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The power of flight means a lot to me.
Man of Steel is the movie that will do for Superman what Batman Begins did for Batman. This does not mean it’s perfect. Like with Batman Begins and due to their having the same writer, there are stretch-marks here and there that feel like the pangs of a mighty child whom suffered a difficult birth. Man of Steel is probably a much better film than Begins, however, if only because as a directorial effort it far surpasses the often clumsy Begins. The only reason I compare these movies is because it is the Dark Knight trilogy of Christopher Nolan’s that most directly informs the project. This ends up coming up more as a writing comparison, because of David Goyer, than anything else.
Zack Snyder is making movies at his peak right now and Man of Steel is the finest distillation of his tremendous, possibly unique strengths and sensibilities. He knows what kinds of things people want to see in a Superman movie and he was absolutely the right guy for this job. He understands instinctively how to shoot and score and direct in a way that keeps this movie both epic and grounded which seems to me like a very difficult balancing act. The purest joys of Man of Steel are derived from its cinema, not it’s story. For one thing, Man of Steel is a sensory slam dunk with constantly beautiful imagery accompanied by rousing, grandiose music. I said the same sort of things about Sucker Punch and probably about Watchmen but here is a creativity backed by serious resources and unhampered by the demands of adaptation or of authorial vision. Free from the responsibilities of writing the movie or slavish translating a beloved, singular story, Snyder is allowed to play in the sandbox like the visionary architect that he is.
All credit where it’s due, Goyer is consistently a writer whose work I struggle with liking. His pretentious, on the nose themes and speeches and indulgence in cheesy, pandering one-liners that induce cringes instead of the limp grins they’re going for. That said, Goyer frequently takes ideas and concepts from comics and makes them work on a very different kind of paper. He’s the guy who made Blade work (though he deep-sixed that franchise when he tried to direct it) and he’s likely who we have to thank for fucking ninjas in Begins and the best-written (let alone performed) Joker we’re ever likely to get. Man of Steel is not free from his irritating indulgences: they have been pared down making cringey shit few and far between but also resulting in that shit being even more noticeable and jarring than usual. I’ll get to specific examples later.
FROM THE DEPTHS OF SPACE COME SPOILERS. GO EASY, STAR-SAILOR. Read the rest of this entry »
Featuring all the 25-35 year old actor/comedians you love.
I have a weird relationship with comedies. The SNL-alumni stuff is usually hit or miss for me. I also don’t think Apatow really knows what he’s doing anymore. But Apatow’s heirs apparent are probably Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I have loved every movie they’ve written with the exception of The Green Hornet and their brand of comedy is one that really works for me. Part of this is the self-aware, tonally agile style of their movies. Part of it is Seth Rogen himself, as a lead actor in movies that frequently blend traditional broad comedy with occasional forays into other genres. The biggest part, though, is probably the themes that unite all their films. Every one of them is about friendship between men, running the gamut from the endearing and sweet (and homoerotic) to the kinds of drama men have (but is frequently unrepresented in TV and movies) and always, always hilarious. Every one of their movies has a warm, friendly core and an affable reality that grounds all the laughs in something that feels authentic, if not realistic.
This is what lets them get away with something like This is the End, which is a movie that probably shouldn’t work. Self-reference/parody is tricky to pull off with grace. It’s also one of the common measures taken by public figures who start to get stale or over-exposed. Rogen has experimented with roles that have been “against type” and probably will keep doing that. He probably doesn’t think of it in those terms and good for him if so. Here, however, he shows that he is totally aware of the potential tiredness of his “schtick” and the fickle nature of audiences who complain about a performer always seeming to come off as “the same guy” and yet line up to see it over and over. Rogen is not quite at the point where he hates us all (as Adam Sandler undoubtedly does), and This is the End suggests that he may never get there. Good, I say. I like the guy, I like his brand, and I never get tired of it.
In spite of its bottle-episode structure, This is the End functions well as a survival/apocalypse story even as it spends most of its energy on the character-derived comedy all these guys are so fucking gifted at. By the last twenty minutes, This is the End has morphed into an epic which is both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. You trust these guys to pull something like that off, but you’re still amazed when they do it. Read the rest of this entry »
Some stunning shots in this movie.
I expected a Shyamalanatastrophe with After Earth. Although the first, stunning trailer was very good, the more information that came out about this movie the more convinced I was that it would be fucking awful. I read all about how Will Smith came up with the idea and decided to make a multimedia empire around this detailed, ludicrous backstory. A 300 page “Bible” was written, comic book guys were brought on to make supplementary stuff, and the whole project ignored all the other attempts to do this that feel dismally flat (The Matrix, Southland Tales, etc). Honestly, I expect the same for After Earth. It won’t become some new Star Wars even with the considerable influence of Smith.
