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CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT REVIEW: MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Another View by L.L. Soares

Posted in 2013, Based on Comic Book, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, DC Comics, LL Soares Reviews, Reboots, Remakes, Special Effects, Superheroes, Villains with tags , , , , , , on June 28, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: MAN OF STEEL (2013)
Review by L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: An outpost in the middle of the Arctic. A group of SCIENTISTS in heavy coats are looking down at a spaceship encased in ice, as workers use machines to melt and cut through the frozen surface. L.L. SOARES comes up from behind, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and drinking a Margarita.)

LS: What are you guys up to? Is this another remake of THE THING?

SCIENTIST 1: I have no idea what you are talking about. What is zis…thing?

LS: It’s a movie, Chop Top. About an alien shape-changing monster found in the ice in the Arctic. That’s why we’re here, right? (slurps drink loudly through straw)

SCIENTIST 2: We are here to welcome the last son of Krypton, Kal-El.

LS: Kal-El? Doesn’t Nicolas Cage have a son with that name? What, is he all grown up and dating a Kardashian now?

SCIENTIST 1: No, no. This has nothing to do with Nicolas Cage or monsters.

SCIENTIST 2: We are here to greet Superman.

LS: Superman? He’s back again?

SCIENTIST 2: Yes, and he will fight for truth, justice, and the American way.

LS: That’s nice. I was wondering when they were going to bring that overgrown Boy Scout back to the movies, considering all the success Batman has had lately. Y’know, I really didn’t mind SUPERMAN RETURNS  (2006). Brandon Routh was actually pretty decent in the role, but he got the short end of the stick. It should have been a hit.

SCIENTIST 1: Brandon Routh? How dare you mention his name here, in zis sacred place. (Points down at the ship frozen in the ice)

LS: Get over it, Doc. I bet nobody is even in there. You guys are standing around in the cold for nothing. Speaking of which, anyone got a spare jacket? I didn’t bring the right clothes for this trip. That’s what I get for asking Jimmy Buffet for travel tips.

SCIENTIST 2: So why are you here anyway? We did not invite you?

LS: I’m here for the ambiance, and to review the new movie MAN OF STEEL.

SCIENTIST 1: Yes, MAN OF STEEL. You mean zee Superman. So you are here for zee same reason as we.

LS: The Man of Steel and Superman are the same thing? Imagine that!

SCIENTIST 2: You have been joshing us all along. Busting our jaws, so to speak.

LS: Busting your jaws? Yeah, yeah, that’s it.

SCIENTIST 1: So go ahead, movie man, give us your review of zee MAN OF STEEL.

SCIENTIST 2: Yes, stop your joshing.

LS: Okay, okay. First off, I want to preface this by saying that my Cinema Knife Fight cohort, Michael Arruda, reviewed MAN OF STEEL when it first came out. You can read that review here. So this is kind of an afterthought. I saw the movie myself recently and figured I’d give my two cents.

SCIENTIST 2: Enough with the preface. What did you think of it?

LS: Well, I should first get around to a brief synopsis. MAN OF STEEL is the story of Kal-El, who would later go on to become known on Earth as Clark Kent…

SCIENTIST 1: And Superman!

LS: Yes, of course, Superman. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? But he has to get there first.

SCIENTIST 2: So his father Jor-El sends him here from the planet Krypton.

LS: Yeah, and I thought the way the movie handled Krypton was kind of interesting. Usually in these movies, it just looks like a futuristic version of Earth, with crystal buildings and stuff. However, in MAN OF STEEL, it actually looks like an alien planet, and a dying one at that. For once, we get to see some of the animal life on Krypton. And their machines and technology looks so weird. I liked this a lot. And everyone has these robots who are like CGI machines, constantly creating weird shapes and they seem to have a mind of their own, even as they serve their human-like masters. I just really liked the way the Krypton scenes looked. I wanted to spend more time there.

I originally had a hard time picturing Russell Crowe in the Marlon Brando role of Jor-El, but he’s actually pretty good here. He’s older and kind of stately now, and he fills in for Brando pretty well. I also really liked the Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Superman’s mother, Lara Lor-Van. They were both commanding and classy, and you could see them as the parents of someone as colossal as Superman.

SCIENTIST 1: Do not forget zee General Zod.

LS: How could I forget him? Michael Shannon plays General Zod, the head of Krypton’s military. He’s in the middle of a coup, trying to take things over from the decrepit leaders who rule the planet. The old guard have botched things and the planet is on the verge of dying, so Zod decides it would be better if he was in charge. Of course, Zod and Jor-El are friends from way back, but they disagree about how to handle the last days of Krypton, probably because Zod’s big plan to change things comes way too late in the game. He claims he wants to alter the future of Krypton, but, let’s face it, there is no future there. At least Jor-El and Lara have a plan to keep their race alive, involving shooting little Kal-El out into the universe shortly after he is born. A plan which, for some odd reason I didn’t understand, Zod is completely opposed to. He’s so opposed to it, he goes to great lengths to try to stop them, even to the point of killing poor Jor-El. But Lara beats him to the punch – or rather, the launch button.

It’s not long afterwards that Zod and his officers are arrested and tried for treason. So much for his big takeover attempt. Zod and his pals are shot up into space in some weird giant tooth ship that turns into a black hole, or something like that. The other dimension they’re sent to is called the Phantom Zone, by the way.

Meanwhile, little Kal-El shoots through space like a Kryptonian sperm looking for the big mother egg of Earth.

SCIENTIST 2: A vivid image.

SCIENTIST: Enough of zee sex talk. What about Kal-El. He gets found by zose farmers!

LS: Yes, the Kents. They find him after his ship crashes in Kansas and amazingly nobody tracks the ship down or knows anything about their intergalactic adoption, so they raise the little tyke to be their son. Of course, they realize early on that Clark isn’t like other boys. And Pa Kent teaches him to control his temper so he doesn’t get arrested for murder on a daily basis. When Clark saves a school bus full of kids that crashes into a river, there are witnesses, but they just chalk it up to an act of God.

Kevin Costner is actually pretty good as Jonathan Kent. You know, when he was younger and a big star, I didn’t care for him all that much, but now that he’s older and plays more character roles, I’ve grown to like him a lot. And he’s a perfect choice for Pa Kent. The great Diane Lane, who I always liked, plays Clark’s mother, Martha Kent. So we’ve got more good casting here.

So eventually, Clark grows up and decides to go out into the world. He becomes a kind of quiet loner, drifting around the earth, taking a variety of jobs from fisherman to bartender to construction worker, trying to figure out where he came from, and why he’s here on Earth. It’s in the Arctic that he finds an alien ship that is pretty much the Fortress of Solitude, and a hologram of his father pops up to explain everything.

SCIENTIST 1 (looks down): And zat is what is in zee frozen in the ice beneath us.

LS: I guess so. Boy, you think Russell Crowe is dead in the movie, and then he’s onscreen more after he’s dead than he was before. I almost got sick of seeing him. And he always shows up just at the right minute to help out.

SCIENTIST 2: What about the great Cavill?

LS: Henry Cavill? The guy who plays Superman?

SCIENTIST 1: Yes! Zee great Cavill.

LS: He’s not bad here. While I still think Brandon Routh got cheated by not getting to be in any sequels, I have to admit, Cavill’s pretty good. He plays the role completely different, though.

