Thursday, March 31, 2016

Movie Review: "Man of Steel" by David Pretty


The dude from Gladiator sends his son Kal-El to Earth just before their home planet of Krypton goes "ker-blooey." The interstellar orphan is renamed Clark by his adoptive family the Kents who try to raise him as a normal kid. Unfortunately he's "cursed" with super powers so he's all broody and angsty, especially after getting some downright terrible advice from his dad, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. Eventually evil survivors from Kal-El's home planet escape from their giant dildo prisons and seek out the last Son of Krypton to settle some unfinished business. Morpheus guest stars.


If you've always wanted a Micheal Bay understudy to direct a Superman movie, you're in luck. Alternately if you're allergic to things like pacing, character development, logic, tone and storytelling, this is the movie for you!

  • At the very least, Man of Steel tried to do something different, which is more than I can say for Superman Returns, which was little more than a slavish fan film dedicated to the Richard Donner movie. I really like the whole "Codex" angle, with Kal-El bearing the genetic profile of the entire Kryptonian race since it raises the stakes quite nicely.   
  • Despite the fact that Russell Crowe felt slightly out of place his performance as Jor-El was surprisingly restrained and commanding. 
  • Michael Shannon was awesome as General Zod. Despite the fact that his role was hideously underwritten, he was convincingly motivated to fulfill his scheme, regardless of how sketchy it seemed to be.
  • Both Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are solid as young Clark's parents. This despite the fact that Jonathan Kent gives some pretty suspect advice and Martha doesn't get a whole lot to do.
  • I really liked the early manifestation of Clark's abilities. If you were a little kid at school and you suddenly noticed that your friends looked like see-through "Visible Man" models in science class you'd freak the fux out as well.  
  • I think that Henry Cavill is a fantastic pick as Clark Kent / Superman. Ever since I saw him in The Tudors I always thought that he'd make a great Superman. I just feel bad that the guy got saddled with such a shitty script, since he really doesn't get many opportunities to act like Superman. Or Clark Kent for that matter. Even though the character had no significant arc or development to speak of, his charisma still shines through.  
  • I like a lot of the early goings of the film, especially the scenes with Clark bouncing around like a nomad trying to find himself and performing random acts of kindness. I also like the way they dealt with the whole "Fortress of Solitude" conundrum. 
  • The script treats the character of Lois Lane with the same short shift as anything else but at least she gets one snoopy scene!
  • The special effects, sound engineering and art design have all produced stunning results. The IHOP brawl and the final confrontation in Metropolis are a götterdämmerung orgy of PTSD-inspiring destruction and super-mayhem. 
  • This movie is clearly designed for people with attention spans shorter than The Flash. For example, even though Jor-El is supposed to be a scientist, the film-makers clearly didn't want to give the audience the impression that he's some sort of wimpy, boring egg-head. So he's shown beating up Zod's minions, swimming like Micheal Phelps and flying around on a dragon. A DRAGON, fer Crissakes. 
  • After young Clark understandably uses his super-powers to rescue his classmates, suspicions are immediately cast upon the Kent family, which leads to the following baffling exchange between Clark and his adopted dad: Clark: I just wanted to help. Jonathan: I know you did, but we talked about this. Right? Right? We talked about this! You have...Clark, you have to keep this side of yourself a secret. Clark: What was I supposed to do? Just let them die? Jonathan: Maybe... Now, IMHO, it really doesn't matter what good ol' Pa Kent says after telling his son "Maybe", since it pretty much sums up the the cock-eyed ethos of this terrible film. Seriously, are we all that self-absorbed and cuntish as a society now that we'd actually humor the notion of a father telling his child: "Son, clearly you were given some amazing gifts by a higher power. So, rather than risk revealing this and possibly impacting you, me and your mom in some completely speculative way, I want you to never, ever help people. I mean it: our privacy and the chance of being inconvenienced totally outweighs saving the lives of a bunch of innocent kids." Seriously? Y'know what? FUCK YOU, movie. Clearly writers David S. Goyer and Christopher "PAINT IT BLACK" Nolan were just throwing random ideas at the wall to see if any of them stick, not realizing that as soon as you float a concept this stupid, then you're no longer making a Superman movie. This is really driven home later on in a supremely idiotic and laughably melodramatic scene in which Jonathan goes to some pretty extreme lengths to "prove" his "point". In Richard Donner's Superman, Clark learns a valuable lesson about human frailty and the limit of his powers when something similar happens. In Man of Steel, Jonathan ultimately teaches Clark to be a selfish twat.
