Man of Steel (2013)

It seems to me that Man of Steel is two movies. Its ironic, as Hollywood has a habit of maximising profit potential by stretching things out- Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions   bloating a story that could have been told in one sequel just fine, or stretching out The Hobbit into not just two films but three. Man of Steel seems to me to be a film that needed a Part One and a Part Two. As it is it just rushes along without hardly any pause, incident upon incident, action set-piece upon action set-piece until it just threatens to fall apart. Which is not to suggest it has no quiet moments but it lacks, well, room to breathe.

Part of this seems to stem from a mantra that runs throughout the film to correct all the perceived mistakes of Superman Returns. Post-release that film was widely considered both a critical and financial failure. I don’t believe it was either, but the filmmakers and studio were obviously hellbent on rebooting the franchise as a Anti-Superman Returns. So gone was any reverence to Richard Donner’s film. This is a new Superman. Even if it essentially retells the story of Superman:The Movie and its sequel, the two films squeezed into one. Gone is the slow pace of Superman Returns and its nod back to what came before. This is new. This is loud.

A prologue Krypton sequence attempts to lay the groundwork of the film but this is undermined by not being given time enough. We are thrown into the story without everything being established properly, had this been two films an hour spent with Jor-El and Zod and the dying Krypton would have served both characters better. Heightened the tragedy, because after all, that’s what it is. Krypton ultimately fails, but Earth offers both Zod and Jor-El (through his son) redemption, albeit of opposing ways. This is rather lost when everything collapses into a senseless blitzkrieg of CGI explosions and battles and references to a codex. It just feels silly. There’s no drama to the noise and spectacle. No real involvement.

I wish this had been two movies, the first ending with Clark Kent established as Superman, the second starting with Zod arriving to wreak havoc trying to bring Krypton back, representing the very opposite of what our hero does. I think over the spread of two films it might have meant more. It’s not a terrible film by any means, it just lacks substance somehow. Zod’s Kryptonian cohorts are mere cyphers, Zod himself lacking the gravitas that he promises. We see Superman but none of the innocent Clark Kent reporting for The Daily Planet. That is left for a sequel we won’t likely get anyway, derailed by a desperate-sounding attempt to mimic Marvel’s film franchises by making Superman versus Batman instead. Spinning up a DC universe of superheroes on the silver screen.

Still, my viewpoint is inevitable really, as I much prefer the first two Christopher Reeve films. They had more charm, more heart.

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Zod! The Magic of the Movies!

Yesterday I watched part of the bonus disc packaged with the Man of Steel * Blu-ray issued in America. Its a huge three-hour presentation of the movie with added interviews, behind the scenes shots, production art, etc displayed alongside or in place of the actual movie as it runs (its actually half-hour longer than the movie). Its mightily impressive, I just wish it accompanied a better movie… but anyway, I digress. So I was watching, oh, the first twenty minutes, and yes, its lots and lots of green screen. Early on there’s the scene where General Zod and his dastardly cohorts blast their way into the Krypton Council Chamber (or whatever it is), and the actor who plays Zod, Michael Shannon pops up in a sub-window and talks a little about playing Zod, while another pop-up window alongside shows the scene playing in-movie being shot. And he’s being filmed wearing a motion-capture suit. Shannon admits he found it odd playing this big mean villain whilst wearing something that looks like PJs crossed with a leotard. But I’m just watching this all gob-smacked. That big armoured suit he wears pretty much throughout the movie was cg?

General_Zod_Man_of_SteelA few things immediately sprung to mind. Firstly, wow, that’s mighty impressive from a technological standpoint. I’d watched the film at the cinema and would have never guessed that the suit wasn’t real, aint those fx boys clever? Second, that’s a hell of a way of blowing/wasting  a big budget. I mean, wouldn’t a real-life (albeit maybe toned-down) costume have sufficed? I dare say all those fx shots for that suit of armour alone would have funded any number of Dredd sequels, for a start.

The thought struck me that these ‘blockbusters’ are getting so huge and bloated with unnecessary waste. Its not as if spending a fortune on cg armour/costumes made the film any better, is it? Little wonder so much of the latter portions of the film struck me as looking like a cg cartoon, there’s more cg there than I thought. Sure, its impressive, I suppose, but good grief, these films need some restraint, not an excuse to blow more money on needless fx shots. Doesn’t anybody say, hey guys, I know we can do that, but do we NEED to do that?

"This movie's stupid!"
“Zod! This movie’s stupid!”

