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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Killer Joe (2012) - review

In an attempt to get their hands on some life insurance money it is time to kill mom.  A good old fashioned family film.  As a dark comedy it fails to deliver many laughs, is quite violent and will really make it tough to eat KFC again (if you ever did.)  

McConaughey transforms, keeping this from being a bust.  The rest of the cast delivers solid performances as well.  I am going to guess more people will talk away scratching their heads and annoyed than will enjoy it.  It is not only dark, it also oddly paced and at times just plain uncomfortable. 

If you are in the mood for something dark and different, give a try, but don't tell me I didn't warn you.   6 out of 10

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Man of Steel (2013) - Review

Let me get one thing straight before you read further, I am a big Superman fan.  I am not a Superman historian.  I know some of the lore, but I certainly do not know it all.  So please, be understanding if I do not quite get every reference or connection to Superman's history.  If you want to discuss this a higher more comprehensive level, please do in the comments.  I would love to hear what you have to say. 

Once upon a time there was a special boy that was sent to earth from far away to protect, to inspire.  A boy with super powers.  A boy that would grow into an man that would be treated like a god by the people of Earth.  A super man.  Okay, enough about me let's just get to the film review.  But, before I do I think it is important to revisit the last few years of Superman on the big screen.

As revealed in my review, I am one of the few people that left Superman Returns excited about a followup film.  As weeks, months and years passed waiting for an official sequel announcement I realized it would never come.  Surprisingly, it turned out $200 million gross does not guarantee a sequel these days.  I came to terms that after a long, torturous $250 million return to the big screen there was a chance we would not see a new Superman film for years to come.  Lucky for me and the other fans of the man in the red and blue tights, the film climate changed.  Superheroes remained hot, very hot.  Even after the lukewarm reception to Supey's last film, Warner Bros. had to bring the man in blue tights back to the big screen to capitalize on the box office trends.  Knowing that this would be the second attempt too reboot the franchise since the Christopher Reeve days, the consensus was they could not afford to get it "wrong" again this time... besides the Superman name at stake, so was the potential for the long rumored Justice League (DC's answer to Marvel's The Avengers.)  This film HAD to be done right, Warner Bros could not fail us, they would not fail us.  Then they announced whom would direct the film, one of, if not the most integral part of creating a great film.  And the director is... Zack Snyder.  Awesome!  The same director that brought us classics like The Watchmen and Sucker Punch.  Oh crap!  That Zack Snyder?  Come on Warner Bros you failed us.  We're screwed.

Fast forward about four years, the trailers for Man of Steel started to be released and much to my surprise, they looked awesome.  Maybe this had something to do with the involvement of Christopher Nolan (of the Dark Night films) serving as a Executive Producer.  Is there a chance this film had a chance to not only be good, but to be great?  Do we have a new classic on our hands?

Fast forward another six months and there I am on opening weekend, approaching the theater about to see the first Supey film in seven years.  Dressed in my blue Superman emblem shirt, I was about to return to the theater to see my favorite childhood superhero, the one, the only Superman!  I knew going in that they were not just relaunching the film franchise, this film was going to take some liberties to give Superman more of an edge, a better fit for current trends in superhero films.  That did not bother me too much, as long as it was a Superman film I would be satisfied.  Many people find Superman boring and old fashioned and if he needs a tune up to make him relevant in the new age of superhero films, I would rather compromise than have him bundled up in moth balls and put in storage.  With that in mind, I sat down in my usual fourth row center seat and prepared for the return of the Man of Steel.