And this is a big part of why I liked the new movie so much. I have never been a Superman fan. I always thought he was too one-dimensional. Superman = Good. It’s all so black and white. There was never any dark side to him. You knew what you were getting, and you knew he would always do the right thing. And frankly, to me, that’s pretty damn boring. Not like Batman, who at least has enough darkness to him to make him a wee bit unpredictable.

In MAN OF STEEL, Superman is still a force for good. It’s not like he suddenly turned into an anti-hero. But the movie plays up the fact that he’s an alien from another world. That he doesn’t belong here. That, even though he grew up here and has been assimilated into this world (something that will come in real handy during his battles with Zod), there’s still a kind of “otherness” to him. And I liked that. It made him more interesting than the kind of character Christopher Reeve played him in the original SUPERMAN films. All good and golly gee. I liked Reeve, but I like Cavill’s Superman better. I like that there’s actually some mystery to him.

SCIENTIST 1: What about Lois Lane?

I liked Amy Adams a lot as Lois. She seemed more like a real reporter than in previous incarnations. But there is a vulnerability to her. Even though she’s in a job that can be dangerous, she never seems particularly tough. And if she acts like a damsel in distress when Zod and his minions come to Earth—well, any human would seem weak in the face of such super-powered beings.

SCIENTIST 2: And Zod?

Michael Shannon was the main reason I was excited about seeing this movie going in. I didn’t know much about Henry Cavill, but I’ve been a Shannon fan for years. He’s been pretty amazing in independent films for years, and stuff like William Friedkin’s BUG (2006) and he had a supporting role, but was a scene-stealer in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008). But his most impressive role so far has been as Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden in the HBO series BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Van Alden has gone from a do-gooder government agent to a much darker character who’s rather unpredictable, and capable of murder and violence. It has been fascinating seeing his character grow and change through the seasons of that show.

I actually liked Shannon in MAN OF STEEL, but I had a mixed reaction to his General Zod. Mainly because I still remember the great Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980). Stamp’s take on the character was more that of a sadistic soldier with a god complex, and he had a bit of a dark sense of humor. In comparison, Shannon plays the character completely humorless. This isn’t really a man who is pushing his own agenda and a lust for power. Shannon’s Zod is a zealot who believe he is doing the right thing. He was bred to be a warrior and to safeguard the Kryptonian race, and he takes this responsibility very seriously. I think I still like Stamp’s version of the character better, he was a hoot and you could cheer him on as a real bad guy. I’m not sure I like Shannon’s Zod as much, but the actor takes him into a completely different direction, and I can appreciate that.

I also really liked German actress Antje Traue as Zod’s “right hand” woman, Faora-Ul. She’s just as ruthless and formidable as Zod  is, and is a strong ally, instead of being just another faceless flunkie.

I also like that there was so much destruction in the movie during the battles between Superman and his Kryptonian enemies. These people have god-like powers, and would make as much of a mess as Godzilla if they fought it out in a major city. It was just nice to see some of the fall-out from that. By the time the fighting is over, Metropolis looks like a bomb hit it.

The script for MAN OF STEEL  is by David S. Goyer, the guy who gave us the BLADE movies and the really cool script for DARK CITY (1998), as well as Christopher Nolan’s excellent DARK KNIGHT trilogy. He’s a solid screenwriter and has become the go-to-guy for a lot of superhero stuff. And I liked what he did with Superman here. By the way, Goyer’s script for MAN OF STEEL is based on a storyline he wrote with Christopher Nolan.

The movie is directed by Zack Snyder, who has also done his share of comic book adaptations, like Frank Miller’s 300 and Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN. I thought he did a good job with MAN OF STEEL. I like the more science fiction focus of the film, since Superman is an alien being, and there would be repercussions about this—something that previous films completely ignored. He’s not just some super strong guy who fights crime, he’s proof that we’re not alone in the universe. And it was nice to see a movie finally address this.

While I like the script and the direction and the acting, there are flaws. I’m actually sick of seeing Superman’s origin story yet again, even if it’s used to give us a different perspective this time around. And the action scenes are pretty good, but, as usual, go on way too long. The movie is definitely longer than it needs to be, but that seems to be a common thing among blockbusters these days—there’s this idea that more is better. But, with tighter editing, and a more focused storyline, a little shorter film could actually be an improvement.

But my complaints are actually kind of minor. I think everyone involved tried to do something different with a character we’ve seen a hundred times before, and they succeeded in breathing new life into the concept. I’m still not a huge Superman fan, but I’m more of a fan than I was.

I give MAN OF STEEL, three knives.

SCIENTIST 1: Arruda only gave it two and a half knives.

LS: I know. I liked it more than he did. I would have given it even more knives if they had ditched the origin story and done something really daring. But, for what it is, it’s a solid, well-made superhero film.

I’ve got to go now. What is it you guys were waiting for again?

SCIENTIST 1: We are waiting for Superman to emerge from zee ship.

LS: The ship trapped down there in the ice? You guys are idiots. Nobody’s in there.

(LS suddenly leaps into the air and flies away)

SCIENTIST 2 (staring up into the sky): WTF?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives MAN OF STEEL ~three knives.

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Quick Cuts: Featuring SUPERMAN

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Comic Book, DC Comics, Quick Cuts, Reboots, Remakes, Sequels, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  SUPERMAN
Featuring Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Peter Dudar, and Daniel Keohane

man_of_steel_poster_by_hammond09-d5930z8MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the release of MAN OF STEEL (2013) this past weekend, tonight on QUICK CUTS we’re talking some Superman.  Joining L.L. Soares and myself on tonight’s panel are Peter Dudar and Daniel Keohane.

First question, gentlemen, who’s your favorite Superman?  George Reeves?  Christopher Reeve?  Brandon Routh?  Kirk Alyn?  Dean Cain?  Tom Welling

L.L. SOARES:  I guess my favorite Superman would have to be Christopher Reeve, only because I haven’t seen Henry Cavill yet.

ARRUDA:  Not a George Reeves fan?

SOARES: I really enjoyed the George Reeves SUPERMAN TV show as a kid. It was really campy, and if you watch the show now, it’s even funnier. The storylines made no sense at all.

George Reeves in the 1950s TV series THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

George Reeves in the 1950s TV series THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

DANIEL KEOHANE:  Oh, I still have such fond memories of the old George Reeves SUPERMAN television show.

SOARES:  Good for you!  What do you want, a medal?

KEOHANE:  I would run and leap in the air onto the couch making that flying shooshing sound to recreate the guy jumping out of the Daily Planet window.

SOARES:  What a goober!   I bet you still pretend to be Superman when no one’s looking.

KEOHANE (laughing):  No, it’s been a while since I leapt onto my couch trying to be Superman.  Although I used to struggle whenever I walked by a phone booth—.

ARRUDA:  Lucky for you, there aren’t too many of those left.  No one’s into Tom Welling?

KEOHANE:  I assume Welling is the new guy?

Tom Welling as a different kind of Superman on the TV show SMALLVILLE.

Tom Welling as a different kind of Superman on the TV show SMALLVILLE.

ARRUDA:  No.  He played Superman in SMALLVILLE.

SOARES:  I tried several times to get into SMALLVILLE, but it just didn’t grab me. I thought it was boring. And I didn’t care for Welling all that much.

ARRUDA:  I liked what I saw of SMALLVILLE, although I didn’t follow the show towards the end.

PETER DUDAR:  I remember being a kid and having my dad take me to see the 1978 Alexander Salkind/Richard Donner version of SUPERMAN.  Christopher Reeve was larger than life on the silver screen, both as the bumbling, mild mannered Clark Kent and as the confident bastion of non-religious righteousness that was Superman.