I haven’t seen anymore of that bonus disc yet. I’m almost afraid to. These days I can’t watch BBC News 24 without venting my ire at the screen for Auntie Beeb wasting tax-payers money sending journos to every slightest ‘event’ (hey, a member of the Royal Family has stubbed his/her toe, rush a filmcrew to the Palace and camp it there for live updates every fifteen minutes for 24 hours), without me now losing it watching movies. At least the Blu-ray of  Star Trek Into Darkness  didn’t add insult to injury by having a similar ‘How We Blew Millions’ feature (although I think its available as a download on iTunes).

*And before you mention it, yes, I need my head examining buying this movie. But I was keen on seeing the making-of/Maximum Stupid Movie Mode thing and its only on the US copy. And besides, it simply has to be better than the monstrously stupid-sounding  Batman vs Superman thing that’s going to follow this. Hollywood seems hellbent on making its films look good by making something even crappier straight after.

(oh, and I’ve decided I’m going to use this accompanying picture of Ben watching the telly with the ‘Zod… ‘ caption every time I watch a really stupid movie. )

 

 

More Zombies! More Zombies!

wwzIt says everything about modern  movies when you compare, say, George Romero’s fairly intimate, character-based zombie films such as Dawn of the Dead and Day of The Dead to the huge apocalypse of armies of crazed zombies swarming by the thousands over the landscapes of World War Z. It’s a triumph, if that’s the right word, of spectacle over character.  This nightmarish spectacle is one that leaves the viewer goggle-eyed. There has never been a zombie film like this one, if, indeed, its a zombie film at all (I don’t know if I missed something, but are these Undead really Undead, or just humans crazed by some Rabies-like virus that turns them into mindless killing machines? The word ‘zombie’ is banded around but I’m not so sure that’s what these creatures are. Or maybe after all these years I’m confused by just what a zombie really is).

But its interesting to contrast the cable tv show The Walking Dead to this huge-but-troubled blockbuster. On the one hand, we have a lengthy, successful series that is well acted, with fascinating characters and brutal, bloody realism. On the other hand we have a huge, sprawling movie with fairly one-dimensional characters and toned-down, not-so-bloody fantasy (at least in the theatrical cut).

Which is not to suggest that WWZ is a bad movie. In its slightly-extended, grittier Blu-ray offering it has much to offer. It is at times shocking, with a huge sense of scale and chaotic dramatics, a bewildering sense of urgency and relentless doom. But its weakened by the huge colossal numbers of frantic zombies and their relentless apocalypse in comparison to the deeper drama of TWD and the empathy we feel for its characters. Bizarrely there seems an intensity to TWD that is missing in WWZ for all its scope and vision- WWZ feels like a video game, an amusement park ride, whereas TWD feels real.

Glorious Lifeforce

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RETROVIEW: LIFEFORCE (5 STARS): In an astonishingly realised future London, SAS agent Caine hunts aliens brought to Earth from an alien spaceship found near Halleys Comet. But these aliens are Vampires feasting on the souls of humanity, led by a beautiful vampire queen whose magnificent bosom haunts the erotic nightmares of Carlson, the astronaut that her bought her evil to Earth. But is Carlson human, or a space vampire himself?

This film is perhaps the most under-rated sci-fi movie of all time. It is a masterpiece of dark brooding psycho terror, and a classic work of prediction. Forget 2001, this is how the future will REALLY look. The fx are so terrifyingly realistic that you will feel like you are seeing documentary footage of the end of the world, and Tobe Hooper’s gripping direction keeps you on the edge of your seat with panic. Mathilda May’s awesome space vampire whose naked bosom spells death for humanity has never been equalled. Frank Finlay’s depiction of a homosexual scientific genius on the brink of insanity deserved an Oscar, while Peter Firth’s subtle portrayal of the cool, sophisticated SAS Vampire Hunter steals the show, surely marking him as a future James Bond. We can only watch in numb terror as we realise that the future of the world is a Jean Michel Jarre concert populated by zombie joggers gone mad.

Who can tell if this awful fate awaits mankind in the future? Will this epic vision come true? Only one thing is certain- that when Hallleys Comet returns next century, the public will be s***ting bricks. 

Hmm, sorry about that. That was a piece I wrote for a fanzine many years ago, a tongue-in-cheek review of the R1 MGM DVD. Thought I might post it here in celebration of Arrow Films superlative Blu-ray release of Lifeforce here in the UK.

