigorate our economy? The answer may sound crazy to some, especially those on the conservative side, but it may also make the most sense. Are you ready for it?

Legalize marijuana. Completely. Follow the WA or CO model approved by voters in the 2012 elections.

You want to cut federal spending, Mr. Obama? Legalize and you'll have cut $10billion annually from the DEA, not to mention how much local law enforcement will save. Tax the hell out of it, and bring money back into the national economy. Get people BUYING again. In every speech you give about the economy there are two recurring themes: job growth and spending.

Give us, the American people, something worth spending on. Give us a new industry that can provide hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs. Create a bold, new market that will boost agriculture, textiles, manufacturing, alternative fuels and 40,000+ other markets.

We've already seen that, one way or the other, that prohibition is ending. Why don't you take the initiative and legalize marijuana by executive order, and stimulate the economy. You want your second term to mean something? Legalize, and watch the economy grow.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

All New Book Trailer for MATHION: The Revised & Expanded Editon

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's finally here! After spending months working on this video along with a slew of top-notch creative types such as myself, the official book trailer for the Revised & Expanded Edition of MATHION: BOOK ONE OF THE MAVONDURI TRILOGY is up on YouTube and, of course, here at the Mavonduri Trilogy Official Blog. Enjoy it, spread it around and prepare for the onslaught that is the R&EE, arriving on Kindle September 22nd... (Nook to follow soon after)



Saturday, August 11, 2012

THE GREAT EPOCHS OF FANTASY LITERATURE: What's Next?

In my mind, fantasy literature is one of epochs: periods of time in which the genre experiences a surge in relevance and exposure for mainstream popular culture. These epochs have both defined and redefined the genre in so many ways, and it is something I think about a lot. So I thought I would share my thoughts with you, if you would be so kind as to indulge me for a moment or two.


THE MYTHIC AGE
This is that period of time far, far back in recorded history, when fantasy was not only relevant, but revered. Myths and legends of gods and heroes permeated the human subconscious, and it was there that the first seeds of the genre were planted: the Quest, the Hero's Journey, even the Dark Lord Archetype first emerged here. Whether or not myths have any basis in fact is irrelevant, because for a lot of fantasy authors, this was the foundation that an entire genre of literature was founded upon. Many of the moral questions of characters that are posed to our most well-known modern fantasy heroes were first asked in the Mythic Age of fantasy. Heracles, Odysseus, Achilles, Thor, Beowulf, these figures, these fantasy heroes, endure to this day because they were relatable and they allowed us, as humans, access to a world beyond our own through both written and oral tradition.

THE PREMODERN "JUVENILE" AGE
This was the era when fairy tales became popular and relevant, from the time of the Renaissance through the late 19th-early 20th centuries. The Brothers Grimm saw great influence, and Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory was really the impetus behind modern epic fantasy, especially in its romantic elements. But the genre was juvenile, and as a result much of fantasy during this time was geared towards children, but it retained the "morals of the stories" if you will of the Mythic Age fantasies.

THE EARLY MODERN (PULP) AGE
While fantasy stories never went out of style, there are periods when the genre itself is not the genre of choice for the mainstream. And here we have, from the late 1920s-30s, the emergence of "pulp" science fiction and fantasy. H.P. Lovecraft, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert E. Howard saw considerable popularity because of the pulp appeal of their works. Also, the original King Kong that debuted in 1933 saw an increase in adventure fantasy, and lo and behold in 1937 the seeds of the next era are planted with the publication of a children's fantasy book called The Hobbit. This was also the age of the magazine, where authors would fragment their stories into episodic installments, and readers would voraciously wait for the next after reading.

THE TOLKENIAN AGE
From 1939 through the early '40s, fantasy did not have a huge impact on popular culture. This was the age of science fiction, with the rise of Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, these were (and still are) the influential authors of the day. It was not until 1954, with the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, that fantasy took center stage. And in 1955, in which Tolkien's epic tome THE LORD OF THE RINGS completed its publication with The Return of the King, fantasy was indelibly associated with the word epic. It wasn't just about the stories anymore, fantasy had become a genre of worlds, where the setting of the story was almost as important as the story itself. And the authors who succeeded Tolkien knew this: LeGuin, Williams, Pratchett, all the way down to George R. R. Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, retain the key ingredient to modern Epic Fantasy: a world worthy of the word.