SOARES:  Confident bastion of non-religious righteousness?  What is this, a college lecture?

DUDAR:  If you can’t handle the big words, I’ll be happy to dummy it down for you.

SOARES:  Dummy this down.  (Raises his middle finger to his forehead.). Speaking of dummies, where’s Lil’ Stevie? I thought he was the brains of your outfit?

DUDAR: I was six years old at the time I saw SUPERMAN; an age far too young to grasp either dramatic acting performances or the criminal genius of Lex Luthor’s (Gene Hackman) sinister real-estate plans.  What I do remember was the man in the blue uniform and red cape who could fly and break through steel doors and somehow managed to make the earth turn backwards until time regressed and Lois Lane was saved from dying in the earthquake. 

Christopher Reeve as Superman

Christopher Reeve as Superman

ARRUDA:  I saw SUPERMAN at the movies too, though I was a bit older than you when I saw it.

SOARES: Same here.

ARRUDA: Christopher Reeve is my favorite Superman, as well.  Not only did he make a believable and likeable Superman, but he also was hilarious as Clark Kent. 

I’ve always thought that Reeve never received enough recognition for his role as Superman.  I remember back in the day critics were none to kind to Reeve.  It’s a shame that it took a horse riding accident which left him paralyzed and eventually killed him to really make people take a good hard look at his acting achievements.

I will say that I recently watched a bunch of episodes of the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV show, and I was really impressed with George Reeves’ performance as Superman. 

SOARES:  Sit down, Dan!  Don’t go leaping off your chair now!

KEOHANE: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s—.

ARRUDA:  The first season of the George Reeves show, in black and white, was the best.  It was far superior to the subsequent seasons in color, as these latter seasons were geared more for kids and were often silly.  The first season had some pretty cool episodes.

SOARES: Great Caesar’s Ghost!

ARRUDA (laughing):  That’s my favorite line from the series!  Good old Perry White. 

But I still prefer Christopher Reeve as Superman, and he gets my vote for being the best.

SOARES: I guess I was never a big enough Superman fan to really care. Reeve wins by default. I don’t think his Superman was all that amazing, but it’s probably the best we’ve had so far.

KEOHANE:  I thought Christopher Reeve was a good Superman too, but to be honest, I’m still traumatized by that first movie’s slow, terrifying death of Lois Lane, even if she did get saved by the Big Guy turning back time – though the car should have still fallen into the crack in the earth after he saved her. That mistake always pissed me off.

I have no idea who Kirk Alyn was – was he the original pre-Reeves guy?

Kirk Alyn played Superman in movie serials from 1948 and 1950.

Kirk Alyn played Superman in movie serials from 1948 and 1950.

ARRUDA: Yep.  He starred in two Superman serials, in 1948 and 1950, which predated the George Reeves TV show by a few years.  Alyn actually has a cameo in the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movie.  He’s in that brief scene on the train, where we see little Lois Lane with her parents, her dad played by Alyn, and her mom played by Noel Neill who played Lois Lane on the George Reeves TV show. 

SOARES: I actually think Brandon Routh was the most underrated Superman. I actually liked him a lot in the role, and didn’t mind his movie all that much, but it has been put down so much that he’ll never play the role again. But I liked him, and would have liked to see him in some sequels. He got robbed.

ARRUDA:  Yeah, I agree with you about Routh.  I didn’t like SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) all that much, but it wasn’t Routh’s fault. He was good in it.

Brandon Routh in SUPERMAN RETURNS

Brandon Routh in SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

KEOHANE:  I like the look of the guy in the new movie.  Superman with a beard is kind of cool.  How can he shave, though?

SOARES: Kryptonite Razors?

ARRUDA:  Good question!  I should have asked it for this panel.

Instead, our next question is:

What’s your favorite SUPERMAN movie?  Or TV show, if that’s your preference?

KEOHANE:  My favorite Superman movie is a tie between SUPERMAN III (1983) with Richard Pryor and SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987).

ARRUDA:  Are you nuts?

KEOHANE:  No, no— I’m just kidding.

I still twitch a little thinking of those, though SUPERMAN III had some cute parts in it.

SOARES:  Superhero movies shouldn’t be cute.

ARRUDA:  I’ll say.  Unless you’re talking about a kid’s story, cute is probably the last word you want to hear describing your work.  “I liked your movie.  It was— cute.”  Ugh!  But that being said, Dan is right.  SUPERMAN III does have a case of the cutes, and that’s one of the reasons it’s such bad movie.

KEOHANE:  All joking aside, I’d have to go with SUPERMAN II (1980) as my favorite Superman movie.  It had a lot of action and was the Superman franchise’s WRATH OF KHAN when you think about it.

ARRUDA:  Khan!!!  Or, in this case, Zod!!!

SOARES:  Okay, you two STAR TREK geeks, let’s get back to the subject at hand, Superman.

My favorite Superman movie is easily SUPERMAN II as well, with Terence Stamp as General Zod. And I totally agree that it’s like the WRATH OF KHAN in that it was the second film in a franchise, and the best of its given series. I thought the first SUPERMAN movie with Christopher Reeve was kind of boring for at least half its running time, as we got his origin again. This is one origin story that has been done to death. SUPERMAN II was a self-contained story, and was all the better for it. After the second one, the series went downhill fast. You can see just about the same exact arc with the 80s STAR TREK movies.

ARRUDA:   SUPERMAN II (1980) starring Christopher Reeve is my favorite Superman movie as well.

Terence Stamp as the first General Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980)

Terence Stamp as the first General Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980)

I’ve always enjoyed the climactic battle between Superman and General Zod and his two friends, although the special effects are clearly dated now.  I also enjoyed the back story of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, as in this movie Lois finally discovers that Superman and Clark Kent are one in the same.

SOARES:  It took her long enough! I thought she was supposed to be smart.

ARRUDA:  Yeah, those glasses of his aren’t much of a disguise, are they?

DUDAR:  If you guys are through discussing SUPERMAN II, I’d like to talk about the better Superman film, the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movie, which is my favorite.

(SOARES yawns)

I recall revisiting SUPERMAN every time it appeared on HBO, and then on network television, and then countless times more through syndicated cable stations.  With time and age, I found the few moments of the film that could be dismissed as cinematic cheese, like Ned Beatty’s Otis who played out as campy comic relief, but not to the detriment of the film, but as a whole, the film has stood the test of time as one of the great superhero films. 

ARRUDA:  I would agree with that.  There’s also something very cinematic about it, as it plays out on a grand, epic scale.

DUDAR:  Yes, and seeing it made you believe Reeve was really flying in some of those shots. 

SOARES: You thought he was really flying? You weren’t a very smart kid, were you?

I still say that at least half of the movie is a total snooze.

ARRUDA:  I’m glad you brought that up, Peter, as that was one of the taglines from the movie, “You’ll believe a man a can fly.”  That was a big part of SUPERMAN, the special effects that for its time were superior to any other “flying” effects before it.  Compared to MAN OF STEEL, which has CGI effects that are the same as every other movie with CGI effects, the 1978 SUPERMAN was much more cinematic, much more special.

MAN OF STEEL boasts effects that, while very good, aren’t anything we haven’t seen before.

DUDAR:  And Margot Kidder in SUPERMAN seemed to fit in fine as Lois Lane, the street-tough reporter that seemed to melt whenever Superman entered the room.

