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 Runaways (2010)

July 3, 2010 in Movie Reviews

The Runaways is the best movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning since Twilight: New Moon!

I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of The Runaways, the revolutionary all-girl rock group from the 70s.  Nevertheless, this was a much anticipated screening for me because it featured Kristen Stewart NOT as Bella Swan, plus her Twilight co-star Dakota Fanning in her first “adult” role.

The Runaways tells the story of the two key members of the band, Joan Jett (Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Fanning), and how they were “discovered” by rock impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon from Revolutionary Road).  Together with three other girls, The Runaways became an international sensation.  For those who don’t know what happened to them, good for you.  It’s always better to watch a “based on a true story” movie without knowing how it ends.

I really wanted to like this film directed by Floria Sigsimondi, who also adapted the screenplay from Cherie Currie’s book “Neon Angel”.  However, it didn’t quite get there for me.  The Runaways is essentially a coming of age story about how a bunch of young girls fell into outrageous success, how fame seduced them, and how it eventually consumed their lives.  It’s a familiar rise-and-fall story that we’ve seen far too often, even if it is based on true events.  Accordingly, there was a predictable trajectory to the film that took some of the freshness out of it.

I was never bored during the 106-minute running time, but it did feel like a rather long movie where the pace sagged towards the back end of the film.

However, my two main problems with the film are more subjective than objective.

First, the hard rock music wasn’t my thing.  Those who enjoy this type of music will really get off on it, but it was just too loud for me!

Second, it was the kind of film that makes you feel like you need a shower after watching it.  It was just…loud, dirty and messy — which was most likely intentional and served a purpose, but it was uncomfortable to watch.  The main reason for this is probably Dakota Fanning, who gives an absolutely stunning performance as 15-year-old Cherie Currie.  But the problem is, even though I know she is growing up very quickly, she still looks like a 6-year-old to me.  And watching a little girl dress and dance so provocatively and do all sorts of nasty stuff just felt so wrong!

Kristen Stewart does a decent job as Joan Jett, who takes a bit more of a back seat to Currie despite having almost equal screen time.  However, it wasn’t a performance that showed much range beyond Bella Swan — it was still all angst and insecurity — the exact same thing she does in every other film I’ve seen her in thus far.

Ultimately, The Runaways is what I would describe as an “either way” movie.  I don’t regret watching it, but if I missed out on it it wouldn’t bother me either.  At least I can say I got to see Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning make out.  Having said all that, it’s still the best movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning since Twilight: New Moon (ie better than Eclipse…but just!).

3 out of 5 stars!

“The Runaways” commences in Australia on 15 July 2010

Predicting Oscars 09: who should win and who will

February 21, 2009 in Entertainment

oscarI’m excited.

The ceremony for the 81st Academy Awards is finally about to take place.  I’ve finally managed to see most of the nominated films for the major catgories that are available to me (see reviews here, here and here).  While I initially predicted the winners and losers when the nominations first came out (here and here), the landscape has changed a little and I feel that now, since I’ve seen most of the films, I can also comment on who deserves to win.

So for tomorrow night, here’s who should win and who will (only categories with films I’ve seen).  If there is an asterick (*) next to a nominee it means I have not seen that film (so my views do not include it).

Best Picture

slumdog-millionaire1Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: All great movies.  Based on my ratings and reviews of the films, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader scored the highest marks, but I would give the nod to Button.  I just thought it was such an unusual and memorable film.  Though not quite as good, it had a certain Forrest Gump-feel to it (probably because of the same writer).

Who will win: Slumdog Millionaire has been tipped all along and there won’t be anything standing in its way come Oscar night.  There is a teeny little chance for an improbable upset by Button (which had the most nominations) but I can’t see any of the scandals derailing what should be a glorious night for Slumdog.  Especially now that all the child actors are coming to the ceremony (albeit after the voting).

Best Director

boyleNominees: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) Gus Van Sant (Milk)

Who should win: A very difficult one to pick because I feel they all did terrific jobs in their respective films.  If I had to pick one I’d have to go with Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire was just that little bit more extraordinary than the others, and the way he pieced it all together was absolutely masterful.

Who will win: Danny Boyle.  No doubt about it.

Best Actor

rourkeNominees: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)*, Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Sean Penn (Milk), Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

Who should win: A coin-toss between Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke.  I saw The Wrestler first and thought Rourke was a lock based on his emotional, nuanced performance, not to mention his amazing physical resemblance to a real-life wrestler.  You felt his physical pain in the ring, you felt his emotional pain outside of it.  It was the performance of a lifetime.  But then I saw Milk and Sean Penn’s performance just blew me away.  Yes, he was playing a real-life character, but man did he do it well.  You honestly believed he was the inspirational Harvey Milk.  Too hard for me to choose.

Who will win: Mickey Rourke.  He’s the sentimental favourite and Penn has already got one (for Mystic River).  The only way Rourke can lose is if he really pissed off as many people in the industry as he claims (and judging from his BAFTA acceptance speech I can kind of see how it might be possible).

Best Actress

kate-winslet-golden-globes-2009-best-actressNominees: Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River)*, Meryl Streep (Doubt), Kate Winslet (The Reader)

Who should win: Really tough choice.  I think as far as the performance is concerned, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway are all very deserving (Jolie was very good but not quite there).  But based on the difficulty of the roles they had to play I would give Kate Winslet the edge.  Her character was so important to what The Reader was trying to tell and she played each phase of Hanna Schmitz’s life wonderfully.