THE MODERN AGE
But after the 1980s, fantasy did see a decline. But then, in the mid 1990s, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone hit bookshelves, and we saw the birth of a wholly new type of epic fantasy, one that didn't just take us out of our own world, but made us wonder what could be behind the veil of our own world. Now, Rowling didn't intend to define an entire era of fantasy literature, but like it or not Harry Potter has defined the modern fantasy era. A children's book who's major theme is death? Right from the first book, that's what we know, and at the end of the series we find that both the protagonist and the antagonist are defined by this one central theme.

But what's next? What will keep fantasy from falling into another era of obscurity and irrelevance? What do we, as authors (and I do include myself in this, meaning I ask myself this question as I continue to write The Mavonduri Trilogy) do to keep what we love about this genre fresh?

Sometimes, it's a toughly ironic question to answer, because we can't always find the words. But from myths all the way down to Harry freaking Potter, fantasy is all about conveying a message, spreading a silver breath of a universal truth that speaks to both the generation it's written for and generations to follow, to guide us through this world by taking us out of it and beyond it. I don't think there's another genre of literature, or even art, as unique unto itself, so diverse and complex and yet universally impacting as fantasy.

I guess it's not just up to the authors anymore, it's also up to the readers. So if you read this article, comment and tell me where you think the fantasy genre is going to go next. I look forward to hearing from you!

Regards,
Jeff

Thursday, August 9, 2012

INTERVIEW with Read2Review.com!

Alright, so my latest interview leading up to the release of the Revised & Expanded Edition of my debut novel MATHION: BOOK ONE OF THE MAVONDURI TRILOGY is live at Read2Review.com. They offered some great questions, and I got to talk a little about the origins of THE MAVONDURI TRILOGY and what to expect in the R&EE. I encourage you to visit the site and check out their reviews, and keep a close eye out for a very special prerelease review of MATHION: The Revised & Expanded Edition!

Also, keep your eyes glued to my YouTube channel TheMavonduriTrilogy for the debut of the book trailer for the R&EE. Happy reading!


R2R: Where do you like to write?
JS: Well given that I have a laptop, I can write almost anywhere. But Barnes & Noble is probably my favorite place to write. It provides me with great motivation.
R2R: Which authors do you like and why?
JS: I grew up on RL Stine and KA Applegate, authors of the Goosebumps and Animorphs series, respectively. Their work was what first got me interested in storytelling, and Miss Applegate’s THE ANDALITE CHRONICLES was the first “big book” I read, and that was in elementary school! But my hands-down favorite author is, of course, JRR Tolkien. The man did what no one else (not even George RR Martin, as great as A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is) has been able to do: he created a WORLD that we could, as readers, delve into and explore and find more and more.
R2R: What inspires you?
JS: There’s a lot that inspires me. But if I had to pick a select few it would have to be books and films. I have a long-standing love affair with film and the filmmaking process, and I try to incorporate a somewhat “cinematic” writing style into my more “traditional” prose within THE MAVONDURI TRILOGY.

You can read the rest of the interview at Read2Review.com

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN'S DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY: Can There Be a Best One?

Alright, now that we've had some time to absorb the awesome epicness of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (see my review HERE), there is but one question to ask, one that I have asked myself and I'm sure fans of Nolan's Batfilms have been debating since the day after the film's release: Is there, in fact, a "best" film in CHRISTOPHER NOLAN'S DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY?


To answer this question, lets take a look at each film individually, starting with the film that started it all.