And let’s be honest…the fact that she couldn’t differentiate between Clark’s glasses and Superman’s never-moving curlicue made her all the more endearing.  What the hell kind of reporter is she? 

SOARES: A dumb one.

DUDAR: The SUPERMAN sequels went on a progressive downhill slide.  SUPERMAN II had the great Terrence Stamp as Zod who, along with his two cohorts, posed the greatest threat ever to Superman’s existence:  Three of them against one of him.  The odds alone are enough to create massive tension.

The film delivered terrific special effects and a storyline that was filled with drama based on the character arcs of Clark, who was ready to give up being Superman to follow his passion for Miss Lane; Lois, who finally embraces her inner bitch at the end and slugs one of the baddies right in the kisser; and Lex Luthor, the returning Hackman, who is willing to “kneel before Zod” in order to rid the world of Superman…talk about putting your pride in check!

This is a cool movie and worthy sequel, but it never captures the heart of the first film.

Henry Cavill as the new version of Superman in MAN OF STEEL.

Henry Cavill as the new version of Superman in MAN OF STEEL.

ARRUDA:  Perhaps, but it’s just so much damned fun that I’ve always liked it a wee bit more than the first SUPERMAN.

SOARES: Yeah,  SUPERMAN II is better than the first one because it has General Zod in it.

As for Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, wasn’t he like in every single Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movie?

ARRUDA:  He’s not in SUPERMAN III, but he’s in I, II, and IV.

SOARES:  Enough was enough! He wasn’t so great that we needed him involved in every plot. In fact, I thought he was second-rate compared to a villain like Zod.

Luthor was supposed to be the smartest man in the world (the big brain vs. Superman’s brawn), but I never once believed that about Hackman’s performance. He wasn’t so smart, he was more like a glorified Damon Runyon character. His version of Luthor was just so-so.

And what bugs me the most is that there were so many other villains from the comics who deserved screen time more than Hackman’s Luthor—like Brainiac or the Space Parasite, or later on, Doomsday. And Superman had some really absurd/surreal villains that would be terrific in a movie: Bizarro Superman—and all of Bizarro World—.and Mr. Mxyzptlk top my list of characters I would most like to see in a Superman movie.

ARRUDA:  I agree.  Bring on the other villains!

DUDAR:  The other sequels are instantly forgettable, other than noting that Richard Pryor appeared in SUPERMAN III.

SOARES:  That “cute” movie which Dan loves so much!

KEOHANE: No, no.

Before we move on from this question, I’d just like to give a special nod to George Reeves’ black and white TV show for the fond memories and his perfect Clark Kent.

SOARES: Didn’t we discuss George Reeves already? Why are we going back to him now?

KEOHANE:  Because I chose SUPERMAN II as my favorite Superman movie, but I want to give a nod to the George Reeves TV show, too.

ARRUDA:  Dan is right, though. George Reeves did make a great Clark Kent.  He wasn’t the bumbling comedic Kent portrayed by Christopher Reeve in the movies.  Reeves’ Kent is actually pretty heroic.

DUDAR:  I still prefer Christopher Reeve.  For me, Christopher Reeve will always be the real Man of Steel…though I am curious to check this summer’s next big blockbuster.

ARRUDA:  Tonight’s final question:

What’s your favorite scene from either a Superman movie or TV show?

I’ll answer this one first.  I’ve always liked the Niagara Falls sequence from SUPERMAN II.  Lois and Clark go up to Niagara Falls for an assignment, and it’s here that Lois discovers Clark’s true identity.  After a nifty rescue scene where Superman saves a little boy from falling into the falls, Lois deduces that Clark is never around when Superman is, and she also questions why  Superman just happens to be at Niagara Falls.  Is it just a coincidence that he’s there, or is it because Clark is there?

Later, to prove that Clark is Superman, Lois jumps into the water so Clark will turn into Superman and save her, but Clark doesn’t do this, and in one of the movie’s more comical scenes, attempts to rescue her on his own as Clark Kent.

And of course the sequence concludes when later that evening, Clark accidentally trips into a fireplace and doesn’t get burned, and at this point Lois has her proof.  Clark admits as much, that he is Superman, and they also admit their feelings for each other, in one of the film’s more touching moments.

SOARES:  How cute!

I have two favorite Superman scenes. The first one is also from SUPERMAN II, when General Zod says to Superman “Kneel before Zod.”  Finally a scene where a character is strong enough to make goodie-goodie Superman kneel!

The second one is not even in a Superman movie. It’s David Carradine’s speech about Superman in Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL VOLUME 2. In that movie, Carradine’s Bill gives a long (and wonderfully written) speech where he concludes that Superman thought human beings were simpering cowards, because in trying to fit in with them he took on the guise of Clark Kent, who he played up as a weakling to separate him from Superman. It’s a really terrific theory about how Superman’s alter ego revealed his negative perception of the human race.

KEOHANE:  My favorite scene isn’t from any of the movies or TV Shows, but from a rare comic book called Superman Versus Aliens. Supes battling the Xenomorphs from the ALIEN movies was just too cool.

DUDAR:  I don’t really have a favorite scene. 

But I will say that the soundtrack to SUPERMAN absolutely kicks ass! 

ARRUDA:  I’ve always enjoyed John Williams’ score as well.

DUDAR:  Whenever I’m accomplishing something manly or heroic, that’s the song that leaps into my brain.  When I hear it, I am unstoppable. 

SOARES:  So when you’re writing your novels you’re listening to Superman music?

DUDAR:  Of course!

ARRUDA:  To conclude, we have a special treat.  (Takes out an IPod and begins playing the SUPERMAN theme.)

DUDAR:  Time for me to go chop some wood.

KEOHANE (stands on his chair):  Up, up, and away! 

SOARES: If I have to choose a John Williams score that’s inspiring, I’d have to go with  his Imperial March from the STAR WARS films. It’s better than anything in a SUPERMAN soundtrack.

ARRUDA:  Well, folks, we’re out of time- thankfully!  Thanks for joining us everybody!  We’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, LL Soares, Daniel G. Keohane and Peter N. Dudar

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MAN OF STEEL (2013)By Michael Arruda

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, DC Comics, Michael Arruda Reviews, Reboots, Superheroes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MAN OF STEEL (2013)|
By Michael Arruda

Man-of-Steel-poster2-610x904(THE SCENE: A diner.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits at the counter sipping coffee talking to a group of patrons about MAN OF STEEL.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Well, at least Russell Crowe doesn’t sing!

Normally I’d be meeting my Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares to co-review today’s movie with him, but he’s off winning himself a Stoker Award, so it looks like I’m doing this one solo.

If you folks would like to listen, I’ll review today’s movie, MAN OF STEEL (2013) right now.

(To WAITRESS)  Everyone’s breakfast is on me.  (The group utters a collective “thank you.”)  Don’t mention it.  I’ll put it on L.L.’s tab.  (laughs.)

Anyway, MAN OF STEEL is the new reimagining of the Superman story by director Zach Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer, and producer Christopher Nolan, who also received story credit.

It begins where all Superman origin stories begin, on the planet Krypton.  It’s a familiar story by now.  Krypton is dying, and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is trying to convince his elders that they need to save the planet.  It’s a much more action-oriented opening than past Superman origin tales, as General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup to take over the land, and Jor-El, while a scientist, seems to have gone to the “kick-ass” school of science, as he’s quite adept at kicking butt when he needs to.