As I expected the film does not open with the beloved John Williams theme - fine, I am coming in with an open mind, it is time for a new edgier Man of Steel.  To be fair,when we hear Hans Zimmer's new theme it is well done, dramatic, grown up and loud.  The film starts on Krypton, it is delivered to us in a way it never has been before, it is straight out of a sci-fi novel, with flying beasts, outlandish architecture and flying vehicles - it has a style that would feel at home in the Star Wars universe, pretty impressive.  We quickly learn that all is not fine and dandy, there are problems with Krypton.  The planet is self destructing due to an unstable core and there is little that can be done to save it.  General Zod, played by the amazing Michael Shannon, is hell bent on assuring the pure Kyrptonian race finds a way to prosper.  Jor-El (Russell Crowe) has other plans in mind.  He plans to secretly launch a rocket containing his son, Kal-El, the first natural born child of Krypton, along with the genetic codex of the Krytonian race to a planet where he can grow and prosper, one where he would be like a God, earth.  After a confrontation between the two, Zod and his crew are arrested for previous crimes and sent to the Phantom Zone as punishment for a very long time.  That punishment is cut short as the planet explodes setting them all free of their captive state. 

The entire sequence set on Krypton is quite impressive.  It no longer feels like a quick prologue to kick the story off, it actually felt like a integral part of the character's story.  The battle for the future of the Kryptonian race makes Kal-El much more significant than the outcast turned hero he is typically portrayed as.  Once on earth Kal-El is found by a couple in Kansas that raise him like their own, the Kents (played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) call him Clark.  In a series of scenes delivered in nonlinear fashion we learn about Kal-El's days growing up in Smallville as well as Clark as a young man, searching for a place to fit in - going from place to place, forced to leave once he felt he was beginning to stand out (similar in feel to the old 1980's Hulk TV show.)    His father reinforces to Clark that he is different and must keep his true identity a secret because people will not know how to deal with a being from another planet.  Once he does reveal his identity to a snoop of a reporter, the (oddly) red-headed Lois Lane (Amy Adams) it does not take long before things start to really fall apart for the Man of Steel, both the character and the film.  A short time later he is located by Zod and Co. and his identity is revealed to the people of Earth.

I will not get into further details about the plot, the good moments are better to experience on your own, the bad are too monotonous to describe over and over again.  Essentially the last of the film becomes a mind-numbing display of generic blockbuster special effects that NEARLY cause the film, like Krypton, to self-destruct.  Overall it does not, but the film that seemed on the path to greatness quickly takes a wrong turn.  Watching all the potential for a great film head into mediocrity can be tougher to handle than an all out failure.  Man of Steel does so much right up front it almost felt like Christopher Nolan saw the first half and walked out of the editing room and said to Zack Snyder, "you take it from here."  What we get is a disappointment.  A wonderful setup followed by a loud, violent mess.

The fight scenes are an all out display of what crazy amount of destruction can be put on display when you have amazing CGI artists and an huge budget.  The scale and intensity is extremely overwhelming (imagine two super beings destroying entire blocks of a city by throwing each other into skycrapers... now imagine that about a dozen times over.)  There are no moments for the audience to catch their breath.  Lacking are the moments when Superman changes his focus of pummeling Zod to do something simple such as saving a group of citizens from a flying object.  The film needed at least one scene, similar to (or a straight copy of) the "Superman Returns" airplane scenes - it is one of my all time favorite superhero scenes and is not only exciting, it also connects Superman to the people of Earth.  The action here is so frequent and consistently over the top (I think someone told then to turn it up to eleven) that you cannot relate to it... it is destruction for destruction's sake.   The amazing thing with all the fighting, devastation and carnage - I am not sure if these two beings (Zod and Superman) are even hurting each other, making the barrage of crashing, crushing and visual mayhem more unnecessary.

I wanted to yell at the screen, "We get it!  Move on!"  The point was proven, Zod and Superman are incredibly powerful and nearly incapable of being injured - about 10 minutes of that action would have been sufficient to get that across.  When Superman saves the day, you are supposed to want to get up and cheer - not sit back completely indifferent.  This indifference is especially a huge issue when it supplants character development.  These action scenes are so generic that if you were not notified going into the film that it was going to be a Superman film you may mistake it for any generic superhero/sci-fi blockbuster - worse yet a Transformers film.  The audience is hopelessly held hostage to action sequences that won't quit when all you are hoping for are some smaller quieter moments.  Although my words may have lead you to believe the biggest flaw is the numbing action sequences that take up a good portion of the film, it is not.  It is the lack of heart, the lack of emotional investment that closes the film.  The film went larger and it needed to go smaller.  What worked - the family scenes, the diner scene, the conversations, Clark questioning who he was and who he is supposed to be - they abandon it all.  The film hits the gas and never applies the brakes making it difficult to connect with the characters.  It is a Superman film with little heart and lacking of the Superman magic. 