  • Knowing that they can fall back on unlimited gobs of digital spectacle, writer David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder don't seem too keen with laying down a proper foundation for the Superman mythos. That's why, in a movie that's unnecessarily two-and-a-half hours long, you see Supes bombing around in full costume, clumsily taking out mountaintops at around the fifty minute mark. In order to appease the most fleeting of attention spans, the story is told non-linear style so that we don't have to sit through too much pesky character development and plot points all in one go.
  • When Snyder and company finally let themselves off of their lead, were "treated" to the equivalent of Alex's reprogramming at the end of A Clockwork Orange. If your idea of entertainment is seeing two CGI character models beating the shit out of each another and wrecking both a small town and an entire freakin' city, then get ready to be dazzled, folks. As for me I had to stop every few minutes because I was getting alternately bored and / or numbed by the boundless and unrestrained anarchy. Eventually it boils down to "guy dressed like Superman who I like only 'cuz he's not a complete asshole" versus "guy who wants to terraform earth and kill everyone because reasons". I really didn't feel as if I had a dog, or a "Krypto" as it were, in this fight at all.  
  • Look, the Superman mythos has always been a pretty transparent Jesus parable, so did we really need that blatant shot in the church or the image of Superman Christ-pose floating backwards into space? Hey, Zack, tell is it possible to be obvious and pretentious all at the same time?
  • Of all the comic book characters out there, you'd think that, at the very least, you'd make Man of Steel vaguely watchable for children. Now, don't get me wrong, I railed against the assumption that comic book properties are exclusively kids stuff in my Deadpool review, but unlike that character, Superman was originally created to entertain younglings. Ergo, do we really need such an angsty, depressing, murderous, destructive, "realistic", gritty approach? Nowadays I just look at "dark" as a crutch for lazy writers. After all, Grant Morrison managed to retain the goofier aspects of the character but still came up with All Star Superman, which has since become a bonafide comic book classic.
  • Speaking of "dark", it's not enough that the film boasts the sort of content that would make a neckbearded fanboy sport a super-boner, the movie literally looks like it was shot in a cave. All the color has been completely drained out of it. It's murky, grainy-looking and unrelentingly bleak. Everything is so gray and dead that I thought I was watching a Bizarro Superman movie, if not for the fact that the dialogue is marginally better. 
  • One thing that really doesn't help in watching the film is the constant over-use of shaky-cam. I can't believe that this movie was directed by the same guy that gave us the relatively restrained Dawn of the Dead remake and Watchmen. Jesus, those movies look like Pan's Labyrinth and Lawrence of Arabia now in comparison.    
  • The product placement is soooooo obnoxious here. After the movie I blacked out and when I came to I found myself gassing up at a 7-11 while gnawing on an IHOP waffle, all the while wearing a sassy new dickie that I'd just picked up at Sears.
  • Laurence Fishburne says his inspiration for Perry White was 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradly. Oddly enough, I didn't really pick up on that given his four lines of dialogue and "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" screen time. 
  • There is so much lazy screen-writing and co-incidental shit that happens going on here it's downright laughable. Amy Adams, bless her heart, tries her best but literally her only function in this movie is to serve as a cog to keep the film's clunky narrative piston engine chugging ahead. Count how many times she just conveniently teleports in from out of no-where to deliver exposition and you'll begin to wonder if this isn't some sort of Superman / Raven team up movie. 
  • As a side note, my Superman would never, ever consciously choose to battle a super villain in a heavily-populated place where humans could get squished en masse, but I think the script does a fair job justifying this whilst raising the threat level in the process. Many critics have crapped on Supes for not leading Zod out of the city but in his defense he does try to move the fight out into freakin' space. Remember, after Zod snaps he's not looking to kill Kal-El anymore, he's trying to murder as many humans as possible. That's why he keeps bringing the fight back to the "ant farm". Given this context I even forgive Clark for his "final solution" to his Zod problem ("Zodlem"?). Yes, I wish the writers had come up with a clever way for Superman to outwit Zod rather than the uncharacteristic, cro-magnon-style solve we get here. 
  • I really like Amy Adams a lot but I do think she's slightly miscast here. As opposed to Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns, who was miscast and gave a flat performance. When I picture Lois Lane I don't picture "girl next door", I picture seasoned, street-smart, edgy and perhaps slightly drunk. Amy's got winsome, cute and effervescent locked down cold (Exhibit "A" here) but I'd still prefer a caffeine-wired, nosy, chain-smokin' Margot Kidder type.   
  • The suit looks pretty good but I really wish they'd kept the trunks. Contrary to Zack Snyder's myopic claim that the shorts are just a leftover from Victorian-era strongman days and that he couldn't get a design to work within the "reality" of his "vision", the briefs are iconic and really break-up the goofy-looking "onsie" look that makes the whole ensemble look like a pair of haute couture long johns.   