You already know what happens, as Jor-El and his wife send their infant son Kal-El to Earth before Krypton is destroyed, while Zod and his followers are arrested and sentenced to prison in deep space, thus sparing them from Krypton’s destruction.

The next time we see Kal-El, he’s already an adult, going by his Earth name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) having been found and adopted as an infant by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane).  Fortunately, the story jumps around and we learn about Clark’s childhood via flashback, and so we’re spared the time it would normally take to explain the traditional back story, which again, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know.

But even with the creative spin put on the story this time around, there’s still no getting past the fact  that the Superman tale has been told many many times, in the comics, in the movies, on TV, and even in cartoons.  Can’t we just throw Superman into a new adventure and skip the back story?

I recognize that in this case, the whole idea was to reimagine the story, to reboot the whole thing, and screenwriter David S. Goyer does deserve credit for telling this tale from a totally new perspective, but the bottom line is it’s not enough to overcome the fact that MAN OF STEEL has little or no depth when it comes to its characters and its plot.

There were parts of the screenplay that I really enjoyed.  Lois Lane (Amy Adams), for example, meets Clark before he even thinks about joining the Daily Planet.  She also learns right away that he possesses superhuman powers.  I also liked how the story utilized flashback. But one drawback to this style is the film never really establishes a sense of place.  We never get a feel for life on the Kent farm, which is fine by me, but we also never get a feel for life in Metropolis, which is less fine by me.  The story hops around all over the place, and it plays like a video game landscape.

Moving on to the characters, I enjoyed the General Zod character up to a point.  The story makes it clear what his mission is.  Right or wrong, he’s all about saving Krypton, and if it means destroying the human population of earth in the process, then so be it.  I also really enjoyed Michael Shannon in the role.  He makes a very cold General Zod.

(GENERAL ZOD approaches the counter)

ZOD:  Glad to hear I was so enjoyable.

MA: But on the flip side, Shannon’s Zod is no fun.  Compared to Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980), Shannon’s Zod is a bore with no personality.  This is a problem the film has as well.  It’s got no personality.  There’s no joy to it. It’s soulless.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

ZOD:  That I’m not glad to hear.  I shall have to destroy you now.

MA:  Can you at least wait until after the review? I really would like to finish this.  If you stay and listen, you might hear some more good things said about you.

ZOD:  Really?  Okay.

MA:  Where was I?  Oh, yes.  MAN OF STEEL has no camp, little humor, and ultimately it’s no fun.

ZOD:  I don’t know how to take that. Is that good or bad?

MA: Well, if you’re evil, that’s probably good.

ZOD:  Okay.

MA:  I know they were going for a darker film, but this style worked better in THE DARK KNIGHT movies because Batman tends to be a darker character than Superman.

Russell Crowe fares very well as Jor-El. In fact, in his brief screen time, he was one of my favorite characters in the movie.  He’s a much more active Jor-El than Marlon Brando was in the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN film (1978).  It’s actually a superb performance by Crowe, who in a role like this, could have easily mailed it in, but he didn’t.

Superman meets Lois Lane....again!

Superman meets Lois Lane….again!

I’ve become a huge Amy Adams fan of late, and I really enjoyed her here as Lois Lane.    She’s strong, smart, and feisty, not to mention sexy, but one drawback is I didn’t think she and Henry Cavill shared much chemistry as Lois and Clark.

And that’s because Henry Cavill doesn’t generate much chemistry at all in this one.

ZOD:  He’s a wuss.

MA:  Quiet.  I’m reviewing the movie, not you.

ZOD: How dare you hush Zod!

MA: He’s not the most engaging Superman ever to grace the screen. Yet, I have to believe, judging by the way this movie plays out, that he portrays Superman here exactly the way he was supposed to.  But there’s something lacking.  He doesn’t have much of a personality.  He’s not the goodie-goodie Christopher Reeve Superman, but don’t expect a dark brooding superhero either.  He’s not Christian Bale in a red cape.  And that certainly is a problem.  One of the strengths, for example, of the recent Marvel superhero movies is their superheroes are so full of personality.  Cavill’s Superman is kinda boring.

ZOD:  Zod is much more interesting.

MA:  Kevin Costner enjoys some fine moments in his brief stint as Jonathan Kent, and Diane Lane is also memorable as Martha Kent.  Laurence Fishburne makes for a less cranky Perry White, but the rest of the new characters, military types and scientists, are all largely forgettable.

The biggest problem I had with MAN OF STEEL is it suffers from the video game syndromeit has that look of a video-game turned into a movie, and it contains long drawn out battle scenes that bored me to tears.  For all its creativity with its story, MAN OF STEEL lacks grandness and cinematic vision.  There’s no sweeping cinema here.  It’s just CGI effects, and none of them stand out.

ZOD:  I like long drawn out battle scenes!  I could watch them all day!

MA:  Well, I can’t.

The reaction I had to MAN OF STEEL was similar to the reaction I had with STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013).  I liked it, but I didn’t love it. There’s just so much going on in both films, you just want things to slow down a bit so you can get to know the characters more. Once the audience gets to know the characters in a movie, and if they like these characters, then they’ll follow them anywhere.  But we have to get to know them first.

Give the characters some depth, and then we will enjoy the action.

Director Zach Snyder inundates us with special effects, none of which really wowed me.  I wish he had spent more time on characterizations and plot.

I don’t really feel as if I knew Superman in this movie.  He’s upset at a young age that he’s different, and later as an adult he goes off in search of his heritage.  Once he learns the truth about his past, he goes off to fulfill his destiny.  Along the way, does he like Lois Lane?  Obviously, the answer is yes, but you wouldn’t know it from this movie.  More effort should have been made to define this new Superman, because right now, he’s not all that exciting.

WOMAN: But he’s so hot!

MA:  Okay, I’ll give you that.  But I think Amy Adams is hot, too, but sex appeal isn’t enough to make a successful movie.

WOMAN:  I think it is!

MA:  Well, I’m sure you’re not alone in that opinion.  But I need more.

One thing I don’t need, however, is more 3D.  I didn’t see MAN OF STEEL in 3D, as I’m sick and tired of shelling out the extra money.

MAN OF STEEL is not as good as THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE AVENGERS (2012), or IRON MAN (2008), nor is it up to par with SUPERMAN (1978) with Christopher Reeve.

I wasn’t a big fan of the previous Superman movie, SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), and I’m not a big fan of this new one.

MAN OF STEEL is ultimately about trust.  Can Superman earn the trust of the world, or specifically in this movie, of the American government?  It’s also about General Zod attacking Earth so he can conquer the planet and reestablish the Kryptonian race.  Neither one of these two plot points did much for me.

Michael Shannon as General Zod!

Michael Shannon as General Zod!

I think Superman is a hard sell nowadays anyway because, one, his story is so familiar, and two, he’s so powerful it’s difficult to write interesting stories about him.  If you really wanted to make Superman darker, he should have gotten involved in some predicament that troubled his conscience or something.  About the only thing troubling Superman in MAN OF STEEL is whether or not the U.S. military thinks he’s good guy or not.

I wasn’t impressed.

I give it two and a half knives.

ZOD:  Are you done?

MA:  Yes.

ZOD:  Then it’s time for me to destroy you.

MA:  Wouldn’t you rather ask one of these fine young ladies out on a date?

ZOD:  Huh?  Do you really think they’d go out with me?

MA:  You’re Zod!  A great general!  Of course they’d go out with you!

