Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

After the disappointment of Sucker Punch with its wayward non-existent story, my hopes were high that Man of Steel would combine the visual flair of Zack Snyder with the superior writing of David S. Goyer and Chris Nolan.  Where Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was very much in the style of the original movies and would comfortably slide right in among them, Man of Steel is very much a re-interpretation of the mythology.  As was expected from a film written by Goyer and Nolan, Man of Steel is far more “grounded” and “down to earth” than other Superman films, and whether you like it or not it is certainly spectacular.

However, it is this “grittiness” that throws up some of my dislikes.  I thought there was too much shaky cam, particularly noticeable at the beginning.  I think this was to introduce a documentary feel to proceedings, but it gave me a headache; especially when Jonathan was talking to Clark on the back of a pickup telling him that he shouldn’t save drowning kids from buses - the camera was all over the place for no reason.  I also felt that it was over-edited, particularly during fights, presumably for dramatic impact; but it just ended up looking a bit Michael Bay ish!

Speaking of directors, Man of Steel doesn’t look like a Zack Snyder film.  There were none of the trademark quick-slow-quick sections; there were a lot of fast zooms with the camera taking a second to focus.  This gave the movie far more of a Joss Whedon feel than anything else.

I really enjoyed the first half of the film; the events on Krypton, the non-linearity of the story with flashbacks to Clark’s childhood, as well as seeing him drift through life as he tries to find himself.  Though this wasn’t usual for a Superman film, it worked for me and seeing Clark struggle with who he was was OK by me.  I liked the update to the destruction of Krypton, the relationship between Jor El and Zod, and by extension the natural feeling that Zod really should be the antagonist in a Superman genesis film.  However, when Zod and his cronies arrive on Earth (my heart yearns for Terence Stamp) the film seems to concern itself with huge explosions and destroying as many buildings as possible.  While this is initially quite fun as Smallville is wrecked (and the sequence is really spectacular), it soon gets boring.

Boring when Metropolis is also wrecked, and pointless when there is some attempt at creating a sense of peril as Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White and two co-workers are in “danger” of being killed in the ruins of a building.  We've hardly seen White, and I’ve no idea who the other two are, so I really didn't care what happened to them.

Boring or not, these sequences didn’t disrupt the flow of the film.  What did pull me out of the movie was some of the sloppy writing that is not expected from Goyer and Nolan.  I’m sure there were some questions raised in the Krypton intro, but I actually really enjoyed that sequence, so I didn’t notice too much.  However, Jonathan Kent’s death was rubbish, it was quite possibly one of the worst things they could have come up with.  There’s nothing like scarring someone for life by making them watch your father die when it was completely preventable!  I also thought it daft that it took Kal-El 30 years to discover all his powers on Earth, but Zod seemed to manage it in a few days. I mean, HOW long did it take Clark to learn to fly in Smallville?  But Zod seemed to figure it out quite quickly.

Finally Kal-El kills Zod (not a spoiler, we all know it happens), and suddenly he is anguished that he had to kill what could be the last living Kryptonian other than himself (think The Doctor having to destroy The Master).  Except that there wasn't any build up to this at all; previous to this they were throwing each other through buildings, presumably killing lots of innocent people (way to go Superman).  I certainly didn’t notice this many plot holes, but the story wasn’t as great as I was expecting.

Henry Cavill is a good enough Superman, and Russell Crowe is a good Jor-El; certainly Snyder got more value out of him than Richard Donner got out of Marlon Brando.  Amy Adams might be a good Lois Lane, but in all honesty her character isn’t really important.  No really.  If you cut Lois out of the film, I don’t think anything would missing from the plot; which is just silly.  Lois is integral to a Superman story, whether you're in 1978, 2006 or the Smallville series; so to make her as pointless as Perry White or the other two suckers trapped beneath falling buildings is nonsense.

Despite all this negativity, I did enjoy the film, just that thinking about it afterwards you start to realise that it wasn’t everything you hoped it would be.  One thing that was done really well was Hans Zimmer's excellent score.  It was obviously a concious effort to avoid any of the typical Superman themes, and I thought that was refreshing and worked really well.  Certainly a very spectacular and cinematic film (even in the glorious 2 dimensions in which I saw it), I feel I may not have enjoyed it quite so much had I seen it at home without the big screen experience.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Book of Eli (2010)

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, The Book of Eli tells the story of one man’s journey to the West and the challenges he has to overcome to get there.  The main character Eli, who is very handy with a machete, is well portrayed by Denzel Washington.  He’s fairly one-dimensional and un-engaging, but that’s his character and I think it works well; Eli is completely focussed on his mission and does his best not to be distracted by others’ problems.  Gary Oldman’s character (Carnegie) is the complete opposite of this, in typical brilliant Oldman villain style; determined, with his own sense of morality and with a total disregard for all others.

The story is fairly straightforward and interesting; it slows a bit when Eli meets Solara (Mila Kunis), but not for any romantic entanglement; rather she behaves like a viewer such as ourselves and Eli gives her answers for our benefit.  This may sound rather clumsy and not respecting the intelligence of the audience, but it actually works quite well.  Eli and Carnegie’s stories finally catch up with each other in the finale which has a nice twist, I for one was not expecting it.

The Hughes brothers have crafted a stylish and atmospheric film.  Don Burgess’ cinematography is very high contrast which suits the post-apocalypse world perfectly; the whole film is essentially black & white apart from some indoor scenes which are more sepia.  There is a great action scene featuring Eli dispatching some bandits, but before he does he steps back into a subway so that the whole fight is in silhouette.  Little touches and ideas such as this make this more than the ordinary film that this could otherwise have been.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Animal Kingdom (2010)

Nothing like the Lion King, Animal Kingdom is a melancholy Australian crime film with some very unwholesome characters doing some very nasty things.  There is something slightly Goodfellas about it; the film is narrated through the main character “J” (James Frecheville) who becomes involved with his family’s criminal activities, and when he starts interacting with Sergeant Leckie (Guy Pearce) you start to think it end the same way as Henry’s story did.  However, J hasn’t wanted to be a gangster as far back as he can remember, he just gets involved because it’s his family, and the final acts of the film are surprising and shocking.

All the members of the Cody family, each with their own personalities, are portrayed by a very accomplished cast, though none of them are very familiar to me.  Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, Ben Mendelsohn, and Jackie Weaver are all really great and really breathe life into the Codys.

OK, so I started writing this review 2 weeks ago and I really can’t remember anything else I was going to say.  I will therefore conclude quickly by saying that Animal Kingdom isn’t your usual gangster movie, but with a great script, cast and a very accomplished debut performance from James Frecheville, director David Michôd has made a very smart film that may well get overlooked by many because of its name.