That said, the movie is not bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Maybe a bit slight, given that it tells a small scale story in a large scale world. Like YA books, it uses its big concepts more for backdrop and setting than for actual storytelling. The story is intimate, with only a few characters and some straightforward thematic work (which is resonant almost in spite of itself). People who are expecting bigger payoffs to the lore are going to come away disappointed. This is a movie that does world-building by implication more than exposition. As such, we aren’t told much that we don’t expressly need to know to follow the core story. The one exception is a long bit of lumpy exposition delivered in the drawling “space human” accent of Jaden Smith. Still, there’s a distinct likelihood that this is going to frustrate a lot of viewers. In many ways After Earth feels incomplete with many opportunities to show off concepts and details left to fall by the wayside. I assume the idea was to get away from conventional tropes and payoffs, but there’s a balance that this movie doesn’t quite get to.
What makes the movie good is that it’s fully in command of that smaller, core story. With the resonant themes, sense of scale, and a well designed world to play around in, Shyamalan and writing partner Gary Whitta take Smith’s story idea and do fine, unambitious work with it. There’s room in the world for humble, one-off stories that leverage an epic backstory for intimate storytelling. That said, don’t expect a legitimate science fiction movie out of After Earth. It’s a fantasy movie that happens to have neat technology, space ships, and aliens. It is not speculative or scientific in the least. Read the rest of this entry »
The word is family.
Something to get out of the way: this series has no naming convention, with each entry reinventing the titling to such a point that I’ll just refer to them with the word “Fast” and numerically by order of release. This will hopefully be a lot less confusing for everybody!
Every Fast and Furious movie echoes a specific movie. With the sixth entry of what has become one of the best original cinematic franchises out there, that movie is The Avengers. It turns out that it’s not only superhero movies that now exist in a post-Avengers world. One of the things I’ve always liked about the Fast series is that it’s been made by filmmakers who dearly love movies. Cohen, Singleton, and then the long (but now complete) run Justin Lin had all have that in common. Though not as much a love letter to The Avengers as the first one was to Point Break, the signs of Lin’s, and writer Chris Morgan’s, appreciation for the most recent blockbuster game-changer is a prevalent and noticeable ingredient in their superhero team-up movie.
We’ve watched all these characters, and the actors who play them, grow up with the franchise. Each Fast movie is, if not better, more self-assured than the last. The commitment to continuity and the themes of its ridiculous universe has always been a major strong suit for the series. It’s surprising every time, especially rewatching the whole shebang, at just how well this thing supports itself.
In Fast 6, everything that makes the series what it is has been dialed up to eleven. Lin is going out with a bang and here proven himself to be one of the highest potential action directors out there. For all that Fast 6 contains the familiar humor, themes of family and redemption, and ridiculous sense of its world, the place where this movie really outdoes itself is in the action. While this has always been an action series, Fast 6 is the first one that features not just one or two great or iconic moments but a dozen of them. Just as the heroics echo The Avengers, the action feels like Lin picking up elements he loves from other movies and floating them through the world of Fast. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but somehow the Bourne-style fisticuffs and Michael Mann gunfights (this is one of the rare movies with loud, realistic gun SFX) are less welded on and more breathed in. The confidence with which Lin includes these touches is breathtaking and makes you completely believe in the action, which in turn ripples through everything else in the movie no matter how ridiculous. Read the rest of this entry »
An appropriate image for taking things a bit darker.
It won’t win me any favors to say so, but The Wrath of Khan is an outrageously overrated movie. To dig the hole further, I put it in the same category of adorable geek over-praise as the animated Transformers movie and the Indiana Jones trilogy. I say all this not to provoke nerdrage (inevitable anyway) but to set up a point.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a ballsy half-remake of Khan and it works for me precisely because I don’t give a shit about Star Trek in any special sense. Being that I think Khan can only be considered a good movie if you only compare it to other Star Trek movies. Star Trek Into Darkness is a legitimately good movie. But you wouldn’t know it from the majority of nerdy critics. To them, Darkness commits two major sins: 1) it dares to play with the sacred Khan and 2) it is occasionally pretty stupid.
I really didn’t expect to like Into Darkness as much as I did. It’s got its problems, mostly the same writing problems as usual with this team of creatives, but it overcomes them without asking the audience for a bail-out. The only reason to get worked up over this movie is because you are the butthurt Trekkie that Abrams is baiting. I applaud the gumption it took to do what they did here, even if they do try to pad out the impact with fan-service references and acknowledgment of nostalgia. More than that, I applaud a fun, visually stunning science fiction movie that just happens to be Star Trek.
Probably needless to say but SPOILERS, guys. Though… the review title is itself a spoiler? Whatever. Read the rest of this entry »
Like a cat and a laser pointer.
The Great Gatsby is classic Baz Luhrman. Like most of his other films, it’s a big messy thing that sweeps you up in its ambition and only occasionally lets you drop. Mirroring the story of its enigmatic central character, the movie is big on imagination but small on coping with things not working out as planned. It’s impossible that this was intentional, but I feel like it’s an insightful observation to make about a resonant coincidence.
More than the book, Luhrmann’s Gatsby is a melodrama through and through. Occasionally this induces cringes as some scenes are just too maudlin (in some ways, the book is also an ode to maudlin) or too cheesy to withstand the instinctive rejection of melodrama in and of itself. The movie frequently overplays its hand, resulting in gimmickry that feels cheap rather than the ornate that it’s going for.