Who will win: Kate Winslet.  It’s her time.  Streep is consistently this good so she won’t stand out as much, whereas Hathaway is young and she’ll have plenty of chances (plus her role is less sensational).

Best Supporting Actor

ledgerNominees: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)

Who should win: Heath Ledger.  As terrific as Hoffman was in Doubt and Shannon was in Revolutionary Road, Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight will forever be remembered as one of the great ones.  I still remember when he was first cast as the Joker and plenty of people scoffed at the idea that he could pull it off (even after Brokeback Mountain).  No one is denying that he was the right man for the role now.

Who will win: Heath Ledger.  All the major awards leading up to the Oscars indicate he will win.  I honestly believe he deserves it, even if he were still alive today – the performance was that mesmerizing.  The fact that he’s not around anymore just about locks it in.

Best Supporting Actress

cruzNominees: Amy Adams (Doubt), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Viola Davis (Doubt), Taraji P Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)

Who should win: The ones that stood out for me were Amy Adams and Taraji P Henson.  Marisa Tomei was wonderful in The Wrestler but I liked the other two more.  Viola Davis was barely in Doubt, though she made great use of her limited screen time.  Penelope Cruz was good but I didn’t think the performance was Oscar-worthy – or maybe I just didn’t like the character.

Who will win: Penelope Cruz.  In this case, I think the least deserving will win.  She’s the most well-known of the group and her role was different and explosive.  Plus all the focus has been on her leading up to the Oscars.  I hope she doesn’t win but I think she will.

Best Original Screenplay

in-brugesNominees: Frozen River*, Happy-Go-Lucky*, In Bruges, Milk, WALL-E

Who should win: Having only seen 3 of the 5 nominees, I don’t feel sufficiently equipped to judge this one.  Out of the 3 films I did see, they were all very good, but probably In Bruges stood out as just being somewhat special.

Who will win: In Bruges has taken a lot of the lead-up awards, but WALL-E is also a favourite because it manages to do so much with so little dialogue.  I’m going with In Bruges but won’t be surprised in WALL-E took it out.  Note I originally picked Milk, but that was before I saw most of the films.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: “Adapted” screenplay is thrown around a little loosely because some of the scripts I’m sure barely resemble the original source.  Nevertheless, I thought the adaptation of The Reader was sensational, dealing with the majority of the themes and events perfectly in Bernhard Schlink’s novel.

Who will win: Originally picked Doubt but after seeing the film I felt the adaptation could have been better.  I have a feeling this award will be lumped with the bunch of awards that Slumdog Millionaire will win on the night.

Cinematography

Nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: Another tough one.  I’m don’t have any technical specialty so this is based purely on what I thought looked best.  And using that criterion, I thought Changeling was particularly memorable, though Slumdog Millionaire’s eye-opening portrayal of Mumbai was also impressive.

Who will win: Slumdog to bag another one.

Editing

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: Another technical one, but I liked the work in Button, where editing was particularly important.

Who will win: This might be one of those sympathy awards given to Button, which, despite all its nominations, continues to be beaten by Slumdog.  I hope so because I think in this case it deserves the award.

Art Direction

benjamin-button1Nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess*, Revoluntionary Road

Who should win: I thought the Art Direction in Changeling was the best, though The Dark Knight was pretty cool too.

Who will win: A category where Slumdog was not nominated?  Chalk this one up to Button because when the two films go head to head, it’s going to lose out most times.

Makeup

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Who should win: No contest – the make-up in Button was just ridiculous.  Sure, Hellboy II was good, but we had seen it all in the first film.

Who will win: Button.  The make-up had to be seen to be believed – especially the old Cate Blanchett.

Visual Effects

buttonNominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man

Who should win: Another no contest in favour of Button.  As goods as the effects were in the two superhero films, the effects in Button were the best I’ve ever seen.  Freakishly amazing.

Who will win: See above.  Button all the way.  It cannot not win.

Costume Design

Nominees: Australia*, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess*, Milk, Revoluntionary Road

Who should win: Only seen 3 of the 5 films, so not qualified.  Though from what I’ve seen of the other 2, The Duchess looked great.

Who will win: The Duchess had won the earlier awards so I look for the trend to continue.

Music (Original Score)

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance*, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E

Who should win: To be honest I can’t really remember much of the music in any of the films – except the Bollywood music in Slumdog.

Who will win: Slumdog, just because it’s the favourite to win.

Music (Original Song)

slumdogNominees: Slumdog Millionaire (twice), WALL-E

Who should win: Slumdog – one of the songs was pretty good.

Who will win: Slumdog – it has a 2 in 3 chance anyway.

Sound

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E

Who should win: The sound in The Dark Knight stood out for me amongst the nominees.  It was probably the Batcycle.

Who will win: Slumdog.

Sound Editing

the-dark-knightNominees: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E, Wanted

Who should win: Now this I remember pretty well, and The Dark Knight was phenomenal.

Who will win: The Dark Knight.  I hope it gets this one – and Slumdog can’t just win them all.

Animated Film

walleNominees: Bolt*, Kung Fu Panda, WALL-E

Who should win: Not a big fan of animated films but WALL-E wasn’t too bad.  Kung Fu Panda was pretty ordinary and Bolt (which I haven’t seen) didn’t look too crash hot either.

Who will win: WALL-E – pretty much a lock. 

 
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