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BATMAN BEGINS may be the least known to modern Batfilm enthusiasts -- who more than likely jumped on the "In Nolan We Trust" wagon with (and perhaps because of) Ledger's performance in THE DARK KNIGHT (more on that later) -- but Nolan's 2005 Batman opus literally rewrote the book on superhero films as we know it. Nevermind the fact that fans were still trying to wash out the bitter taste of Joel Schumacher's Batnipple double-fiasco, but Warner Brothers trusted Nolan, who up until this point had done only small budget films like MEMENTO INSOMNIA (both were critically acclaimed though), with undertaking a reboot of their most profitable franchise outside HARRY POTTER. Nolan was a left-field choice, but he delivered. The basis of BEGINS' acclaim was its focus on the man behind the cowl, Bruce Wayne himself, and how Nolan convinced Christian Bale to take on the mantle of the Bat we may never fully know. But Nolan chose to not only focus on Bruce Wayne, but gave the entire film a primary theme which the Burton/Schumacher films lacked: fear. Everything that Bruce Wayne goes through in this film, every shot, revolves around some form of fear, whether emotional, psychological or even physical (talk to Flass about that last one). Bruce Wayne had to conquer his own fear (of bats) in order to be able to turn it on and use it against the criminals who seek to prey on the fearful of Gotham. In turn the villain, Ra's al Ghul, intended to use fear to destroy Gotham itself.
BEGINS also took on Batman's origin, something many comic book aficionados deem their favorite of all superhero origin stories, and yet one that had not been tackled in the Burton/Schumacher films. But Nolan did it, and in doing so allowed Bruce Wayne himself to be as engrossing or (in my opinion) more so than his cowled alter-ego.
We didn't have a Ledger-level performance, we had a Bale-level performance, and it's some of his best work to date, including his Academy Award-winning role in THE FIGHTER. In fact, all of the performances in BATMAN BEGINS are above-par when compared with other superhero trilogies, even the ones that followed it. Liam Neeson gives an inspiring performance as Henri Ducard/Ra's al Ghul, and Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon is THE JIM GORDON. Argue with me, I dare you. And Michael Caine has forever been indelibly embedded in the moviegoing subconscious as Alfred Pennyworth. And let's not, please let's not forget Cillian Murphy as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow.
It's by far the most "low budget" of Nolan's DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY, but in many ways it's the most introspective. But we can only go bigger from here...


Ok, let's get one thing straight: THE DARK KNIGHT had an X-factor, and that was Heath Ledger. He died, he gave an Award-winning performance, and people have been raving about it ever since. But let's just -- not out of disrespect -- look at the film as if Ledger hadn't died. Is the Joker in fact the edge that THE DARK KNIGHT has over both its predecessor and successor?
This is a tough question to ask, and even tougher to answer because, like you, I loved THE DARK KNIGHT, and for many reasons outside of Ledger's performance. First off, before this film was there ever a Batman film without Batman in the title? Unless you need to be hit upside the head with a Batarang, the answer is an emphatic no. But, once again, the studio decided to take a chance on Nolan, who put his faith in the Bat-faithful to know their beloved superhero's nome de guerre to put two and two together. And in my opinion, it was a brilliant move. On a side note, will MAN OF STEEL be as innovative as its choice of title? We'll see..
Now that we've gotten through the superficial genius of Nolan's second entry, let's look at the heart of this film: chaos. The Joker, as the self-proclaimed "agent of chaos" (which may or may not be a Get Smart pun, knowing the Joker's sense of humor or, even more eerie, a foreboding of a certain actress's appearance as a certain feline fatale in the following film) permeates Gotham with it, with the sole intention of proving, as in the comics, that all it takes is "one bad day" for someone to go off the deep end as he did. His guinea pig for this twisted mad-science experiment? Gotham's "white knight," District Attorney Harvey Dent. And this is where Nolan's genius as a writer lies. The core of THE DARK KNIGHT is not in fact the Joker, or even Batman himself, but the fall from grace of Harvey Dent. In this respect, THE DARK KNIGHT is a postmodern, neo-noir crime-thriller tragedy, one of a great man's struggle with what is "just," what is "right" and, ultimately, what is "fair."
While we certainly see a lot more Batman in this film than in its predecessor, we don't see as enough of Bruce Wayne, which I felt was one of the strongest points of the series. Don't get me wrong, the scenes in which Bale is cowl-less are top-notch at every turn, but in the end, Nolan recognizes that this is a Batman film, but the way in which he plays it is far more sophisticated than any other in the comic-film genre. And in the end, Batman cannot truly beat the Joker and chooses to take on Harvey's fall as his own, racing into the night as a murderer and a fugitive.
Nolan also showcased his maturation as a filmmaker, utilizing a linear (for which he was heretofore unaccustomed to doing, a la MEMENTO & THE PRESTIGE), briskly paced story that nonetheless holds on to each moment in the story. And it emphatically does not end with the Joker, but with Harvey Dent and the culmination of the Joker's true purpose in the story. It is a brilliant melding of multiple genres into one great film that rises above the restrictions of a "summer movie" and makes us think about our own morality and how breakable it really is.