Watching this new Arrow Blu-ray of Lifeforce, I thoroughly enjoyed it, more than I have in ages. Maybe I was in just the right frame of mind. Its such a mad, overblown movie (Its also a hideously bad movie but…)  well you know how it is, sometimes some movies are so bad they are actually good? Or maybe I’ve seen so many bad, boring films in the years since that even Lifeforce seems good by comparison. I remember watching it at the old ABC cinema in town on its original release. Although Mathilda May obviously left an impression, the most lingering feeling was that something was very wrong with the movie. The premise was silly to the point of absurd (a UK-based Space program, a space shuttle -bizarrely bigger on the inside than it seemed from the outside- travelling out to Halleys Comet to find an alien ship shaped like a umbrella), the  script was shockingly rife with awful dialogue provoking more titters than shudders, and actors hammy performances more fit for the ‘sixties Batman tv-series than a big-scale serious horror movie. I mean, it was a horror movie, right? Or was it a tongue-in-cheek comedy poking fun at the horror genre? Was the whole thing really a genuinely serious attempt at a blockbuster sci-fi horror movie? Or was it a madly over-budgeted Carry On movie? Back then I wasn’t sure, and to this day I’m not sure Tobe Hooper really knew what he was doing. Its mad, its bad, but goodness me its also glorious. Spielberg got away with something just as daft with his 1941, so I say give Tobe Hooper a break- he made a great movie.

Great fun, and this Blu-ray is one of the releases of the year.

Office Horrors- The Mummy and The Abyss…

Ah yes, fresh for Halloween season the Office Horrors return. First it was Close Encounters. I should have learned my lesson, left it at that, never mentioned any other ‘old’ films (i.e. anything over ten years old) at work again. Seems not everyone is a lover of movies, or someone who watches them  more than once, Maybe I’m the odd one and they are normal, but I’m beginning to think I’m working with a group of Pod People, as per Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, or maybe Replicants as per Blade Runner– I mean, they look fine, they seem ordinary. But they slip themselves up in conversation. For instance, the other day I mentioned in passing that my Blu-ray of Hammer’s The Mummy had arrived in the post and I was intending to watch it one of the evenings. “Hammer?” came the (in hindsight) inevitable reply, to which I incredulously asked, “Yeah, you know, Hammer Horror, Hammer Films- Frankenstein, Dracula, Quatermass and the Pit… you know, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing…”. Blank stares back at me. Here we go again.

mummy (1)On the one hand, I know I shouldn’t be all that surprised. My own experiences of the Hammer Films date back to the late 1970s when ATV used to run Friday Fright Night movie seasons and used to run a Hammer movie pretty much every week. Movie Seasons like that just aren’t done anymore, haven’t been for years. Likewise any showings of Hammer films on terrestrial or even cable/satellite networks seem to be few and far between (other than grainy compressed versions on the Horror Channel) as most movies shown these days on tv seem to  be all fairly recent, with any older than 1980 or, (heaven save us), any actually b&w movies relegated to ungodly hours of the morning when viewing figures likely number in the dozens. So when would younger generations get the opportunity to see the Hammer classics?

And yet, on the other hand, it’s easier to watch a movie now than ever before, and surely everyone has heard of/seen Christopher Lee’s iconic Dracula, or Peter Cushing, so wonderfully watchable  in just about anything he was ever in? People have access to rental libraries, Youtube, dedicated movie channels, PPV, countless films available to buy DVD or Blu-ray. It could be argued its easier to see a film now than it ever was when I was young- before even VHS, when my movie watching was subject to the scheduling vagaries of just three channels that all closed down near midnight. Yet I managed to see many of the best Hammer films, or older classics like King Kong or the Universal monster classics or the 1950s b-movies. While I thrilled to then-new films like Star Wars I could see the lineage in them dating back to the older films, I could see where Lucas found inspiration for R2 D2 in the droids from Silent Running, or Star Trek found inspiration from Forbidden Planet. That kind of stuff should be easier now than ever before. So why do my office colleagues seem so ill-informed?

Then again, why bother even with the original Total Recall when you can watch an all-new, 3D, cgi-bangs and whistles version instead? Why bother with even Tim Burtons’s Batman when Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is newer/better? On the other hand, if filmgoers are so ignorant of older, pre-1980 or even pre-1990 movies then is this partly why we see so many remakes/reboots/re-imaginings in the cinema today? Audiences think so much is ‘new’ when actually its old stuff in fresh clothing?

A later office conversation turned to The Terminator movies. T2 seemed familiar to everyone, although one of the lads admitted he had never seen the first Terminator. Discussing James Cameron, everyone voiced positive opinions over Avatar, but I was alarmed when I voiced my own opinion that Cameron’s best film is actually The Abyss (or at least its Directors Cut version) and I received those familiar blank stares. Seems the Pod People had slipped up and revealed their true nature again… or maybe I should just be quiet and not so serious about movies. Perhaps, as I suspected last time regards CE3K, films aren’t really such a dominant, all-persuasive section of pop culture afterall, and Hollywood ain’t such a big deal.

Little Shop of Horrors – Directors Cut (1986)

lsohThis is a weird one. Usually my instinct is to prefer Directors Cuts if only from a position of purity of intent. Its the ‘original vision’, after all.  Usually the subsequent, post-preview weight of external forces result in ‘tweaked’ theatrical cuts that dilute that vision or intent, resulting in poorer films. But with LSOH I have to wonder, because I watched the recently released UK Bluray of the DC the other night and… well, I prefer the theatrical.