As mentioned before the focus on action prevented a then necessary character development.  For that reason we get a bad ass, yet kind of boring Zod.  Michael Shannon acts the hell out of it, too bad it is a one note character.  Amy Adams does a great Amy Adams, her Lois Lane needs work, or at least something to do.  Luckily for her she is following up the worst Lois Lane of all-time, Kate Bosworth so a mannequin would have been an improvement.  This is a strong cast, it is the material that fails them.  Two characters walk away unscathed Superman's two fathers, Russell Crowe his Kryptonian dad and Kevin Kostner his dad on Earth.  Besides Superman, they were my favorite characters in the film, I could have used thirty minutes more of the two of them.  Not only were their stories interesting, they also added weight to the inner struggle of Superman, background story delivered not just for the sake of delivering background - it added validity to the origin story.  At the core this is a story of a super being with two fathers and the decisions he must make on how he will live his life - to keep his powers hidden and fit in with other Earth people or use his powers to be good and be the god he can be.  Interesting stuff.  Once that is abandoned the film suffers.

As for Superman himself, Henry Cavill, not only does he look the part, but he plays it well.  He adds some vulnerability to Clark that was barely explored in the previous renditions.  My question is, if the sequel does bring back some of the Clark Kent charm will he be able to nail that as well?  As for the rest of the cast, most of them are nearly invisible, they are so under-developed that you forget about them the minute they are off screen.  Even worse, when they are on screen you may question who they are or why you care that they are in peril.  One oddly extended sequence puts a character in harms way, until they said her name again I honestly had no clue who she was... I still never cared.

Even with all the issues with the films that were previously discussed, there is one that trumps them all.  If this was corrected it would definitely sway my opinion of the film as a whole.  The problem is  the lack of memorable moments.  Somehow with all the time and effort put into making the film they forgot about creating memories, they forgot about making sure it was fun.  The potential is there for bigger, funnier, more powerful or more emotional scenes - emotions that if nailed would have provided us with those "moments" that you talk about and remember for years to come, moments you can't wait to experience again.  The Avengers was full of them.  Man of Steel struggled to deliver any.  It is not for a lack of opportunities to create them - the chances were there but time after time they were botched.  It as if the minute Clark put on that suit the film lost the ability to be interesting.   An example of a flubbed "moment" is one that could possibly have been one of the film's best scenes - the first reveal of the famous blue and red suit.  MINOR SPOILER ALERT - This is how it goes down in the current film - Jor-El opens a door and explains Kal-El what the suit is all ab out.  Yaaawwwn.  Excuse me.  Where's the music, the buildup the powerful revelation of the suit that transforms Kal-El/Clark Kent into The Man of Steel?   This is the defining moment - a destiny chosen.   If ever there was a moment where the old John Williams Superman theme would have been perfect, that was it.  Instead of delivering the audience a chills-all-over-your-body moment we get a rather flat scene.  How in the world do you mess that up?   I wanted a Superman moment.  Instead I was given a scene that will be talked about for...never.  This is just one example, there are plenty more.  The film has been out for a couple weekends, notice that you don't have anyone talking about the cool scene, that movie moment that you just have to talk about.  There is a reason no one is talking about it, it is missing from the film. FAIL.

Besides the flubbed suit reveal there were numerous elements that were not well thought out, (for the sake of not revealing any spoilers I will keep it vague.)   The most obvious was the aforementioned fighting - the scale of these fights are so big that they were destroying cities, where do you go from there - bigger was not the answer.  Perhaps going head to head against a more cerebral villain in a smaller scale, fight - where the violence had some impact on the character, leading to an engaged audience.   There is also an important moment in the film when the secret to defeating the villain is revealed to a central character.  This knowledge will help turn the tides of the battle and give Superman the edge.  I waited patiently for them to explain what the mysterious insight to overpowering Zod would be.  It had to be something big, a throw back to the old days of Superman lore - something when revealed would get us on our feet clapping and hollering.   Turns out, I was wrong - it was not really that big of a deal, a complete letdown.  Then there was the the (controversial) climax.  Once again, kind of stupid.   As for the ethics of Superman, feel free to discuss that in the comments section.