So how does Nolan end his magnum opus? With a bang, that's how. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is unequivocally the most ambitious film in the Trilogy, for good reason and indeed more than one. If BATMAN BEGINS was the "psychological thriller" of CHRISTOPHER NOLAN'S DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY (that's the title, no matter what the Blu-Ray box set says when it comes out) and THE DARK KNIGHT was the "crime drama," then THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is most certainly the "dystopian epic" of the Trilogy. From it's surprising choice of villain (Bane) to highly controversial ending, it puts an emphatic end to what many (myself included) deem a perfect trilogy of films, a rarity of cinema to which we are all witnesses.
What this final film gives us is a truly diverse yet simultaneously complete story of Bruce Wayne's journey as Batman. Having faced his fears in BATMAN BEGINS and defeated chaos in THE DARK KNIGHT (albeit with a lie), RISES begins with Bruce Wayne as a recluse, refusing to look beyond the mission. Commissioner Gordon is weighed down by his part in "the Lie" and yet all seems to be well in Gotham, with the exception of Wayne Enterprises which has fallen into disrepute.
Enter Bane. Tom Hardy gives a performance on par with Ledger's Joker, a truly frightening mishmash of villainy ranging from Hannibal Lecter to King Kong, with a dash of Napoleon thrown in for good measure. Many of RISES' most powerful lines are delivered by him, and Bane vs. Batman Round 1 should forever go down as one of the most brutal fistfights in cinematic history. Nolan also took it to a place I honestly didn't think he'd go, recreating the very imagery of Knightfall and having Bane literally break the Bat.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES brings to the trilogy a hybridization of the first and second installments of the trilogy, and while Bane has some of the best lines in the film, the scene-stealers of the Trilogy go to Bruce's time in the Pit. We've all been at our lowest point, but we've never seen Bruce Wayne in an equivalent place, and in this film we literally see him at his lowest point, which makes his reascendance even more stirring on a pure emotional level. Everyone's on their game for the last installment, even the newcomers. Anne Hathaway is at her sexiest and fiercest as Selina Kyle, and Marion Cotillard can really do no wrong (well, she actually can, but you get the point). And am I the only one who enjoyed the hell out of Matthew Modine?! But JGL, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is just so great as John Blake (or Nolan's Robin as I call him). Nolan is a master wordsmith, and so it should retrospectively come as no surprise that he'd be a master wort-twister as well. After declaring that Robin would never, ever appear in his films, with Christian Bale going so far as to refuse to return should the Boy Wonder make an appearance, Nolan took a believable turn with Batman's sidekick by, well...not making him Batman's sidekick. Instead, Blake shows us a different facet of what I call the "Bruce Wayne archetype", whereby the hero figure isn't solely driven by vengeance, but out of a desire to do what's right, fulfilling a story arc begun by Harvey Dent but never completed. Blake is us if it were possible, and he gives a very believable and rousing performance.
RISES is without a doubt Nolan's most "comic-booky" film of the trilogy, but by now we've earned that, and he's earned that. From the "tight-geometry urban pacification" vehicle known to us as "the Bat" (but to me as the Bat-Lobster -- let's face it, the thing looks like a flying lobster!) to a fusion-reactor-turned-4 megaton-neutron-bomb, this is the type of gaudiness we love about comic books. But in any other film, with any other director, it would come across as gaudy and ridiculous. Nolan's use of source material (Knightfall, which was already mentioned, and The Dark Knight Returns by the incomparable Frank Miller) lends surprising credibility to the aesthetic of the story.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES isn't without its flaws, though. So before you start decrying me as a Nolan fanboy (which I am, by the way, and I fully intend to pursue him as director of the MATHION film adaptation, mark my words!!), I am not above having my gripes with this film. For further proof, see my review (link above). But what I want to get at now is the ending, so if you for whatever reason haven't seen it, get off your computer/iPhone/iPad and GO SEE IT. Then come back and read the rest.
I wanted Bruce to die. Not stage his death, actually die. That is my single biggest gripe with the conclusion. In my opinion, Bruce Wayne cannot live without Batman, because they are one and the same. Screw all the "realism" crap, that is the single most believable quality of Bruce's character, and it is more of a fitting end for him to die a hero, sacrificing his life for the city he set out to save, and then to allow his mantle to be passed on. But we have the ending we have, and I see why Nolan would want Bruce to go out that way. Regardless, this is my own personal opinion of the ending. And while we're on the topic, I have to, have to, give credit to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Any man who can keep a secret like that deserves to be Batman, and kudos to you, sir.

