Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013) (2D)

June 23, 2013 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

man-of-steel-poster

Every Superman movie comes with unreasonable expectations. We already saw how the 2006 Superman Returns directed by Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh (whatever happened to his career?) turned out when it tried to reboot the franchise with a more serious, thoughtful take on the Superman mythology. It wasn’t as bad as everyone said it was, but no matter which way you look at it, the film was a bitter disappointment.

And so I was somewhat apprehensive about yet another reboot, the long-awaited Man of Steel headed by Zack Snyder, the man who gave us 300 and Watchmen, two flawed films  I really enjoyed. Snyder is supposedly a massive Superman geek who knows the universe inside out. Coupled with his unique visual flair and penchant for relentless action, it seemed like a good fit. Indeed, the initial trailers and the pre-release word of mouth were promising.

Having now watched the film and given some time digest, I have to admit I still found Man of Steel a disappointment — albeit one that was very interesting (especially in the first half) and had a lot of positives going for it.

One of the biggest positives is Henry Cavill, formerly the unluckiest man in Hollywood (having just lost out on the lead role in Superman Returns to Brandon Routh, Casino Royale to Daniel Craig, and Twilight to Shovelface Pattinson),. Cavill is perfect as Clark Kent/Superman. Apart from being superhumanly handsome and buffed out of his mind, he exudes a vulnerability that at times reminded me of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Nolan, by the way, served as a producer on Man of Steel.

Secondly, a problem with any Superman movie is that everyone knows the plot, so kudos to Snyder for making an origins story that covers some things we have not seen before, or at least not done in a way we’ve already seen before. I’m no Superman expert, but I understand there are quite a few subtle adjustments to the story, characters and narrative progression that made the film feel familiar but fresh.

The best parts of the film, surprisingly (or not surprisingly), are where Superman is out of his suit (which made the controversial decision to keep the underwear inside this time), the bits where he is learning who he is and how to control his powers. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a magnificent job as Clark Kent’s parents, stealing the show with the most human and emotional portions of the movie.

So the first half of Man of Steel is brilliant, dare I say almost Nolan-esque. The second half, when the villain, Zod, played by the brilliant Michael Shannon, arrives on Earth — well, that’s when things start to unravel and the film morphs into your more conventional superhero affair…except that it goes on for far too long and the carnage is so overboard that it all becomes numbing and dull. OK, maybe “dull” is taking it too far, but the tension and excitement was certainly not commensurate to the number of buildings being blown to pieces.

That said, the special effects were very good, and it wasn’t easy distinguishing between what’s real and what’s CGI. Some of the Krypton technology was pretty cool too, a clever divergence from the typical alien technology you might have seen in the past.

I like Amy Adams, but I never really liked Lois Lane in this one. Her relationship with Superman didn’t feel close enough to warrant some of the interactions between them. It was like we had to accept that there was chemistry between them (when there wasn’t) just because she’s Lois Lane. Adams is good, but the character felt lacking.

As for Russell Crowe as Jor-El, I have to admit he is pretty good in a “I’m Russell Crowe, the greatest f*&%ing actor in the world!” kind of way. I didn’t expect he’d have so much screen time either.

I sound more negative about Man of Steel than I should be, but only because my expectations were so high. The cast and the first half of the film were super but for whatever reason the storytelling in the second half lacked the emotional depth that would have made it a great film. And it was unnecessarily long. All things considered though, it is a solid Superman flick that is clearly better than Superman Returns, but not quite what I believe it was trying to achieve — ie, Dark Knight territory.  Perhaps the planned sequel(s) can get there.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

July 24, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

Notwithstanding its less than ingenious title, The Dark Knight Rises is everything fans of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy could have hoped for. It is every bit as satisfying as the finales for other film series in recent times, such as Return of the King and Harry Potter 7. For me, it is right up there with The Dark Knight, The Avengers and the first Ironman as the best superhero movie of all-time. It is without a doubt the most EPIC.

The Dark Knight Rises takes place 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight (which is fair enough when you consider that Batman Begins was released in 2005). Batman has not appeared inGotham city since he took the fall for the death of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in order to preserve the former district attorney’s pristine legacy, and Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse. But as Selina Kyle (Catwoman) says, “a storm is coming”, and we all know it won’t be long beforeWayne is forced to don his famous black suit once more. But will it be enough? (And trust me, this film will make you question it).