I'm convinced that if this movie had been released under the tile of Good Alien, Bad Alien it would have been a perfectly serviceable but otherwise disposable summer time popcorn flick. But since it's called Man of Steel and it's supposed to be about Superman, people will continue to debate its merits ad nauseum.

How's this for merits: half way through the film I was actually still firmly onboard. Like I said, at least they were doing something different. But then, somewhere during the midway point it turned into a special-effects soaked alien invasion sci-fi flick that makes Independence Day look like The Day the Earth Stood Still. It's at this point when the film vomits as much noise, bombast and spectacle up on the screen in order to to distract you from the fact that what you're watching has precious little to do with Superman.

Look, here's the deal: a character like Batman can easily run the gamut between campy and serious. But, like it or not, Superman has only one default setting; he's a power fantasy figure for little kids. He wears blue long-johns, he flies, he has a cape and he shoots lasers out of his eyes. And when you take something that inherently childish and you give him a Gothic makeover it comes off as pretentious, heavy-handed and inadvertently funny. 

And, frankly, I don't even know why you'd want to make him so unremittingly edgy. If the ultimate goal is to have him share space with Batman, wouldn't you want these characters to contrast with one another? A ying and yang? Hell, it could be the greatest buddy cop movie since Lethal Weapon.

Oh, man, this doesn't bode well for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Tilt: down.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Movie Review-lette: "Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King" by David Pretty

Every once and awhile I'll indulge in an insane game called "Movie Review-lette", inviting social media friends to name a movie they want me to review. Naturally a "be-as-cruel-or-as-kind-as-you-wanna-be" waiver is always attached to this offer. As soon as I have ten suggestions I'll randomly pick one of 'em out of a hat to watch and review.

The last time I did this I ended up watching Big Top Pee-wee (thanks, BTW, to Josh Mullins for that...bastard). This little experiment scarred me so badly that I haven't done it again...until recently.

This time fate was a lot kinder, with Tyler Weir suggesting Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King, an anime adaptation of the classic, dark, epic fantasy manga written by Kentaro Miura back in 1988.