So we've dissected the Trilogy, but do we have an answer? In fact we do: the best film of CHRISTOPHER NOLAN'S DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY is your favorite of the three. They're markedly different from each other, too different to be directly compared despite the fact that they're all about the same character. My personal favorite is TDKR because, for all its flaws it is a perfect melding of its predecessors, but many will choose TDK for Ledger's performance alone. Others still will choose BB as it portrays Batman as he should truly be. But the point is that no one is wrong.

So what's your favorite installment of CHRISTOPHER NOLAN'S DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY? Comment below, and let the fanboyism/fangirlism ensue! Ladies, if you're going to insist on going full fangirl, please do your best to restrain your squee, whether over Bale, Ledger, Hardy or Levitt. I do, however, give full squee permission for Gary Oldman.

IN NOLAN WE TRUST. LONG LIVE THE DARK KNIGHT.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

HE IS RISEN: The Dark Knight Rises Review

This is the most anticipated film of the year. The one we've all been waiting for. And it's finally here. But before I begin my review I'd like to extend my personal condolences to the families of the Aurora shootings. For someone to calculatingly carry out such a heinous and senseless deed is the height of depravity and shame, and I hope that this man, James Eagan Holmes, suffers for his crime.
Alright, so many of you have heard me talk about this film for God knows how long and now you finally get to hear what I think. And in a word? Genius. Christopher Nolan is the only director who could take an ending like this one and really make it work. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's start at the beginning:
It's been 8 years since Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent's (aka Two-Face's) murders, and now Gotham is at peace. But the lie that allowed that peace to take shape has eaten away at both Bruce Wayne and Commissioner James Gordon. Bruce has shut himself away in his stately Wayne Manor, and rumors circulate that he's decrepit and disfigured, Gotham's hunchback of Notre Dame if you will. Enter Selina Kyle.
If Heath Ledger's Joker stole the show in The Dark Knigt, Anne Hathaway literally steals it in TDKR. I'll try to avoid spoiling the film for anyone who hasn't yet seen it (and if you haven't—really?) but she basically does an Inception style acting job in here. This Selina Kyle makes you forget about Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, and she is just brilliant.
Meanwhile, we're introduced to Joseph-Gordon Levitt as John Blake, and this movie is just as much about him as it is about Bruce Wayne. The man known as JGL gives a rousing performance as Blake, and is as much the heart of this film as Alfred is. If you take away the wealth, his story is as intriguing as Brice Wayne's. I can't spoil it for anyone who hasn't yet seen the film, but he is one to watch out for.
And then there's Bane. I like many people were soundly disgusted by his treatment in The Film That Shall Not Be Named, but he gets justice in this go-round. Tom Hardy is gold in this. He is ruthless, calculating, pure evil in this film. And his performance is driven through his eyes—those EYES!! My God, he scared the living daylights out of me. He really gives Batman the fight of his life, and it was heart-wrenching to say the least. I did have some issues with his voice, especially in the prologue, but you really tune into it, especially in repeat viewings.
Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Mighael Caine and Marion Cotillard round out the rest of the supporting cast in TDKR, and every one of them brings their A-game. Caine has some of the most tear-inducing scenes in this film, and he really makes you feel Alfred's heartbreak for Bruce. Oldman gives his finest Gordon performance yet, as does Freeman as Lucius Fox. But Marion-oh, Marion!-she's a surprise. It's really her that brings everything full circle. In addition, the man who will be Azghar√°th makes a return, and I squee'd like I've never squee'd before. Also, congrats to Cillian Murphy who becomes the first Bat-villain to make an appearance in all three films.
Now, the performances were fantastic and I was happy with the ending, but it wasn't what I personally wanted. Nevertheless you could really see the influence Nolan took from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and rumor has it that Jonah Nolan originally crafted a 400-page epic of a film. And honestly, I felt this could have been a longer film. At two hours and forty-five minutes it's definitely long, but Nolan's storytelling efficiency is such that at no point do you feel that it's too long. But if there's a director's cut of this film, I have only four words for Mr. Nolan: GIVE IT TO US!
In short, The Dark Knight Rises is a masterful conclusion to the definitive cinematic portrayal of Batman, and in my mind Christopher Nolan has done just as much for the character as Bob Kane himself. I encourage everyone to see this film multiple times, and to celebrate Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. As a Batfan I could not be happier. Indeed, he is risen. Thank you, Christopher Nolan for giving Batman the treatment he deserves. Long live Batman.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