ZOD (blushing):  Well, in that case—. (Turns to women next to him)

MA:  Okay, while Zod is busy with his new dating reality show, I’ll slip out the back door so I can be around to review next week’s movie.

Thanks for joining me, everybody!

ZOD (to WOMAN):  Did anyone ever tell you you’re the most beautiful woman to ever belong to an inferior race?  (She rolls her eyes and turns away)  What?  Was it something I said?

—END—-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives MAN OF STEEL ~ two and a half knives!

man-of-steel-poster

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for JUNE 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Apocalyptic Films, Coming Attractions, Dystopian Futures, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS: JUNE 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The Fortress of Solitude.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are operating a snow cone machine.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  The Fortress of Solitude provides nearly an unlimited supply of ice! Oh boy!

L.L. SOARES:    Lucky for you it happens to be located in the Arctic.  Since when did you become so into snow cones?

MA:  When the temperature back home hit 90 degrees.  Let’s add some blueberry flavoring.

LS:  Blueberry?  What are you, ten years old?  Here, let me add the good stuff.  (Pours the contents of a bottle of Jim Beam into the ice.)

MA:  Hmm—, I’ve suddenly become very thirsty!  Anyway, we’re here in the Fortress of Solitude—Superman’s home—today because the big release this month is MAN OF STEEL (2013), the latest big budget movie to feature America’s favorite superhero, Superman

LS:  I wouldn’t call him America’s favorite superhero.

MA:  Now, while I’m looking forward to seeing MAN OF STEEL, I’m also sick and tired of Superman origin stories.  Look, we all know where Superman comes from (Krypton), who his dad is (hey there, Jor-El) and how he grows up on a farm and eventually becomes Superman.  Seriously, can’t we just skip these parts and immediately put Superman into a new adventure?

 LS: You would hope so.

MA: So, while I’m genuinely interested in MAN OF STEEL, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if they got the origin stuff out of the way in the first five minutes.

LS:  I don’t think that’s happening, not with Russell Crowe playing Jor-El. He’s gonna want some screen time.

MA:  Anyway, we start off June with a review of THE PURGE (2013), which opens on June 7.  We already talked about this one in our last Coming Attractions column, since it was originally slated to open in May and was pushed back until June.

The-Purge-585x370

Again, THE PURGE tells the tale of a futuristic society that allows crime to run rampant for one night of the year and what happens to one family in particular on this brutal night.  It stars Ethan Hawke, and it’s produced by the same folks who produced the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and SINISTER (2012

LS:  As I said last month, I like the trailer for this one.  I like that there are more sinister villains in masks, reminiscent of THE STRANGERS (2008), and I liked Ethan Hawke in his last movie with these producers—SINISTER, so I am eager to see this one.

On Wednesday, June 12, THE IS THE END opens— This is actually one of the movies I am looking forward to most this summer. It features a bunch of actors who are friends in real life, like James Franco, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill, who play themselves. During a party, the world ends.

this-is-the-end-poster-banner

This one looks awesome, and the trailers have been funny as hell. And one of the major players in this one is one of the funniest dudes on the planet, Danny McBride. I’m a huge fan of McBride’s HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, and frankly, after the disappointment that was YOUR HIGHNESS (2011), he’s due for some redemption. So I hope he’s funny as hell in this one.

MA:  This one looks wacky and wild, but for some reason, my gut feeling is that it’s going to be pretty bad.  The entire cast is playing themselves.  I get the feeling it might be too self-indulgent for my tastes and won’t be as funny as expected.

LS: I think the opposite is going to happen. I think the fact they’re playing themselves is going to be hilarious.

MA: We’ll see. The trailer is okay, but it certainly hasn’t blown me away.

On June 14, it’s MAN OF STEEL (2013), and for me, the biggest reason to be excited about this one is the people behind the camera.  It’s produced by Christopher Nolan, and it’s directed by Zack Snyder, who directed WATCHMEN (2009).  Yeah, I know, he directed SUCKER PUNCH (2011) too, but at least that one was stylish.

I like Superman just as much as the next guy, but as I said at the outset, I’m weary of Superman origin stories.  I’m mostly interested to see what new take Snyder gives to the tale.  I hope it’s darker.

superman-man-of-steel-poster-800x500

Henry Cavill is playing Superman, and I hope he’s better here than he was in the Bruce Willis action film THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012), where he failed to impress me.

Lois Lane will be played by Amy Adams, and the cast also includes Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El.  It also stars Michael Shannon as General Zod, and I suppose that’s reason enough to be excited about this movie, that Lex Luthor is not the villain.  I’m psyched about that.

LS:  Yeah, enough Lex Luthor already! Just because he’s Superman’s main villain doesn’t mean he’s the only Superman villain—but you wouldn’t know it from the fact that he’s been in just about every Superman movie so far.

For me, Zack Snyder has been pretty uneven, but he is capable of doing good stuff. The trailers for this one have looked pretty good. But the main reason why I want to see this one is Michael Shannon as General Zod. I am a huge Michael Shannon fan. I’m also a big fan of the Christopher Reeve movie SUPERMAN II (1980), which featured Terence Stamp as General Zod. Zod’s a great character. Put Shannon and Zod together, and you’ve got a movie I want to see.

MA:  On June 21, we’ll be reviewing the new zombie end-of-the-world thriller, WORLD WAR Z (2013) starring Brad Pitt.

wwz_banner

I know you’ve said you’re sick of zombie movies, and although I’m not as sick of them as you are, I have mixed feelings about WORLD WAR Z.  The fact is—you’re right.  We have been inundated with zombies of late, and so I’m hoping there’s something fresh about this one to make me like it.

 It’s hard to tell by the trailer, which is a good thing, because it doesn’t give much away. 

It’s directed by Marc Forster, who directed the second Daniel Craig James Bond film, QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008), a film I liked a lot, with a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof, based on the novel by Max Brooks.  Goddard and Lindelof both have quite the resumes, as both these guys worked on the TV series LOST.  Goddard also wrote THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and CLOVERFIELD (2008), and Lindelof wrote STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013) and PROMETHEUS (2012).  So, I’m expecting a well-written movie.

LS:  I guess this one could be good, but it’s hard for me to get excited about a zombie movie, especially if it’s not directed by George A. Romero. Hell, even Romero has had some clunkers lately. But I’m just not enthusiastic about this one. Maybe it will surprise me…

But worst of all is that this one is rated PG-13. How can you do a decent, gory zombie movie with a PG-13 rating? If they’re able to pull that off, I’d be surprised. I don’t even know if the more gory episodes of THE WALKING DEAD would get a PG-13 rating if they were in a movie.

This one stars Brad Pitt and Mirelle Enos, one of the stars of the AMC series THE KILLING.

MA:  And there’s nothing of interest opening on June 28, so look for something special from us on the last week of June.

LS:  Yeah, that weekend is still up in the air. I’ll be curious to see what we end up reviewing.

MA:  How about that snow cone now?  I’ve worked up quite a thirst.

LS:  Here you go (hands MA a huge snow cone.)  You’re not driving home, are you?

MA:  We’re in the middle of the Arctic.  How would I be driving home?  Besides, we have a “designated driver” don’t forget.

LS:  Oh yeah.  Where did he disappear to anyway?

(SUPERMAN enters the room.)

SUPERMAN:  I was watching old videos of my parents on the DVR. Hey, those snow cones look good.  Can I have one?