Hey, it can't be any worse than a movie Paul Reubens crapped out as an afterthought, right? Riiiight?!?

okay, before I get started, I have a confession to make. I really don't like a lot of anime. And unlike most people I can actually articulate why:
  1. The oblique, heavy-handed, patently-obvious, "lost-in-translation" dialogue often comes across as completely tin-eared to me. 
  2. Characters aren't so much three-dimensional beings as they are ridiculously broad archetypes. Hey, look, it's "brash-hot-headed-but-noble guy!" and here's "strong, silent, highly-competent" guy and *look!* it's my all time-favorite: "goofy, clumsy, sweet-but-awkward" guy! *Yawn*
  3. The over-reliance on cheap animation tricks really pisses me off. For example: showing a character's face frozen in place while the backgrounds streak by in order to convey a charging attack of a giant load of horse shite. 
  4. Many of the plots are so fucking convoluted that I just tune out. Now I know that some of this can be attributed to different story-telling traditions as well as cultural and / or language barriers, but more often than not its abundantly clear that the writer has no falking clue what they're doing
  5. But the thing I despise the most by far are all those stupid, superfluous vocal exclamations that are shamelessly over-used. Sorry, but "Uh!", "Ah!" and "Huh?" ARE NOT LINES OF FUCKING DIALOGUE.
Despite these annoying tropes I've enjoyed some anime in the past, namely the goofy slapstick of Ranma 1/2, the engrossing depth of The Vision of Escaflowne and Record of Lodoss War, the lean and mean Blood as well as the sophistication and beauty of Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Princess Mononoke. So, there, I'm not a hater after all. The big question then becomes, does Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King fall into the first category or the second?

Fortunately, the flick gets a good start right out of the gate. We begin with an evocative opening shot with clouds, an Abrams-style lens flare, wheeling crows and what appears to be the odd meteor streaking across the sky. The camera then pans down into the tumult of a siege army charging towards the walls of a castle. As it turns out, the meteors are actually catapult pitch hurtling towards the battlements.

When the invading army finally breaches the castle walls they're temporarily thwarted by an intimidating, axe-wielding mountainoid in full plate armor named Bazuso. Just when it seems as if the invader's morale has been broken, an enigmatic mercenary named Guts (because anime) strides out of the crowd. After securing a seven silver piece bounty for killing the castle's hulking guardian, Guts (Marc Diraison) hurls himself into combat and defeats the giant with a combination of blunt force, wits and rage.

This spectacular feat draws the attention of Griffith (Kevin T. Collins), leader of the Band of Hawks, a powerful mercenary guild. In a move akin to a press-gang, they ambush Guts and subdue him with a Herculean group effort. When he wakes up in the Hawk's camp, the brash merc tries to exact revenge on Griffith but the effete, ultra-zen fighter puts him in the dirt again. Embracing a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality, Guts decides the join the Hawks and go on campaign with them.

Fast-forward to three years later and the dominant Kingdom of Midland has retained the Hawks to destroy the upstart rival nation of Chuder. Thanks to a ballsy but reckless charge spearheaded by Guts, the Hawks rout the Black Sheep Iron Spears Heavy Knights (because anime) and the day is won. Unfortunately the power brokers in the realm, including the king's petty brother Yurius (Jesse Corti), aren't too keen on the meteoric rise of the Hawks, especially when Griffith draws the eye of the fetching Princess Charlotte (Rachael Lillis).

Things kick into high gear when Guts brashly confronts a demon named Nosferatu Zodd the Immortal (because anime). After the creature (voiced by J. David Brimmer) spies the red egg pendant worn by Griffith, he warns Guts that his mentor will be the death of him. This prophecy starts to ring true after Griffith gives Guts a revenge-fueled order to assassinate a political rival, which ends up going horribly sideways. 

Fortunately there's a lot to like here. Clocking in at a lean-and-mean seventy-seven minutes long, the film's run time could arguably be described as abbreviated but at least it doesn't overstay its welcome. The premise and early stages of the movie comes across as the inaugural session of a junior high school era D&D campaign but mid-way through things finally start to percolate. Even better, there's a genuine "Oh, fuck!" moment that happens right at the end of the movie which evoked shades of the first episode of The Shield for me; a ploy which kept me slavishly devoted to that particular show right up to the very end.