Where do you go from here?  Man of Steel looked destined to sail, instead it failed.  It provided a new take on a hero that needed a little bit of a makeover, but while providing something new they stripped him of all the classic elements for old fans alike to cling onto.   I understand, they went for the darker more realistic interpretation, answering the question, what would happen if a Superman really existed.  That does not justify stripping down the seventy plus year old hero of all the traits we know and love.  The re-imagining went too far to satisfied the interests of one director's vision.  Change made for the sake of change.  What it does right, it does exceptionally well.   What it does wrong, it does exceptionally poorly.  As a film, it is flawed.  It was like a Superman film without a real Superman.

6 out of 10

Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini Dead at the Age of 51

To honor the career of James Gandolfini who suddenly passed away yesterday I have posted the top 10 episodes of The Sopranos from Time magazine's list.  Gandolfini's performance as Tony Soprano was an integral part of the show's success and helped usher in a new era of television, arguably the best time for quality television ever.  He will be missed.  If you have a favorite episode not found on the list, please add it to the comments.

1. College


(Season One)
This gemlike season one episode captured the parallels, and the tension, between the family and Family parts of Tony's life. He goes to New England on a college tour with daughter Meadow, whose denial about what he really does for a living he encourages. ("There is no Mafia!") After he spots a former wiseguy gone into witness protection, he decides to work a little business into the family getaway by tracking down the rat and killing him, with his bare hands. "College" cemented fans' affection and repulsion for Tony, letting us see him as a caring father and an unforgivable monster at the same time. And bonus points for the B-plot in which Carmela nearly cheats on Tony—with a priest. Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
(Directed by Allen Coulter; written by Jim Manos, Jr. and David Chase)

2. Pine Barrens

It's wrong, in a way, to include this most un-Sopranos-like of Sopranos episodes; in a series that unfolds like a novel, "Pine Barrens" is a distinctly self-contained short story. Paulie Walnuts and Christopher go to make a routine collection, from a Russian named Valery, which goes awry, ending with the Russian in the trunk of Paulie's car. When they try to dispose of his body in the snowy Jersey woods, they find he's still alive—and as a former commando, far better off in the Siberian conditions than they are. The pursuit turns into a brilliant comedy of violence and bonding moment. The episode (directed by later guest Steve Buscemi) has taken on a life of its own among fans, to the possible annoyance of the show's writers, who have said repeatedly: The Russian is not coming back people—get over it! Dosvedanya, Valery.
(Directed by Steve Buscemi; teleplay by Terence Winter, story by Tim Van Patten & Terence Winter

3. The Sopranos Pilot

The series became subtler in its themes after the pilot, but the episode that started it all does a fine job establishing the show's premise, themes and cinematic look. After having a panic talk—brought on by job stress, but more so by the demands of family and his toxic mother Livia—the mob boss begins seeing a therapist on the down-low. Grousing to Dr. Melfi in his first sessions, Tony lays out the generational complaints that will inform the whole series and make the mobster's problems universal: that he can't balance his family and work lives, that he feels he's come of age after the best times of his business have past and that men have abandoned the "Gary Cooper" standard of strong silence (a model Tony's not able to live up to anyway). The show's richest days are ahead, but The Sopranos starts off with a bang.
(Written and directed by David Chase)

4. Whitecaps

(Season Four)

In The Sopranos' most searing fight, no one dies, or even draws blood. And while the series has featured bludgeoning, rape and dismembering, I'm not sure if any scene has been more uncomfortable for viewers to sit through than the showdown that leads to Tony and Carmela's separation, after one of Tony's goomars calls and taunts Carm on the phone. It is a pitch-perfect rendering of one of those long-simmering meltdowns in which a couple hurls every grenade in their marital arsenal of grievances, and Edie Falco proves her Emmy-worthiness in a performance that's brave, fearful and just the right amount unhinged.
(Directed by John Patterson; written by Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess and David Chase)

