Spider-Man Spins Web of Success

Spider-Man | Maverick Films | Phoebe Snow 

Spider-Man Spins Web of Success

Witty, urbane and filled with inside jokes and nuances, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is a sure-fire hit. It's the first big flick of 2002, and it's better than all of the past year's other big box office movies.

In fact, Columbia Pictures should be congratulating itself. By getting Spider-Man out to theaters before Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, the Sony-owned studio will be cashing in to the tune of millions before George Lucas steamrolls over them.

What makes Spider-Man so good? For one thing, it sticks to the story that you may remember from your childhood. All the characters — Peter Parker, Aunt May, newspaper editor J. J. Jameson — are intact. When you're watching this movie you actually feel like the people who made it cared about the material's integrity. What a refreshing change!

While credit for the movie's total success goes to Sam Raimi, I can't help but notice producer Laura Ziskin’s name on this project. Ziskin made the recent Academy Awards hum with energy. Here she again seems to have — what can I call it? Taste? Style? Her stamp is all over Spider-Man, and the result is very satisfying.

So you see, not all Hollywood blockbusters have to be dim-witted or bad. My guess is that Ziskin's husband, legendary screenwriter Alvin Sargent (Oscars for Ordinary People and Julia) doctored David Koepp's script. Sargent is one of Hollywood's unsung heroes when it comes to the final polish.

But what else makes Spider-Man so good? The actors are uniformly terrific, well-cast and well-suited to their roles. Tobey Maguire's blank stare and benign presence are perfect for Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He even gets in some comic moments, like the scene when he first tries to use his newly-gained powers.

But Maguire gets a lot of help from a stellar group. Willem Dafoe — as the Green Goblin and Norman Osborn — shows how important it is to surround a movie actor with a theater-trained thespian. Dafoe (playing a part that might have gone to Christopher Walken in the old days) makes a complicated, delicious villain. He also physically resembles James Franco, who plays Peter's best friend Harry Osborn and nearly steals the movie from Maguire. Luckily, Franco will figure even more centrally in the sequel, in which his character avenges a death.

Spider-Man also benefits from theater legend Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, Oscar winner Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben and Kirsten Dunst as the sweet but sexy Mary Jane, object of Spider-Man’s affections. New York actor J.K. Simmons — usually bald and bad on HBO’s Oz — is a hoot as Parker’s boss. He plays the Perry White-type role of J.J. with tremendous panache — another real scene stealer.

Fans of the old Spider-Man show will also like a subway musician who sings the old Spider-Man theme song in the background. It’s one of many little inside jokes (as well as Aunt May reminding Peter he’s not Superman).

Any gripes? The only reason Macy Gray pops up is because she’s a Sony recording artist. Product placements are all over the place most notably — a Sony TV, Dr. Pepper and Carlsberg beer. New Yorkers may notice that Macy’s and Herald Square have been hauled into Times Square, where many signs have been changed, it would seem, to accommodate more product placements. And one scene, in which Peter and his uncle chat in a parked car across from the main library, is a tad ridiculous. They’d have gotten a ticket in less than thirty seconds.

Finally, Spider-Man was shot in New York, so I found it curious that the big premiere was in L.A.. Considering the tremendous amount of location shooting done in the city, everyone at last night’s screening was surprised that Sony short-changed New York in the end. But it’s a small quibble — Spider-Man is a well-deserved big movie that will probably break some records this weekend. For once, it’s a film deserving of such success.

Mort’s Money From Madonna

Just a postscript to our scoop yesterday about another Marvel comic, Mort the Dead Teenager, coming to life.

Maverick Films is the co-producer, along with Quentin Tarantino and Lawrence Bender’s A Band Apart. Maverick films is still owned by Madonna, but — and I guess I was the last to know this — is no longer associated with Warner Bros. Maverick Records continues to be, however.

So where is Maverick Films getting their financing? “From Madonna,” I was told yesterday. Unlike Michael Jackson, Madonna probably has the bucks to do this. The production company is now doing deals with all the studios. There's no word yet on whether or not Maverick Films will try to market Madonna’s Swept Away directed by husband Guy Ritchie. Originally scheduled for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Swept Away had to be pulled for re-tooling.

'Mr. Big' Hosts Phoebe Snow

All good pop music is not dead. Forget about Tweet and these other insipid things on the radio. On Sunday night, caramel-voiced Phoebe Snow will give a rare performance at The Cutting Room here in Manhattan, the cool club owned by Sex and the City/Law & Order star Chris Noth ('Mr. Big') that often hosts Sheryl Crow gigs.

Snow recently sang at Liza Minnelli’s wedding, and is considered the best singer of her generation. If you're too young to remember her, she had a gigantic hit in the mid-70s with "Poetry Man," and has continued to put out excellent records. She’s currently shopping for a new record label, which in the music biz these days is akin to asking for a whack on the head. But Snow will persevere — she is the favorite singer of performers like Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews. Look for this reporter at the door — I’m an unremunerated cheerleader in the Snow camp!

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