Right from the opening shot you know that the movie will look spectacular at the very least. The character designs, art direction and backgrounds are all lush and beautifully rendered. Except for the character's faces there are very few obvious tells that you're watching an anime here. In fact, a part of me wanted it to look more like a Kurosawa-style, feudal Japanese fantasy setting then yet another generic medieval European milieu.

The character animation is particularly convincing, leading me to believe that motion capture or some modern version of rotoscoping was used. Clearly a large chunk of the animation is computer-assisted and although I still prefer the more organic and immersive hand-drawn animation of an Akira, the results here are so gosh durned purdy that I feel churlish for criticizing it. The confrontation with Nosferatu Zodd is particularly impressive highlight.

As for the characters themselves, they're likable enough. Guts kinda reminds me of the main character in my first novel; he's stubborn, rage-filled, suicidally brave and hard-headed but he also has a sense of duty and is driven to do the right thing. After he's knocked unconscious by the Hawks he experiences a pretty intense fever dream that hints at his origins. I can only hope that this will be expanded upon in the next two parts.

Looking like a cross between Rarity from My Little Pony and Taylor Swift, Griffith comes across as quietly sinister in spite of his delicate appearance. When he nonchalantly tells Guts about how he came across the crimson behelit pendant and the cryptic prophecy of power that goes along with it, warning klaxons immediately started going off in my head. Especially when you consider that the pendant itself is decorated with random human features, including eyeballs that like to play peek-a-boo at unexpected moments.

But by far my favorite character is Casca (Carolyn Keranen), the female fighter who serves as Griffith's second-in-command. Things get off to a shaky start when Griffith orders her to sleep naked next to a comatose Guts in order to "keep him warm with her body heat". Given anime's cheesy penchant for shoe-horning scenes of superfluous female nudity into the proceedings, it's hard not to be cynical about such things. At least it's treated casually, it's non-exploitative and there are zero tentacles present.

I'd be slightly more forgiving if Guts was "full monty" in this scene as well, but as we all know "female nudity GOOD, male nudity BAD". I'd hate to think that animators throw these things in just for the purpose of titillating a bunch of sexually arrested neck-beards. I mean there can't be weirdos out there who have a fetish for fleeting glimpses of anime nudity, are there? What am I saying, of course there are.

Notwithstanding this, Casca is still a fun character. At first she's dead-set against recruiting Guts because she just thinks of him as a rabid dog. Even after Griffith insists on admitting him into the ranks of the Hawks, she constantly rides him for going off half-cocked. I loved the scene where she sucker-punches him for callously chopping down her horse in order to secure a cheap win. I wanted the movie to be longer if only to explore why she's so slavishly devoted to Griffith. Hopefully this will be covered somewhat in Part II.

As for Yurius, he isn't a particularly memorable villain. All he does is scowl and bitch a lot. As far as I can determine, he hates Griffith solely because he gets too much attention from the King for his military victories and too much attention from the princess 'cuz he's so gosh durned purdy. Then again, this is just the first act in a trilogy and it soon becomes abundantly clear that he's nothing more than a minor foil to help catalyze a critical story beat in this particular arc.

Then there's *sigh* Princess Charlotte. Charlotte makes Lynn Minmei from Robotech look like Sarah Connor. She's a mousy, timid, skittish thing who's dialogue primarily consists of those annoying little one-syllable vocal exclamation that I find so fucking annoying. If she isn't tripping over her own feet or getting carried away on a runaway horse she screaming like Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element. Above and beyond the fact that she's cute, I have no clue what Griffith sees in her. And even though I find it vaguely refreshing to see a female character written as something slightly less tough than Ellen Ripley, Charlotte is soft to the point of annoying.

So, yeah, even though Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King is under-plotted, the characters are broadly written and the film occasionally succumbs to the annoying anime tropes that give me fits, I'll definitely be watching Part II ASAP. Between the film's superficial beauty, fleeting pace and the plot twist at the end, I'll just go cue it up on Netflix right no....

Hey, Part II not on Netflix yet?!?


     Tilt: up.