5. Employee of the Month

(Season Three)

Dr. Melfi is the closest thing The Sopranos has to a narrator: the probing, if not all-knowing, voice that walks Tony through his blood-slicked psyche. She's also a stand-in for the viewer, since she's Tony's main confidant outside the mob world. Which is why it was all the more horrible to see her brutally raped in a parking garage, and then to see her assailant let go on a technicality. Seeing her shed her professional calm and break down was anguishing; but seeing her wrestle with—and reject—the revenge fantasy of having Tony mete out justice was inspiring. When Tony asked the shaken doctor if anything was wrong and she answered—after a pause—with a resolute "No," she made us confront the parts of ourselves that so badly wanted her to say "Yes."
(Directed by John Patterson; written by Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess)

6. Join the Club

(Season Six)

There are Sopranos fans who hate David Chase's dream-sequence episodes. I'm not one of them. Although "coma-sequence" episode would probably be more appropriate here. Shot in the gut by Uncle Junior (during a senior moment), a comatose Tony lives out a parallel life in his mind. In this world, he's a heating-systems salesman, whose ID has been switched with someone named "Kevin Finnerty" on a business trip. This alterna-Tony has no New Jersey accent. He's faithful to his wife. And when he gets blown off by the hotel staff or hassled by Buddhist monks, it never occurs to him to head-butt them. The fantasy sequence (which continues into the "Mayham" episode) inverts our image of Tony, showing him, on the borderline of life and death, meek, stranded, friendless and unable to find his way home.
(Directed by David Nutter; written by David Chase)

7. Whoever Did This

(Season Four)

First of all, severed head in a bowling bag: that gets you into the top ten off the bat. But this episode stands out not so much for the shock of Ralph Cifaretto's murder (and disposal) as for what it says about Tony. Ralph's son is badly injured in a bow-and-arrow accident; meanwhile, a stable fire kills Tony's beloved racehorse Pie-Oh-My. When Tony accuses Ralph of setting the fire for insurance money, Ralph make a denial that sounds like an admission ("It's an animal!"). They fight; it gets out of control; Ralph ends up dead. But what's most chilling is what Tony says just before killing Ralph—that Pie-Oh-My never did anything to hurt anyone—which is almost exactly what Ralph said earlier about his son. Tony doesn't just kill Ralph, he sends him out of the world equating his innocent child's life with Tony's horse's, which pretty much sums up Tony's moral universe.
(Directed by Tim Van Patten; written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess)

8. Long Term Parking

(Season Five)

This season-five episode not only contains possibly the series' funniest line ("We're in a f___ing stagmire," by the malaproping Little Carmine Lupertazzi) but its most pitiful whacking. Christopher's fiance Adriana, pressured into informing for the Feds, is trapped between ratting on the Family and spending years in prison and makes a desperate try to escape by persuading Christopher to run away with her. Chris wavers, chooses Tony over his woman, and one long drive with Silvio and a short crawl through the leaves later, Ade is snuffed out. In her last season, Drea De Matteo takes a big-haired, gum-snapping character that always verged on parody and makes her a fully empathetic person, exploited by both sides, wanting nothing more than love and a family—OK, and the occasional expensive gift—and getting two bullets put in her for it.
(Directed by Tim Van Patten; written by Terence Winter)

9. Funhouse

(Season Two)

Season two wasn't The Sopranos' finest, but the finale searingly ended Vincent Pastore's storyline as Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, Tony's good friend, captain and rat. Tortured by suspicion of Pussy, Tony has a dream in which he sees his friend, who will soon sleep with the fishes, as literally a fish on ice. The whole season has been an acting showcase for Pastore as the conflicted, trapped Pussy (recall his anguished breakdown in Tony's bathroom in "D-Girl"), but as Tony takes Pussy out for one last boat ride, James Gandolfini also shows how he can take his character from anger to sorrow to self-pity to brutal resignation with one well-inflected squint of Tony's piggy eyes. It's Tony's toughest hit and one he, and we, will never quite get over.
(Directed by John Patterson; written by David Chase and Todd A. Kessler)