Christopher Nolan clearly went all out for The Dark Knight Rises. After the success of The Dark Knight, expectations sky-rocketed and the pressure was on to deliver in the concluding chapter. So Nolan and his brother Jonathan upped the ante on everything:

  • An intricate and ambitious plot that links all three films together and is loaded with back stories, emotional confrontations and twists and turns.
  • An enormous cast of characters, some old and some new, and many of whom have substantial roles and screen time.
  • One of the most physically imposing villains ever in Bane.
  • Fight scenes and battle sequences so mammoth in scale and intensity that it dwarfs anything and everything that has been done in the series.
  • Even the running time of 165 minutes sets a new record (Batman Begins was 140 minutes; The Dark Knight was 152 minutes).

So does bigger and longer necessarily mean better? Not always, but in this case the sheer epic-ness of the film certainly goes a long way in making up for its miscues. On the whole, The Dark Knight is probably still the most “complete” film of the series, but when placed in context, The Dark Knight Rises is arguably the most satisfying.

In my humble opinion, and I know it’s probably an unpopular one, Tom Hardy’s Bane is every bit as worthy of a villain as Heath Ledger’s Joker. For starters, Hardy’s physical transformation was astounding. It’s crazy to think that this was the same guy that I recently saw in This Means War. Even his physique in Warrior did not come close. The Joker was a mad dog, a psychopath, a switchblade that can cut you up in a lot of ways; Bane, by contrast, is calm, calculated, and a brutal physical specimen capable of tossing Batman around like a ragged doll. He’s a nuclear warhead.

The spectacular first scenes of the film introducing us to Bane set the tone so perfectly. It’s one of the most exciting sequences of the entire trilogy and reminded me a lot of the best Nolan’s Inception had to offer.

There are two other Inception cast members to make the jump to Gotham city. Marion Cotillard plays the lovely Miranda Tate, an executive of the Wayne Enterprises board who becomes the key to saving the company. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of my favourite actors and one of Hollywood’s most versatile (I mean, come on, Brick, 500 Days of Summer, Hesher and now this?), plays passionate young cop John Blake. He is the standout of the film, along with….

Anne Hathaway, who really surprised me as Selina Kyle, the master thief better known as Catwoman. I’ve always been a bit on the fence with Hathaway and felt she was a little overrated as an actress, but man, she nailed this one. Not just physically – the performance itself was brilliant, providing a much-needed exuberance and vitality to an otherwise intensely “dark” film.

The rest of the returning cast was also stellar. I can’t believe I haven’t even mentioned Christian Bale yet. There’s isn’t much to say except that he’ll likely go down in history as the best Batman ever. Not bad for a guy who has also been Patrick Bateman, John Connor, Dicky Eklund and The Machinist.

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman; plus a few cameos from the big names from the two earlier films (sadly, of course, except Heath Ledger) – that is a ridiculous cast, and it amazes me that it never felt like they would overshadow or be a distraction to the film.

The only obvious weak links in the cast are two dudes I ordinarily love: Matthew Modine’s deputy police chief, who was responsible for much of the film’s clunky dialogue and lack of subtlety (I still love him; I mean, come on: Full Metal Jacket, Birdy, Married to the Mob, Memphis Belle, Pacific Heights), and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn, who was somewhat awkward and over-the-top as Wayne’s corrupt business rival.

I have a few other relatively minor complaints. After watching The Dark Knight Rises I went back and rewatched the first two films in the trilogy, and realized that they employed a lot more humour – something that was sorely missing in The Dark Knight Rises. The other thing I noticed was that Batman had more cool gadgets and made better use of his utility belt in the earlier films – in this one all the attention was on the Batplane.

If you really want to get picky, I suppose there were parts in the second act that felt plodding, but the same probably could be said for all three films in the series. All is forgotten by the time the epic third act rolls around in any case.

By the way, many of the plot points don’t make a whole lot of sense if you really think about it. But hey, this is a superhero movie about a guy dressed up as a bat, so suspension of disbelief should have been a prerequisite. And I’m sick of people trying to read into and getting caught up in the film’s supposed political and societal messages – why can’t people just enjoy a Batman movie for what it is? Please, no more September 11 analogies.

The Dark Knight Rises is far from perfect, but it’s one of those films where I just went, “stuff this, I just want to enjoy it.” Strictly speaking, it’s probably not a 5-star film, but what the heck.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t seen the movie yet, but if you have, check out this awesome featurette.

Farewell, Smallville!