MA:  Er, let me make you a blueberry one instead. 

LS:  He’s Superman, for crying out loud.  He can have as many of our special Jim Beam snow cones as he wants. He’s not a lightweight.

SUPERMAN (sarcastically):  Gee, thanks.

MA:  I hope you’re right.  I’d like to get home in time to review next weekend’s movie. 

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Espionage, Exotic Locales, Michael Arruda Reviews, Spy Films with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012)
By Michael Arruda

(The Scene: A beautiful beach off the coast of Madrid, Spain.  An abandoned boat floats on the water offshore.  MICHAEL ARRUDA searches the boat frantically.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  L.L.?  Where are you?  Guys!  Where are you all hiding?

(STRANGE MAN appears out of nowhere.)

MAN:  They’re not hiding.  They’re with us.

MA: Who the hell are you?

MAN:  Come with me.  There’s someone you need to speak with.

MA:  No, I need to speak with L.L. Soares and the rest of the Cinema Knife Fight staff who are on this trip.

MAN:  They’re with us.  The person who wants to speak with you will explain.

MA: It sounds like I don’t have a choice.  Lead the way, then.

(CUT to a busy street in Madrid.  MAN leads MA to a parked car with tinted windows.  The back window slides down to reveal SIGOURNEY WEAVER in the back seat.)

WEAVER:  Hello, Michael.  I need to talk to you.  Don’t worry.  It’s safe.

(MA peers into the back seat and sees the monster from ALIEN sitting next to WEAVER.  The ALIEN hisses at him.)

MA:  Something tells me this is a bad idea.  (Pushes MAN away from him and flees through the busy streets.)  Gee, things are playing out here a lot like today’s movie, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012).  (A beautiful Spanish babe on a motorcycle whistles to MA.)

BABE:  Quick!  Get on!

(MA runs to motorcycle.  BABE laughs and drives away just before he gets there.)

MA (to camera):  Well, almost like today’s movie.  (Quickly ducks into a dance club.)  I’ll hide out here for a while, which will give me a chance to review today’s film, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012),the new thriller starring Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver, and Henry Cavill.

(Sits at table in corner.)

There were three main reasons I was interested in seeing THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, a movie whose trailer didn’t do much for me.  Sigourney Weaver was playing the villain, I like Bruce Willis and enjoy most movies he’s in, and I wanted to check out the performance by Henry Cavill, who’s slated to be the next big screen Superman in MAN OF STEEL (2013).

As I said, the film’s trailer did little for me, and that’s because it revealed a rather straightforward story about a young man whose family is kidnapped while on vacation because his dad is secretly working for the CIA and is obviously involved with some pretty bad people.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it also gave away a lot of the movie’s plot, so a big question I had going in was, would this movie have enough surprises left to make it worth my while?  And the answer is, “not really.”

The movie opens with a young man, Will (Henry Cavill), arriving in Madrid, Spain to spend a week long vacation with his parents and his younger brother and his younger brother’s girlfriend.  Will is not having a good week.  The company he runs is going bankrupt, and it seems he has a rocky relationship with his dad Martin (Bruce Willis), and so it’s not exactly a relaxing vacation for him.

Distracted by his problems, he allows their boat to be rocked by the wind, resulting in a head injury to his brother’s girlfriend.  Will is immediately chewed out by his dad, who promptly tosses his son’s cell phone overboard, since it’s been ringing nonstop with news of Will’s troubled company.  Enraged, Will decides to leave the boat and go into town.

When he returns later in the day, he finds the boat abandoned and his family nowhere to be found.   He reports the situation to the police, and they lead him to a man who tries to abduct him.  Will is rescued by his dad, who explains to him that he’s really not a business consultant but an agent for the CIA, and that a group of terrorists have kidnapped their family and is holding them ransom unless he gives them back a briefcase he stole from them.

Martin tells Will they need to see a friend of his, and Will witnesses a meeting between his dad and a woman Carrack (Sigourney Weaver.)  Martin accuses Carrack of setting him up, a notion that Carrack obviously denies.  The meeting ends badly as Martin is shot dead, leaving Will alone to solve the mystery of the missing briefcase and save his family.

And he has to do this while being pursued by two different parties: the group that is holding his family hostage and who want the briefcase back, and Carrack and her cronies, who would like to “silence” everyone involved in order to tie up any loose ends and save their agency embarrassment.  Along the way, Will befriends a young woman, Lucia (Veronica Echegui), who also has a personal interest in getting back at Carrack, as she reveals a telling secret about her relationship with Will’s father.

The rest of the movie plays out like one of the BOURNE movies, only not as good, mostly because Will is no Jason Bourne.

MATT DAMON (leaning over from next table):  That’s right.  He’s not Jason Bourne.  I am, and there’s only one Jason Bourne.

JEREMY RENNER (leans in from opposite table):   I don’t know about that.  My new movie THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) is doing pretty well at the box office.

DAMON:  True, but you don’t play Jason Bourne in the movie.

RENNER:  True, but you’re not in the movie, and it’s still doing well.  Hey, maybe you and I could both be the next one.

DAMON:  Talk to my agent.

MA:  It’s getting too crowded in here.  (MA gets up and moves to the bar.)

Where was I?

BARTENDER:  You were comparing Will to Jason Bourne.

MA:  Thanks.  Hey, how did you know that?

BARTENDER:  I’m a bartender.  We know everything.

MA: I’ll have to remember that.

So, Will’s an amateur, not a super assassin, and so his scenes simply don’t generate a whole lot of interest.   The movie would have been better off had it played up the angle of the ordinary guy against the professionals, a la an Alfred Hitchcock movie, but Will uses his wits less than he uses a gun, and so it’s simply not as compelling as it could have been.

Sigourney Weaver makes for an okay villain here, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.  I thought her character was rather subdued, and Weaver turned in a far more villainous portrayal in her brief scenes in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) earlier this year.  Cate Blanchett was more impressive as the main baddie in last year’s HANNA (2011).  Actually, the entire movie HANNA was more impressive than THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY.  It had a style about it that was riveting and made an impact.  THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY lacks this style.

Bruce Willis is very good as Martin, the dad living the double life as a CIA agent, but the trouble is, he’s not in the movie all that much, as his character is killed off early on.

Henry Cavill runs hot and cold as Will.  I definitely liked him at the beginning of the movie in his scenes with Bruce Willis.  There was a natural father/son tension between them that worked well and was interesting.  Later, when Will becomes Jason Bourne-like—-.

MATT DAMON (calling from table):  Hey!  I’m Jason Bourne!  (Points to Renner)  Not him!  And not the guy in your movie!

MA (smiles and waves):  Whatever you say, buddy.  I’d better not say that name again.

Will’s not as interesting because he’s not Jason—you know who—but just an ordinary guy thrown into some extraordinary circumstances, yet he’s running around shooting people and acting like he’s been doing it for years.

The rest of the cast is simply serviceable, although I did really enjoy Veronica Echegui as Lucia.  I almost would have preferred the story better had it been told from her perspective.

Simply put, I just wasn’t that impressed with the story in this one.  Scott Wiper and John Petro wrote the screenplay for THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, and it’s all rather mediocre.

One of the reasons it’s not that powerful a movie is there’s not much of a threat.  We know very little about the people holding Will’s family hostage for the most of the movie.  At first, they’re described as terrorists, but later we learn they’re not terrorists, but Israeli agents who have been wronged by Carrack.