10. Where's Johnny

(Season Five)

Most top-ten lists are really a top-nine list, and an eleven-way tie for tenth. There are probably a good dozen episodes that could fill out this final slot, but there needs to be at least one place on this list for an ordinary Sopranos episode, with no big whackings or stunts, that just moves the plot another three yards downfield. (In a way, a list of best episodes is antithetical to the novel-like Sopranos—do you have a top-ten list of Dickens chapters?) This episode from early in season five advances several storylines, including the succession battle in the New York Mafia and cousin Tony B.'s doomed attempt to go straight by becoming a masseur. Meanwhile, Uncle Junior has started repeating a taunt at Tony's high-school sports abilities: "He never had the makings of a varsity athlete." As Junior is picked up by the police wandering Newark, looking for his dead brother, it's clear that the insult is just one more marble leaking from his head. But it's small comfort to Tony, who asks, hurt, "Why's it got to be something mean? Why can't you repeat something good?... Don't you love me?" Junior's words hurt Tony as badly as the slug he pumps into him a season later: in The Sopranos, the cruelest hits can come at the Sunday dinner table.
(Directed by John Patterson; written by Michael Caleo)

(Top Ten episodes chosen by TIME's television critic James Poniewozik)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) - Review

After waiting for five years that felt like forever, we were finally delivered the Spider-man reboot we all deserved - a completely original vision - a daring, new approach to the super hero lore that not only breathed new life into the web-slinger, that makes it essential viewing for comic book and film fans alike... at least that is what I would have liked to have said.  Instead, I can say this... Spider-man, Spider-man does whatever a previous Spider-man can.

This Spider-Man film returns with a new cast, a new villain, a slightly lighter tone, but not much else to differentiate it from the Tobey MaGuire films.  Replacing MaGuire behind the mask is James Garfield as Spidey, Emma Stone plays his love interest and Rhys Ifans the villain.   The plot is serviceable if not a routine superhero story.   I would expand on it if you had not seen it before - boy meets girl, boy meets scientific genius, boy bit by radioactive spider, boy's loved one dies, city attacked by evil villain, boy becomes Spider-Man, saves the day.  For the sake of all those that were excited to see this, I wish there was something to say here that would help differentiate this film from the past entries, but there was nothing in the film that stood out.  It was a carbon copy.  The biggest change was that in overall tone - it was lighter with more touches comedy mixed in, including an almost cartoonish subway scene.  While all other superhero franchises are finding their inner Christopher Nolan, Spidey seems to be looking for the inner John Hughes.

I often come across as a hater - don't get me wrong though - I don't hate this film.  It just filled me with a feeling of bewildered disappointment.  If I had not said so already, it is unnecessary and for that reason, the fact they did not make it relevant is a disappointment.  Watching it made me feel like I was hosting a party and told everyone what item to bring to contribute.  One guest arrives with brownies, as requested, (yeah!) a real crowd-pleaser.  Then a second person, even after you told them that brownies were already taken, shows up with a tray of... brownies (boo!)  Although brownies are always good, it is difficult to appreciate the second tray of brownies when not long before a superior tray arrived.   Sony, if you are going to bring that second tray of brownies to my party they better be pretty damn good brownies, something unique.  I need a reason for that reboot of my already acceptable brownies (think brownies with chocolate chips and M&Ms.)

With that said, let me move on to a few more specifics about this film instead of the studio flubs.  When I can put the memories of Spider-Man films past behind me, there were plenty of elements of the film that were quite adequate, even some terrific moments.  My favorite scene gives a peak into what it is like being a teenager with such amazing powers - it takes place in the school and has Peter taking on the school bully.  It not only allows for a little escapism for those of us that may have been teased during high school (a blog is usually a good tip off to that) it also exemplifies the famous line, "with great power comes great responsibility."  You are routing for Peter to kick some bully butt, at the same time you know this is an unfair fight and wrong to be taking place.  The few moments like that is when TAS shines.  

