Man of Steel: It’s not a Metaphor unless it’s the size of Mount Rushmore

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What is this thing you call, “subtle?”

 

In 1978 we were told that we’d believe a man can fly and Richard Donner not only delivered on that promise, but re-created a legend on the silver screen. It’s thirty-five years later and the only thing Zack Snyder makes us ask is, “Why?” Man of Steel is a joyless, obnoxious, and painfully artless mess that has no redeeming features at all.

The opening act takes place on a Krypton that looks like Liberace threw up and created a planet, which is still dying but also is embroiled in a civil war about how to save it. On the one side you have General Zod, played by the normally excellent (if ranine) Michael Shannon, who rants about racial purity and absolute power and, on the other,super-scientist Jor-El (Crowe murders another accent) who wants to save everyone through his son. Needless to say, Jor-El dies, his son is fired off to Earth, Zod and his gang loses and are sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone. This is where things go silly: they’re ferried off in what can only be described as penis pods. Sure, the Phantom Zone is daft enough, but Space Cocks?

Not the cock ship. Anything but the cock ship.
Not the cock ship. Anything but the cock ship.

 

Snyder must have been watching Paul Thomas Andersen movies all summer, because we then jump to pre-Superman Clark drifting about various dead-end jobs while he figures out who, what, and why he is, alternately saving some people and flashing back to a past that’s so much less than the original. With the help of a hidden Kryptonian ship, Crowe playing both Ghost Dad and the exposition fairy he becomes Superman in time for Zod to come back and threaten the Earth.

This is where any pretense of subtlety is thrown out the window: when Clark has a crisis and goes to talk to the local pastor about what he should do in the background is a stained glass window of Jesus the size of Mount Rushmore, because, you know, metaphor. Not to mention every time Supes takes off, he spreads his arms as if he’s on a crucifix. You can almost hear Snyder yelling, “Make the metaphor bigger or no-one will get it.”

"Really?  You think they'll get it now?"
“Really? You think they’ll get it now?”

 

Once he’s decided what to do, that’s the end of the movie really. What’s left is a ninety minute fight scene that’s louder than Michael Bay directing Brian Blessed in a thunderstorm and by the end I just wanted it to stop. Thank Clark I saw it in 2D – I imagine anyone coming out of the 3D screening will have migraines for weeks.

Where we once had Christopher Reeve’s easy charm matching Margo Kidder’s sassy Lois Lane, we now have abs, CGI, and Amy Adams playing a role that’s clearly beneath her. Gone are the villains with personality to be replaced by a monotonous Hitler analogue screaming nonsense about racial purity. In fact, everyone speaks in monotone soundbites and fortune cookies – I can only guess that it was so dull on set, they decided to have a William Shatner impersonation contest.

Zack Snyder doesn’t make movies; he makes moving storyboards which are all style and no feeling whatsoever and this is no exception. The only thing I left with was a profound sense of loss for Christopher Reeve. Time to toss in the Superman I Blu-ray and forget all about it.

Pass the tequila.
Pass the tequila.
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To the Graduating Class of “We Made It”

My experiences with violence in schools still echo throughout my life but standing to face the problem has helped me in immeasurable ways.

Shane Koyczan

To every Pork Chop, Dog, Cabbage, and Frog. To every Marshmallow, Spaz, Foureyes, Geek, Dweeb, and Nerd. To every Gimp, Fag, Swot, and Mole. To anyone who had the audacity to be different. It Gets Better.

 

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Jack Reacharound

Jack-Reacher-fosterJack Reacher is 6′ 5″ tall. Tom Cruise is 5′ 7″. Jack Reacher weighs between fifteen and eighteen stone. Tom Cruise weighs twelve. Jack Reacher has a 50-inch chest. Tom Cruise… okay so he’s built up, but certainly not fifty inches of unstoppable man machine. In fact Mr. Cruise might be more suited to play me (yes, fine, after he lets himself go for a year… what do you mean “a decade”?) than the drifter, ex-MP, force of nature, and Marty-Stu of seventeen books of increasingly ridiculousity.

In a two-hour buttock-number best summed-up by a Code of Conduct breaker, Jack Reacher is “someone what used to be an army police and now wants justice or something. I dunno.”  After an Iraq veteran is arrested for the murder of five innocents, his only plea is to “Get Jack Reacher” and, like the genie from Aladdin, albeit more magical, he appears to sort things out but, boy, does he take his time.

The movie struggles to decide whether it’s Day of the Jackal or Die Hard, and in the end becomes neither 1970s exploitation movie or high-octane blockbuster.  Instead what’s left is an ultimately lifeless paint-by-numbers piece that fails to stand out from dozens of similar cinematic male fantasies.

Mr “It Was Not A Significant Bullet” does well with limited material as the big bad, as does Oyelewo with a role with even fewer dimensions.  Rosamund Pike, however,  should have her Equity card ripped out of her one-note paws.

Height aside, the “Man With No Name” thing that is the very essence of Jack Reacher requires a level of charisma and menace that Cruise just doesn’t possess.  Ang reckons Meryl Streep, the tiger from Life of Pi, or even the Yellow M&M would have been better choices and who am I to argue?

The only truly memorable aspect of the film is Werner “Yes, I cooked and ate my own shoe; what of it?” Hertzog.  As the mysterious Prisoner, he managed to sound like a man who has stared long into the abyss and sent the abyss packing.

I’m an atheist, but if I’m wrong I’d like to think that whatever god will call us to account will have Hertzog’s voice:

There is only pain, and coldness, and fear…

…and Jack Reacher on an endless loop.

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Why does the sun go on shining?