I know very little about the original source for LSOH; I haven’t seen the original Roger Corman movie and neither have I seen the stage version, but it would appear that the DC is faithful to them both, with a rather bleak ending. But while its  clearly intellectually the right ending it doesn’t satisfy emotionally. It sort of betrays the connection we have with Seymour and Audrey. Is it something unique to the movie, the performances of the actors or nuances of Frak Oz’s direction? Why does it work onstage but not onscreen? Its a curio. I can certainly understand why preview audiences were appalled at the screening of the original cut and their reactions sent the filmmakers hurrying into re-shoots.

I first saw the film on a VHS rental, not expecting to enjoy it. Instead I found the musical numbers enjoyable, the staging clever and the humour right up my alley. It was a great little movie and while I never bought the film on either VHS or later DVD,  I always seemed to enjoy it if I caught it on TV.  But I had read about its delayed theatrical release and the original ending in Cinefantastique, and you know how it is, that kind of stuff attains mythical properties over time. Those leaked images from the cut climactic effects sequence looked so cool. Back then directors cuts on home releases were not as common as they would one day become (I believe Oliver Stone has recently done yet ANOTHER cut of Alexander, a case where even the Final Cut wasn’t, in fact, quite as final as first thought).  So back in the day, the original cut of LSOH was instantly something we’d never see, a darker, more epic version. A better version, undoubtedly. At least that was the perceived wisdom of fans. Well, all good things come to those who wait,they say. To say I’m surprised, after all these years, that those preview audiences were right after all, would be an understatement.

Its enough to validate that most-derided tool of modern filmmaking, the infamous preview screenings.  Well OK, I guess they had to be right once in awhile. Of course, I’m sure there are many who prefer the DC. Fortunately the Blu-ray also includes the theatrical version so everyone can be happy. A great Blu-ray release.

Meet Ben

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Here’s part of the reason why updates on this blog have been few and far between of late. When we got back from our vacation in Scotland last week we were able to pick up our new King Charles Cavilier, Ben. Readers of this blog will remember that we lost our previous King Charles Cavilier, Barney, back in February this year. It was a horrible experience that broke our hearts and is still something that we are coming to terms with. Quite a few people have since told me that upon losing their own dog they could not face having another and going through that pain again- its certainly a decision I can understand having experienced losing Barney. But we always felt that we would have another dog someday.

Events unfolded over the past few months that meant we had an opportunity to have a new puppy from the same breeder that we had Barney from some near-thirteen years before (how time flies). Its not a question of replacing Barney (how do you replace the Tom Cruise of Caviliers?) but rather trying to repair a home that somehow doesn’t feel like the same place without paws and barks and walks. But is it too soon? Its been something like six months and it still feels raw sometimes, Sue knew we had lost Barney and called Claire and told her she had just had another litter of five pups, and we went to see them; Ben was just a week old then- don’t think I’d ever seen a dog so small! Claire just clicked with him immediately. He’s a black and tan Cavilier, whereas Barney was a tri-colour. The distinction is deliberate; while we prefer to have a dog of the same breed we thought having a different colour might help us avoid too many comparisons and memories. So anyway, we decided to go for it, and here he is- meet Ben, looking rather nonplussed in the photograph above.  He’s near ten weeks old now, and we’ve had him home for just almost a week. We’re on our way to getting him house-trained but regards sleeping on his own he’s having none of it- we’ve had to take turns sleeping downstairs with him; seems he’s having more success training us than we are training him. Oh well, he seems to have settled in after a bewildering few days in a strange place with two strange people and is familiar with us now, so the serious work begins next week. (Any tips though will be gratefully received- he’s our second dog so we should know what we’re doing, but every dogs different so there’s a whole new set of new mistakes for us to make!)

P1010775 You know, one slip-up I keep on making for the past week, I still manage to catch myself calling him Barney instead of Ben… I get as far as ‘Barn-‘ and I realise what I’m doing. Old habits I guess. In a way I rather like that- I have no intention of replacing Barney or of forgetting him; in a way he’ll always be here. Ben is just the start of a new chapter. Very time-consuming though; Ben is inevitably high-maintenance and constantly demands attention. I figured it would be some kind of culture shock; we had Barney so long that memories of house-training him, and of his wilder puppy days are distant, but yes, its all coming back (as for house-training- well, accidents will happen). I tried watching a film last night but barely managed it due to about four or five canine interruptions. So anyway, I’ll try to keep things going on the movie-reviewing front etc. but forgive the shoddy updates for a bit. Its certainly looking easier reading and commenting on other blogs than maintaining my own.