Some other observations:
  • I enjoyed the homage to the Superman/Lois Lane flight.
  • Sure this is a superhero film and suspension of disbelief is needed, that does not mean you can be lazy with the writing.  Too many moments based on chance, unprofitably lucky breaks.  When you start questioning a film that you are already willing to tolerate the illogical and improbable something is wrong.  In other words, this film often felt like bullsh*t.
  • The lack of any type of shock by people that witness Spidey without his mask is in a word, shocking.  It is not as if this film takes place in a universe where superhero sightings were a common occurrence, so why when he reveals who is behind the mask the response is underwhelming?  Some characters would have had a bigger reaction to winning a free cup of coffee at McDonald's than they do to a kid they know having freakish superhero powers.
  • There is scene in a subway that has a near cartoonish feel to it.  Although I kind of liked it, it stood out from the rest of the film.  If they approached the rest of the film with the same attitude it surely would have been a unique film.
  • Garfield is wonderful as Spidey.  I would have preferred that Sony would have just pretended that Spider-Man 3 never occurred and used this as a replacement to continue the original trilogy.  Garfield is good enough to fill the suit, the tone is similar enough and we would not have to sit through another origin story.  The problem probably lies in the fact that Spidey 3 had tossed so much on the screen (Venom, Green Goblin, The Sandman) that it would be tough to redirect the story to a place that made any sense.

As I said, there are plenty of moments that are fun to watch, but this IS a reboot.  And, as a reboot it has a responsibility to deliver a breath of fresh air to the franchise.  Instead they played it safe, delivered a breath of recycled air.

6 out of 10

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Superman Returns - Retro Review (2006)

As a young lad I remember watching Superman with my father in the living room of my family home. Immediately after watching Superman drop Lex Luthor and Otis off at the Federal prison and then fly off into the atmosphere I was so enthralled with the adventure I had just witness that I sat down at their dining room table and started drawing a picture of Superman. This weekend I got to enjoy the wonder of one of the greatest superheroes around after a long twenty year absence (not including the crappy television incarnations) and not long after I ran to my dining room table here in Astoria and started to, not draw a picture, but write this review. The good news is there is still a lot of magic flying to the silver screen with this installment of the Man of Steel.

I will do my best to not reveal any spoilers, but for the sake of the review a few minor ones will be revealed - if you plan on seeing this movie soon read my review later, but if you are on the fence read away and see if I sway you one way or the other.

Let me start with the story, Superman leaves to investigate findings of his former plan Krypton and this film picks up as he returns to earth. When he arrives things have changed Lois is dating someone and has a kid, Lex Luthor is out of jail on a technicality and the world for the most part has forgotten about Superman. Superman attempts to work his way back into Lois' life, his old job and into the hearts of the people of the world. Of course, with his exit from prison Lex has a plan to get revenge on Superman and regain some of his clout a an evil mastermind at the same time.

The story for the most part is interesting and contains some great action sequences, but suffers from a poorly paced final third. Some of the early scenes are top notch, edge of your seat stuff, but then there is a drop off in the intensity and when the film loses it's momentum and becomes a little too soft for its own good it. Some of this softer Superman is one of the reasons the film is not a dud - Superman is no longer only flawed by his susceptibility to kryptonite, he also has more of a human heart than in previous films, feeling alone in the universe as the only survivor of his home planet and missing the companionship of his old flame Lois. Adding some emotional complexity to Superman makes this more than a guy film, but also more inviting for the female audience - I must admit there were a few scenes I thought were kind of touching - FAG! For the sake of the film there needed to be one less emotional scene and have it replaced by another encounter between Superman and Lex - who as is share very little screen time.