Sigourney Weaver’s Carrack and her cronies are the ones who knocked off Will’s father, but we don’t see them doing much during the rest of the movie, other than remain two steps behind Will, which is hard to believe since Will’s not a spy.  Overall, the threats in this movie are too obscure, and there isn’t one main master villain who’s driving this thing along.

I had hoped that Sigourney Weaver would be this villain, but she’s not.  Plus, her character Carrack is supposed to be this top CIA agent, and yet she’s out on the streets in plain sight shooting at Will and other people in broad daylight.  So much for being covert!

And the plot point involving Lucia’s relationship with Martin is right out of a bad soap opera!

WOMAN next to MA:  And so, Lloyd, I can’t marry you because I slept with your father which makes me— your mother!

LLOYD:  And I can’t marry you, Linda, because I slept with your mother which makes me— your father!

LINDA:  How is that possible?

LLOYD:  Well, your mother’s a good looking woman, we had a few drinks, and one thing led to another—.

LINDA:  No, that’s not what I meant.

MA:  It’s too crowded at the bar, too.  I think I’ll try the dance floor.

(Dances while he continues the review)

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY is simply not as intense as it needs to be.  Director Mabrouk El Mechri includes plenty of shoot-outs and chase scenes, but at the end of the day, this one is lacking something.

One of the more intense scenes involves Lucia’s efforts, with the help of some of her friends, to remove a bullet from Will’s gut, but it’s discovered in the middle of the crude procedure, that he doesn’t have a bullet in him, so they’re spared the rest of the operation.  So, even the most intense scene in the film isn’t as intense as it could have been!

There is a neat chase scene where Will and Lucia have to escape from a roof while being shot at, and it’s one of the more riveting scenes in the movie.  The rest of the action scenes are pretty standard.

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY isn’t bad, but it’s not very good either.  As I said, it just seems to be lacking something.  Most of the time that “something” is a plausible story.  Perhaps more Bruce Willis would have helped.

I give it two knives.

(Someone taps him on the shoulder.  It’s SIGOURNEY WEAVER and the ALIEN.)

WEAVER:  Do you mind if I cut in?

MA:  Why don’t you two dance, and I’ll cut out!  Okay, folks, until next time, have fun at the movies!  (EXITS)
WEAVER:  Wait!  (turns to ALIEN)  Oh well.  I guess we’ll never take that group photo now.

(ALIEN shakes his head)

WEAVER:  Shall we dance after all?

(ALIEN and WEAVER slow dance, as camera fades to black.)

VOICE:  Hey, it’s Jeremy Renner, the new Bourne!

DAMON:  Damn it!  I’m Jason Bourne!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY ~ two knives!

IMMORTALS

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Barbarian Movies, Fantasy, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2011 by knifefighter

IMMORTALS (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

So, I had seen the trailer for IMMORTALS a few times and had zero expectations for this film. It looked like a rip-off of Zach Snyder’s 300 (2006), with some CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) thrown in for good measure. In other words, there was a chance this one could be a snoozefest. But then I found out that Tarsem Singh directed it, and I was suddenly curious to see it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name, Tarsem Singh is the guy who directed THE CELL (2000), about people entering the mind of a serial killer. It was visually fascinating, and starred Jennifer Lopez (in one of her few good movies) and Vincent D’Onofrio as the comatose killer. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but it had some pretty striking imagery. His second film, THE FALL (2006), continued to mark him as a director with a unique vision (Read Dan Keohane’s review of THE FALL here). And now we’ve got IMMORTALS.

It goes without saying that this movie is great to look at.  That’s what Singh is all about. But what about the story?

Well, it’s kind of a mixture of original ideas and Greek mythology. It all begins with a battle between the gods and the Titans. The Titans are exiled to earth after they lose the war – encased in a big metal block and held together with steel rods.

Cut to King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who despises the gods since they did nothing to save his wife and child from death. In retaliation, he dons a mask, builds an army of savage warriors and decides to sweep the earth, slaughtering all those who oppose him. His ultimate plan, however, is to find the fabled Epiurus Bow (that creates its own exploding arrows!) and free the Titans, so they can wreck their vengeance on the same gods Hyperion despises so much.

The hero of this piece is Theseus (Henry Cavill, who is currently filming THE MAN OF STEEL, due out in 2013, wherein he will play Superman), a peasant with a will of iron and muscles to match, who is an outcast among his own people. When he sees his mother killed in front of him by Hyperion, he vows revenge of his own.

But Theseus isn’t just any muscle-bound peasant. He’s a favorite of the gods, Zeus (Luke Evans) in particular. In this film, the gods look like a bunch of Calvin Klein models lounging around in the clouds, watching humankind below.

While the gods watch Theseus’s every move, they are vowed to stay out of the affairs of humans (breaking this rule is supposed to bring them death), unless the Titans are released again, and you can see where everything comes full circle.

Along the way, Theseus comes upon a virgin oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto), who can see the future, and who becomes his love interest, and Stavros (Stephen Dorff), a thief who becomes Theseus’s right hand man.

There are a lot of battle scenes, either characters fighting one another, or armies clashing, and they’re all done pretty well. They’re also pretty gory. By the time you start wondering why this movie is rated R, you’ll suddenly notice heads getting splattered with sledgehammers and bodies getting cut in half by swords, and realize that this movie earned its rating with blood.

In deference to actual mythology, there’s even a scene in a labyrinth, and a minotaur of sorts for Theseus to battle. I actually thought this was an interesting take on the story, because instead of an actual minotaur with the head of a bull, we get a giant of a man who wears a barbed-wire mask in the shape of a bull. Hyperion refers to him as “The Beast” (Robert Maillet) and at one point sends him off to kill Theseus. The resulting battle is very well done. In another bull reference, the Beast, when we first see him, tends to a fire beneath a giant iron bull, which we just know is a pressure cooker used to cook prisoners alive, long before someone actually cracks it open to find out.

Singh does it all with a very painterly touch. Much like 300, it’s CGI used to create an entire world, but Singh is a much more creative director than Zack Snyder, so the images and story are a bit more interesting this time. I thought it started out a little slow, but once we get to the action scenes, it livens up immensely. Mickey Rourke does an enjoyable job playing the heavy in this one. Cavill is serviceable enough as a Spartacus wannabe. And Pinto does a good job of standing around and looking pretty.

Like other movies of its ilk, the story of IMMORTALS is its weakest link. But it made something like the remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS look even weaker in comparison. Mythology, it seems, is hot again, and so far Singh has given us the best recent movie version.

This one is also in theaters in both 3D and 2D versions. I saw it in 3D, and it was fine, but 3D still fails to astound me, and I’m sure it would have been just as dazzling to look at in 2D. So save your money if you can.

I’m on the fence about what kind of rating to give this one. I’m waffling between giving it two and a half knives and three knives, and it basically comes down to, if this kind of movie sounds good to you, check it out, and if you’re not so sure, wait for the rental version.

IMMORTALS is a decent enough film, but no masterpiece. Which isn’t to say that Tarsem Singh isn’t capable of making great movies. He’s someone I plan to keep my eye on. In the meantime, even his flawed films are worth seeing.

© Copyright 2011 by L. L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives IMMORTALS ~ two and a half knives (or three knives, depending on his mood)

(Note: The horror movie 11-11-11 was also due out this weekend – as mentioned in this month’s “COMING ATTRACTIONS” column, but it must have been in very limited release, since none of our staff was able to find it.)