WELCOME BACK WEBHEAD: The Amazing Spider-Man Review

I am first and foremost a comic book fan. And while Batman is my all-time favorite superhero, Peter Parker aka Spider-Man is a close second. So naturally, I had seen Sam Raimi's take on the wall-crawler—yes, even the lackluster SPIDER-MAN 3—when they originally came out over 10 years ago. And, naturally, I was highly dubious of a Spidey reboot, especially given how fresh Raimi's final installment in the original trilogy really wasn't all that long ago. But I'm glad to say that after seeing the aptly-named Marc Webb's ("(500) Days of Summer") debut foray into both the big-budget and comic book movie universe, all I can say is that he outdid Sam Raimi. And Joss Whedon. And outdid them DIRTY. Yes, that's a bold statement. And yes, "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" has its flaws (I'm looking at you, guys who did the CG effects on The Lizard!!) but the pros vastly outweigh the cons. TASM is a visually stunning and emotionally gripping film, spectacularly cast and magically written (yes, that pun was intended for legendary Harry Potter screenscribe Steve Kloves). I have no problem saying that it was better than THE AVENGERS, and I know many people would disagree with me, but while I give every movie the benefit of the doubt, my hat has to tip in Spider-Man's favor. I liked THE AVENGERS, make no mistake. But I wasn't able to take the journey WITH those characters. In TASM, I got to take a journey with Peter Parker, and a very believable one (now, if only I had a genetically enhanced spider to nip me on the neck, we'd be all set). Andrew Garfield is a self-professed Spidey fanboy, and man does it show onscreen. He gets EVERY aspect of both Peter and Spider-Man, and I could believe him much more easily than I could believe Tobey Maguire. Garfield plays every maskless scene as Parker with nuanced awkwardness so befitting of the character, and it was a joy to watch his development from zero to hero. His real-life love interest (the lucky bastard!!) Emma Stone shines as Gwen Stacy, and it's great to watch their natural offscreen chemistry translate seamlessly onscreen. Stone gives Gwen equal parts strength and sensitivity, and her natural charm and humor places her firmly as one of the most irresistible comic book movie female leads to date. Webb was very wise in making their relationship the core of the film, a solid foundation to build the story on. But surrounding these trailblazing up-and-comers is a great veteran cast led by Martin Sheen as Ben Parker, who is (in my opinion) a far more relatable Uncle Ben than the late, great Cliff Robertson. That's not to knock Robertson's overall performance in the Raimi trilogy, but Sheen plays a far more transparent Ben, which makes his (*SPOILER!!*) inevitable death all the more tragic. Sally Field is marvelous as Aunt May, and there is a far different and interesting dynamic between her and Peter in this go-round. And of course I couldn't NOT mention Dennis Leary, who gives a surprisingly stirring performance as Capt. Stacy, Gwen's father. I've always enjoyed Rhys Ifans' acting, so I was excited to see him back on the screen. His portrayal of Dr. Curt Connors is very good, although not the best villain this summer (Tom Hiddleston's Loki holds that spot until July 20th) but overall he gave a very good performance. For a first-time action director, Webb shows that he can indeed handle a perfect balance between emotionally engaging small scenes and great action setpieces. The film flows at a pace comparable to "Batman Begins" and is, in my overall opinion, far better than "The Avengers".