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.
The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve just been to see a movie about the extinction of all life on this fragile ball of rock and it was the most uplifting two hours I’ve spent in a cinema this year. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, begins with the announcement that a seventy mile wide asteroid (with the sinister name of Matilda) is going to collide with the Earth in three weeks and follows Steve Carell and Keira Knightley’s road trip as they try to get back to their respective long-lost love and family.

Lorene Scafaria’s second movie feels like the pretty sister to von Trier’s Melancholia, with the end of the world acting as a backdrop to what really matters, Carell, Knightley and a mutt called Sorry‘s search for what they need to get through the rest of their – foreshortened – lives.

SaFftEotW is a much more heartfelt and touching piece of work than Scarfaria’s previous movie, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, mainly because Steve Carell can bring a sense of pathos and charm to any role; I suspect he could reprise the role of Hitler in a remake of the now infamous Downfall and we’ll all lie down like Sorry and have our tummies scratched.

On top of that, a great collection of the funniest women (Oh, Connie Britton you’ll always be my Mrs. Coach) and men in Hollywood turn up to add colour to a perfectly realised end of days, not least of which is President Bartlett himself, who in less than ten minutes screen time almost manages to steel the entire film. I think Ang is starting to worry that my admiration for Martin Sheen (and Carell) is turning into something about which we need to have a conversation.

Go see Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll question your sexuality, but you won’t be bored.

Excuse me while I call my Mam.

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God does not build in straight lines

In 1974, Dan O’Bannon produced a science fiction comedy about a transport ship which ran into trouble with a sentient bomb. Dark Star was a critical and financial flop so O’Bannon’s revenge was to invade the nightmares of a generation with the Ridley Scott helmed Alien. Thirty-three years, five movies, four forests worth of comic books, umpteen video games and toys later and Scott has returned to play in the Alien universe once again.

Owing more to Nigel Kneale and Erich Von Däniken than Agatha Christie, Prometheus is as sprawling and ambitious as Alien was claustrophobic and intimate, and feels like those old 1950’s hard scifi epics of yesteryear. Unfortunately, while it’s entertaining and visually stunning, the increased sense of scale belies a lack of depth in the story.

There are several plotlines, each of which could be a movie in its own right: the Dänikenesque Engineers, the search for God and subsequent meditations on the nature of faith, the political machinations of a multi-planetary corporation, the creepy alien that just wants to be a real boy. But because we only get to play in the universe for just over two hours nothing can be followed up in a truly satisfying manner.  Just like The Chronicles of Riddick – opening up a universe does not always mean the stories can justify it.

And while the performances were perfect (especially Fassbender’s David), the sets beautiful, the sense of creeping terror in keeping with the tone of the original Alien, Prometheus still feels like a synthesis of old ideas none of which really gel.

Unlike the movie’s namesake, Scott has failed to steal fire from the Gods, ultimately giving us a very stylish adventure which lacks substance.

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The Story of the Boy Who Lived

The older you get, the harder it is to buy presents for someone; birthdays and Christmas become less of a celebration and more of a tightrope walk between disappointment and frustration.  Philippe Petit has nothing on someone trying to get a gift that’s surprising and thoughtful, yet wanted.

Thank Dawkins Warner Bros. decided to turn Leavesden Studios into a dedicated museum to the Harry Potter movies.  At least this year, Ang’s birthday didn’t involve the words Frack, What and The.

Housed in two gigantic buildings, the Harry Potter Experience contains almost every piece of Harry Potter arcana that any fan might want to see, including a fully dressed Great Hall, Diagon Alley, and the scale model of Hogwarts used during filming.  The latter really has to be seen to be believed: fifty feet wide, the size of a very large room, and with two and a half thousand optic fibres inside, it took eighty-six artists a total of seventy-four man years to create.

Even more breathtaking, once you go outside you can stand in Privet Drive itself while looking at the Knight Bus and the cottage where the story began.  In a moment of marketing genius, Warner Bros. have allowed the taking of photographs, which means that most of the people will have their experience looking through an iPhone screen whilst screaming.

The Harry Potter Experience certainly is worth a visit even if you aren’t as foaming-at-the-mouth of a fan as Ang, though it’s likely to turn you into a confirmed agoraphobic as the sheer numbers of people passing through makes it feel like rush hour on the Central Line.  If you do go, steer clear of the butterbeer.

‘Course, I’m screwed for next year.

 

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Just Trust Joss

Cabin and Woods
Cabin and Woods (Photo credit: DCZwick)

Remember the last time you saw a movie without knowing anything about it?  No, me neither – it’s impossible to see anything these days without having been subjected to a six-month long campaign of press junkets, teasers, trailers, and even teasers for the trailers.  The Internet has turned the wait for a new movie, book, or television series to come out into a gauntlet of neck-bearded, socially maladroit, anonymous sources rushing to gain whatever kudos they think exist for leaking story details on to the internet so that by the time you finally smack your £10 down on the counter you know everything that will happen. And that’s just Ain’t it Cool News.

Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt (2011) ran an experiment which measured the enjoyment of undergrads who read short stories that were either spoiled or unspoiled.  They found that, if the student was spoiled before the story, there was no impact on their enjoyment at all.  So the scientists tell you there’s no reason to spend all your life on internet lock-down until you’ve read the latest Harry Potter, finished Lost, or seen Prometheus.  However, where Joss Whedon‘s long awaited postmodern horror, Cabin in the Woods, is concerned SCIENCE IS WRONG!

You owe it to yourself, your children, and their children’s children to go see this movie without knowing anything more than this: it’s about five college students (including Thor himself) who go off to the woods for a weekend to blow off steam, then BAD STUFF HAPPENS.  Then very good stuff happens.  Trust Joss, he’s given us Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and soon Avengers Assemble (a silly name in the UK to avoid audiences expecting Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee; as if they could fight crime at their age) so just go and be blown away by the best horror since…

…since…

…well, since ever.

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