Instead of trying to derive some topical, modern-friendly message from what is essentially Rich White People Have Problems: The Movie, Gatsby commits utterly to the somewhat off-history context Luhrmann has crafted for it. This makes it essentially a fairy tale, and it follows through with the conventions until it all begins to fall apart and twist into a tragedy that is almost certainly Shakespeare-inspired. That goes for the book as well, but where the book is tidy and concise, the movie is bombastic and draped over the audience like a cigarette model with too-long legs.
Sometimes you just want her to move. Read the rest of this entry »
Which is really the hero?
I think Iron Man 3 is only slightly less ballsy than The Avengers. It’s another of Marvel’s growing crop of “they really fucking made this? they really fucking made this!” movies. This is not to say that it doesn’t have problems or that it’s going to be a crowd-pleaser the way The Avengers was. You really can’t fault Marvel for a lack of boldness, though. If nothing else Iron Man 3 is really trying (and I think succeeding) in shaking things up and turning expectations upside down. It also wants to be a serious psychological exploration of character and on this front, credit goes to the allowances given to Shane Black to really make this movie his.
A lot of peoples’ enjoyment of this movie is going to rest on whether or not they get its broader context. Even broader than that it’s a Marvel movie. Or a superhero movie, for that matter. It doesn’t always feel like one, after all.
Because this is a Shane Black movie through and through (Christmas setting, introspective voice-over, snappy dialogue, funny and realized henchmen, monologuing Bond villain, etc), it will definitely help calibrate the reception of its sprawling tone and loose arrangement of Jungian psychological metaphor if you know your Shane Black. Even people who only ever saw the seminal Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will feel something familiar about Iron Man 3 that goes beyond the inclusion of Robert Downey Jr.
Marvel knows we’re living in what I called the post-Avengers world. Both in the film, where things are somewhat darker and more personal (seems this is being extended to other Phase 2 films given Thor 2‘s trailer), and outside of it. They are not trying to emulate the gangbusters approach they (and Joss Whedon) took to The Avengers. Rather, this is about scaling things back and dealing with the aftermath of a world-shattering event. This just feels right. I don’t know how else you could describe it.
But lets get back to the movie.
SPOILERS ACTIVATE! Read the rest of this entry »
This is a ridiculous, misanthropic film.
Michael Bay is a well-known fan of the Coen brothers. He frequently casts Coen regulars (John Turturro and Frances McDormand for example) and sometimes seems to flirt with some of their human-hating dark humor from time to time. Even in kids’ movies like Transformers. In Pain & Gain, Bay returns to the world of R rated high saturation ridiculousness that he left behind for ten years to do progressively worse giant robot movies. This is the world where Bay belongs, however. This means that Pain & Gain is here to remind us what the guy can do with obnoxious, somehow nuanced, vulgarity when he feels like it. Read the rest of this entry »
Ryan Gosling doesn’t star in this movie, he haunts it.
I actually saw The Place Beyond the Pines before the last two movies I reviewed (Evil Dead and Oblivion) but it’s taken me a lot longer to conjure a review. This is partly because I wanted to like this one more than I did. It’s also because, whether it works for you or not, The Place Beyond the Pines is one you have to sit with for a while. It’s thematically dense and takes itself very seriously. It mostly succeeds in expressing its themes effectively and leaving the audience with the semi-melancholy feeling that pervades it. That said, the structure undermines the movie and it seems like they should have presented it for what it is rather than hiding its generational scope behind the promise of its leads doing impressive dramatic work, which they do.
Overall, The Place Beyond the Pines is hampered by the conceits that don’t work. On a deeper level, though, it’s a movie that should connect strongly on the strength of its essential theme: what sons inherit from their fathers, good and bad. I think that The Place Beyond the Pines is probably a more enjoyable experience if you know about the plot and a pretty major character death before actually seeing it. Without this knowledge, the feeling is that Pines is trying to be surprising and it ends up feeling frustrating instead. Because of this, I won’t caution you to avoid spoilers on this movie unless you are just fundamentally against them on principle. With this opening scrawl, I’ve respected that as usual but I will be including spoilers in the main text of the review. Read the rest of this entry »
Easily one of the more gorgeous science fiction films in recent memory.
Oblivion is best understood as an entry level movie. It’s being criticized heavily for its “thoughtless” borrowing from just about every classic science fiction film of the last fifty years, but I would submit that this borrowing is meant both as a love letter to the genre and as a way for imagery, ideas, and references to be introduced to a fresh audience of younger people without any sure experience of many of those classics. Some of the references are to movies that were chasing after the Big Speculative Ideas. Oblivion is happy to pin them up in its road-map of the science fiction genre, but is more blue collar in its thematic approach. It is far more self contained and clever in itself than interested in cosmic or grandiose questions or ideas.
I mean, it’s a movie with an ending sequence that blends imagery and concepts from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Independance Day… at the same time. This is far more awesome than it sounds.
Oblivion may seem shallow at first glance, but I think there’s a methodology behind it that I can support. Because of its lavish presentation and clever structuring of reveals and payoffs, it is not boring even if you have seen the movies that it so expansively tributes.