May 17, 2011 in Entertainment, Misc, Reviews, Shows

The Season 10 Poster

The other night I watched the series finale of Smallville, a show I stubbornly kept watching deep into its 9th and penultimate season despite steeply declining quality.  But eventually it got so bad that I was falling asleep and realising that I was wasting my time.  So I stopped watching it altogether, even though I knew I had to come back to watch the final episode — the episode where Clark Kent finally takes off to the air and becomes Superman.

Amazingly, despite having missed around 25-30 episodes, it wasn’t all that hard to pick up again.  Clark and Lois were engaged and about to get married.  Oliver Queen, aka the Green Arrow, was still around (I seriously thought Justin Hartley, the actor who played him, would have gone off to bigger and better things ages ago), as was Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack), Clark’s friend right from the first episode.  The final bad guy, I gathered, was this smokey fella called Darkseid (pronounced ‘Dark Side’) with red eyes that can control/possess people, and the ultimate crisis was a massive armageddon-inducing planet (Apokolips) on a collison course with Earth.

Those returning for the final bang included Annette O’Toole and John Schneider as Clark’s parents, even though the latter has been dead for like 5 seasons.  And of course two of my favourite characters from the show over the years, the villains, Lex and Lionel Luther (played by Michael Rosenbaum and John Glover).  The quality of the series really nosedived when these two went MIA, and it was great to finally get them back.

Curiously missing, however, were Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk — boy has she disappeared since the series…well, she was in that Chun Li Streetfighter movie…) and Clark’s old best friend Pete Ross (Sam Jones III, who has since gone on to become a porn star and is currently facing up to 20 years prison for dealing drugs).

I can still remember the first time I watched Smallville on TV, which began in October 2001.  Even though I wasn’t a Superman fanatic I still had to watch it.  After all, how could anyone not like Superman?  Tom Welling was still a fresh-faced 24 year-old playing a teenager and the show was set in high school, with your typical Superman mythology arc spliced with your ‘monster of the week’ (or Chloe Sullivan’s ‘Wall of Weird’) episodes.

The original Season 1 Poster

The series was fresh and it was exciting.  For some reason this Clark Kent was more of a bumbling fool and tool rather than the highly intelligent Man of Steel we have come to know, and Tom Welling did an excellent job of an often thankless role.  Michael Rosenbaum was the real star of the show for me as the confused, destined to be evil Lex Luthor, and with the outstanding John Glover as his father Lionel it was easy to picture his eventual transformation.

The soundtrack was also always very good, featuring a collection of popular hits and trendy up-and-comers.

But as with all long-running series (apparently Smallville is the longest-running sci-fi show in US history), there comes a time when the writers run out of ideas.  For me the show still retained a certain level of quality when Kristin Kreuk departed because Erica Durance made a wonderful substitute as Lois Lane, but unfortunately they could not make up for the losses of Rosenbaum and Glover.  Even with clever ideas such as introducing the Green Arrow and having arcs involving members of the Justice League, things quickly started to get stale.

Personally, the show hit rock bottom when they started the film rip-offs (from about the 8th season onward), taking ideas from feature films such as Saw (even with a masks and puppets, I think) and getting really lazy and predictable with the progression of each episode (always ending with Clark coming to save the day).

And when the show started to dig really really deep into the Superman mythology vault for the complicated, convoluted stories in its final two seasons, that’s when I really switched off.

That said, on the whole, Smallville is still a fantastic series with a finale that didn’t disappoint like I thought it would. It was more of a ‘personal discovery’ episode that tied up all the emotional loose ends as opposed to an action-packed one, but that was perfectly fine with me.  I was amazed to see how much everyone had aged throughout the years from the various flashback sequences.  Clark Kent really did grow up into Superman.

From day one, the show was all about its finale, and I don’t think anyone expected that to be 10 years away from the pilot episode.  When Clark donned THE suit (I believe borrowed from Brandon Routh) and rocketed up in the sky at last, as we knew he would, he finally fulfilled a 10-year prophecy.  Watching it sent tingles up and down my arms.

Farewell, Smallville!

PS: Now we await the new Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel movie (and Christopher Nolan produced) with Henry Cavill (the guy from The Tudors and who Stephenie Meyer originally wanted as Edward Cullen) as Superman, due for release in December 2012.

Henry Cavill is the new Superman

Thoughts on the 2011 Oscars

March 1, 2011 in Entertainment, Misc

The winning actors!