Back to the storyline, as I mentioned the film's rising action comes to a halt and never reaches the same levels for the last third of the film. This may be due to a couple flaws in the planning for the film there are two things that I feel that could have been addressed if the film was to really fly - the inclusion of too many characters and subplots, the Luthor master plan weaknesses. The inclusion of a few characters and sequences that could have been cut including Lois's boyfriend, the flashbacks to Superman's beginnings on the Smallville farm and others would have allowed for more important items to be covered properly. For a film about a guy who has been gone for six year, there is little explanation of his disappearance; he left to check out the remain of his home planet, but what did he do after that - take a super nap? Another poorly addressed story element is Lex's plan, it is lacking in logic and is light on the menacing factor that make great evil materplans so effective. Not only is the plan confusing, but it also seems like it may just be a poorly planned flop (perhaps the years in prison made Lex a little rusty.) I am hoping they insert a couple lines (at least) for the DVD release to better explain how Lex's actions are expected to payoff . To be fair, there is one line toward the end of the film that may give a little insight, but it is far to late and not prevalent enough to factor in. As a result the climax of the film does not pack the super punch needed to put this film over the top. The lack of urgency makes Superman's heroic actions unnecessary and everything that follows have the feeling that he did not look before he leaped. This film really needs on last great scene to tie it up properly -m this can be discussed in the comments section.

The acting has its ups and downs. Starting with the most important the new Superman, Brandon Routh, the guy looks uncannily like Christopher Reeve and even captures a few of his mannerisms. Routh does more than hold his own even though his lines are limited; a fine choice, much better than the latest TV Superman incarnations on Smallville and Lois and Clark. Lois Lane, played by Kate Bosworth, on the other hand is miscast and loses the spunky, mischievousness that defines her character. I do not think it as much the fault of the performance as it is the limiting writing, but Lois is known for being in the wrong place at the wrong time by choice, this time around she barely bends the rules. She and Superman are much younger than the 80's versions of Superman, making it a little strange how Lois is now mid-20's Lois Lane is a seasoned reporter who look barely old enought to be an intern. Oscar winner Kevin Spacey's take on Lex Luthor is great, but needs more time in the spot light, not quite as good as Gene Hackman (if you have not watched Superman 1&2 lately check them out for his hammy performance alone), but still one of the better balanced villains on film. One of my favorite actresses (not the best, but a fave) Parker Posey does a great job as Lex's sidekick Kitty Kowolski - a nice Polish girl with a great delivery. In the "meh: department are the new Jimmy Olson and the Perry White, neither were terrible, but they could have been better. Now here are the two characters that I feel take up too much screen time and inevitably creating pacing problems that may have been preventable. The two duds are Rich, Lois' boyfriend played by James Madsen and her son. Madsen is an actor that gets by on his looks, he is wooden and boring. The son on the other hand should have been cast as SCARED KID #4 instead of Lois' son, his entire acting repertoire consists of staring blankly at he camera. I do not blame the kid for this, but there is one time in the film he could have delivered a easy, but effective laugh and the director/writers dropped the ball when the response that could have been a good laugh is said literally about a minute too late - I need to get to Hollywood and save them.

On the technical side, the film is beautiful possessing some top notch cinematography allowing the digital effects not to take over each shot. More filmmakers need to focusing on making beautiful films not just cool effects. The film is at times also very loud and will be a welcome addition to any home featuring a surround sound system with a subwoofer. I saw this film twice, once in a standard theater and once in an IMAX theater in 3d - save your time and the money, the 3D is great for some scenes, but for others it makes it tough to decipher what you are viewing - not to mention only to my estimates about 1/5 of the film is in 3D. See it the standard way, no not downloading it I mean see it in a theater, then if you want see it in 3D.

The film succeeds as a continuation of the first two films in part due to director Bryan Singer's (Usual Suspects, X-Men 2) homage to the original films - go back and watch the DVDs after seeing this in the film and watch for the similarities. Hopefully, he will have the opportunity to make a sequel in the next few years. I am going to give it a perhaps mildly inflated 4 stars, because as that great John Williams theme blares over a dedication and the end credits I stood and waited until the very last frame and then left, went home, put on my Superman Underoos and jumped off my apartment roof... it has been three days and I am still humming the theme.

7.5 Stars out of 10

- written June 2006

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug - Trailer

For those of you that made it through the first part of The Hobbit, here is the trailer for part two. I, personally, did not mind the first chapter and if I every finish another review I may tell you how much I like it. Until then, the trailer.