With the frantic pace of the first film and my useless writeup, I worried we wouldn’t know what’s going on in this movie. But it’s just Spider-man, dealing with his usual Spider-man teenage problems while also trying to prove himself to the interdimensional society of Spider-men who say Miles only became a Spider-man through infinite improbability when a spider from Universe 42 warped into his version of New York. Attempts to save the universes from a Jason Schwartzman-voiced Watchmen-looking portal beast, then the movie cuts off before the next battle, Miles and his buddies facing off against an Evil Miles who became Venom The Prowler. Looks somewhat less splendid and amazing than the first movie because we made the mistake of skipping it in theaters and watching at home.

Somehow this is already Junior Stargazer Woodrow’s third Wes Anderson movie.

Good movie, need to see again.

Bilge Ebiri:

We’re told that what we’re watching is really a theater piece written by the legendary American playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton). The film actually begins on a black-and-white television stage with the story narrated by a Rod Serling–like Host, played by Bryan Cranston. (So, really, it’s a play within a play within a TV production within a movie.) The Host reminds us that “Asteroid City does not exist. It is an imaginary drama created expressly for the purposes of this broadcast. The characters are fictional, the text hypothetical, the events an apocryphal fabrication.” In other words, the story itself is a phantom, unknowable … Late in the movie, Jones steps away from playing Augie and runs into the actress (Margot Robbie) who was to play the part of his wife but was reportedly cut from the finished piece. As the two recall the scene they would have had together, the Andersonian whimsy slips away to reveal a perfect moment: two people communing with the messiness of life through their memory of a scene that doesn’t exist, from a play that never happened, presented within a theatrical-cinematic fiction pretending to be a TV show.

Sam Adams [after making some connections to method acting]

Anderson’s not aiming for pointed or even coherent critique of the method, so much as to contextualize it as one style among many—perhaps a road to the truth, but not the only one … Fiction often seeks to explain the human condition, to offer answers to questions that elude us in our own lives, but Asteroid City refuses that mandate. Toward the end of the movie, we see the actors in the play attending a lecture by the teacher Saltzburg Keitel (Willem Dafoe), who instructs them to approach their characters from “the outside in”—the practical opposite of the method approach. Dafoe has worked with Anderson before, but he’s particularly apt for this part as a longtime member of the Wooster Group, the experimental theater troupe that rejected method acting in favor of having the actors “simply do things on stage.”

Vadim Rizov:

Asteroid City‘s closest relationship to the immediate present comes from its intricate echoes of Anderson’s own work, especially Rushmore: Augie’s wife is dead when the film opens, just like Max Fischer’s mom, as Schwartzman has aged from playing a single father’s child to the solo parent himself … What’s definitely new, for Anderson and for all of us, is the look of the widescreen narrative that makes up the bulk of film. Shot in Spain, Asteroid City‘s fully constructed American Southwest looks like Looney Tunes meets Red Desert, an unlikely and fairly breathtaking synthesis; I couldn’t even initially tell if I was looking at live-action, cardboard cutouts or some kind of weird and imperceptible layering of the two.

David Ehrlich:

Royal Tenenbaum only needed a narrator, but Augie Steenbeck requires such an elaborate framing device that it ultimately becomes impossible to parse where he ends and the next person begins. And so it goes with many of the characters in a movie that never lets you forget that Scarlett Johansson is an actress playing an actress who’s playing an actress. But if the interstitial scenes in Asteroid City are destabilizing by design (in a why is Augie suddenly making out with a Kentucky fried Edward Norton? sort of way), you don’t need an airtight grasp on the mechanics of how everything fits together in order to be knocked flat by the effect of feeling it all click into place.