I’m was pretty excited about the Oscars this year (because I’m a huge movie buff), but let’s face it, it’s usually long, boring and extremely predictable (particularly in the major categories) — thus ultimately disappointing.  Last night’s ceremony was no different.

Allow me to throw some random thoughts out there.  Let me just be clear — no matter how much I bash the Oscars, I still enjoy it and I’ll still watch it every year.

The Opening

The opening sequence is usually the most entertaining part of the night, and things usually go downhill from there.  This year they put the hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, into clips of almost all of the Best Picture nominees (via an Inception-esque dream invasion courtesy of Mr Alec Baldwin and a tribute to Back to the Future), and the result was pretty hilarious.  Obviously it’s never as good as Billy Crystal’s ones from back in the day, or even as good as some of the MTV Movie Award ones, but it was good enough.

I couldn’t find any good quality clips but this is the best I could do.

The Hosts

Neither Hathaway or Franco were particularly outstanding (both were safe choices that appealed to younger audiences) — but I’m going to go out on a limb here and against the current — I liked Franco better!

Yes, the Franco that looked and acted like he was stoned the entire night and churned out his lines like he didn’t give a crap!

To me, Hathaway was chirpy and lively but she tried too hard.  I don’t know why, but there was just something about her that didn’t feel genuine.

On the other hand, Franco was just chilled out and mellow, almost like he was bored and thought the whole self-congratulatory ceremony was a big ego trip and a waste of his time.  For some reason it worked for me.

And how great was Franco’s grandma and Marky Mark?

The Outfits

I’m no fashion guru, but all the Aussie fashion experts I’ve been hearing on the radio here are proclaiming that Cate Blanchett’s outfit was the best of the night.  I thought it was the worst.  Judge for yourself.

There are lots of beautiful people in Hollywood, so to me, the high marks on this night should go to those who elevate themselves beyond how they normally look.  Sure, Halle Berry looked very nice in her dress last night, but she looks great all the time, so what’s the big deal?

So for me, the most impressive looks of the night came from young Hailee Steinfeld and Jennifer Lawrence.  Both looked so ugly/average in their respective award-nominated films but were stunning on the red carpet.  See below.

Hailee Steinfeld

Jennifer Lawrence

Kirk Douglass

Funny but for all the wrong reasons.

Corey Haim

Speaking of the in memoriam section of the show, where the heck was Corey Haim?  Come on.  That’s even a bigger snub than Christopher Nolan not getting nominated for Best Director for Inception.

The Musical Montage

Probably inspired by the Antoine Dodson Bed Intruder song — pretty good, especially the Twilight bit.  See both below.

The Awards and the Winners

The full list of winners is here.

I’ve already said this, but I’m disappointed The Social Network didn’t get Best Picture.  I knew Inception (the real Best Picture) didn’t have a chance and it was a two horse race, so I was rooting for the Facebook movie to take out the top gong despite The King’s Speech having all the momentum going in.

When Tom Hooper took out the Best Director, I knew it was all over.  Darn it.  Mark my word — The Social Network and Inception will both be better remembered than The King’s Speech years down the track.

As for the rest of the winners?  Glad Aaron Sorkin won.  Glad Christian Bale won (though any of the other nominees would be a deserving winner).  Melissa Leo was/is crazy and probably had the worst acceptance speech of the night, but nevertheless a deserving winner.  I am now desperate to see Inside Job and In a Better World (and I’ll be see a screening of Biutiful later this week).  Good to see Inception win the technical awards but I can’t believe Wolfman won for best make-up.  That’s my winner’s rant.

Final Thoughts

A fairly ‘meh’ year at the Oscars, though the nominated films were excellent and a step above last year’s.  Doubt we’ll see Hathaway and Franco host again.  Who will they get next year?  I have no idea, but whoever it is, it’ll be interesting.

My 2011 Oscar Predictions: Who Should Win and Who Will

January 28, 2011 in Entertainment, Movie Reviews

Source: Oscars.com

Well, the nominations for the 2011 Academy Awards are finally out, and as usual, there were few surprises.  Overall, I think 2011 was a pretty solid year for cinema, with some standout films, unique films, classic films and groundbreaking films.  Of course, there were some duds too, but apart from the massive overkill of pointless 3D films, I’d say it was a good year for cinemagoers.

As per the last couple of years, it’s time for me to predict the winners!  Here goes.

To read on click on ‘more…’

Read the rest of this entry →

 
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