Vikram Murthi:

Anderson eventually collapses the film’s dual characters and settings via Schwartzman’s performance. Schwartzman-as-Augie leaves the Asteroid City set during its physical climax to return backstage where, as Jones Hall, he asks Schubert, the director, whether he’s playing the character right. Schubert assures him that he is, despite some “actorly business,” and to just read the story if he doesn’t understand the play. Immediately afterwards, he heads to a fire escape to smoke a cigarette where he speaks with the actress (Margot Robbie) who once played Augie’s late wife, standing on the opposite fire escape of a neighboring theater. Together, they perform their cut scene — a dream sequence between Augie and his wife that occurs on a moon of the alien’s planet — for themselves across a chasm of darkness. It’s difficult to put into words the complicated magic that arises from these two successive scenes. As a child, Schwartzman starred in Rushmore as the precocious teenage playwright/director Max Fischer, arguably the most autobiographical Anderson character; the conversation between him and Brody feels a lot like an older Schwartzman (or a grown-up Max) asking an older Anderson for guidance and being assured that he’s still doing okay, despite all the loss and confusion. (It’s also as if Anderson is using his once-younger surrogate to assure himself of the same thing.) Meanwhile, the scene between Schwartzman and Robbie speaks to Anderson’s late-era project, which testifies that authentic candor, about grief or real-world concerns, can arise from the stagiest settings: two “real” people perform a scene for no one but themselves, and in the process, transcend the confines of fiction and reach profound understanding.

“I hope this will be good for us… but especially for me.”

Watched during Sundance Week! During Sundance 2015, I managed to watch three movies from Sundance 2014. There are lots of movies from last year that I mean to catch up with, and this seems as good a scheme as any.

Seems like a hard movie to enjoy, a non-comedy with a total asshole lead character (played by Jason Schwartzman, a puppy dog with a severe hairstyle). But the movie only occasionally seems to sympathize with him, and it takes sidetracks into the lives of the people he knows: his long-time girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss, star of Top of the Lake and Mad Men), his novelist mentor Ike (Jonathan Pryce), and that novelist’s daughter Melanie (new Marvel superhero Krysten Ritter). After the finale, which is particularly harsh towards Philip, allaying my fears that the movie expected me to care about a terrible person’s sense of well-being, I decided maybe Perry set out to make a movie centered on the selfish prick who shows up in minor roles in other movies, usually to make the sympathetic lead characters look good in comparison or to motivate some kind of action on their part. Philip and Ike become friends but can’t seem to motivate each other, because they’re both the selfish prick.

“I want you to contextualize my sadness.”

I didn’t much enjoy Perry’s The Color Wheel, and don’t care for his handheld camera work (although it seemed better here, in color), but can’t ignore a critical mass of critical acclaim – don’t want to sleep on a masterpiece. This wasn’t, but it’s got good acting and some hilarious/horrible moments, like Philip’s response to a student asking for a recommendation: “Here’s a piece of paper with some staples in it. Wish I could be of more help.” Casting Jason Schwartzman and making a movie about white middle-class sadsacks and father issues, decorated with 1970’s book jackets and omniscient narration, Perry might want to hang with Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson.

Josephine de la Baume, lead vampire of Kiss of the Damned, plays Philip’s fellow English teacher, who poisons the department against him. The Color Wheel’s Kate Lyn Sheil played one of Philip’s exes, and Eric Bogosian (Joe McCarthy stand-in of Witch Hunt) narrated. Edited by Robert Greene, who made a splash last year with his own Actress.

“Tonite only”, that’d be Friday the 13th, Sept. 2013.

My favorite prickly response to the movie comes from M. D’Angelo, who finds the narrator’s grammatical errors and misuse of words “entirely typical of [Perry’s] approach to filmmaking in general. Everything here feels like the work of someone inexpertly trying to synthesize challenging elements of books he’s read and movies he’s seen… which is what ambitious young artists do, to be sure, but they’re generally not celebrated this fervently until after they exit the blatant juvenilia phase.”

A.R.P. on not making “calling card films” to get hired in Hollywood:

There is an ineffable “do not hire” quality to Listen Up Philip, apparently, that shows experienced manufacturers of entertainment that whomever made this film is most likely hard to work with.