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Category — fantasy

S is for Summer – MAN OF STEEL

An alien from planet Krypton crash lands on Earth and is raised by a couple from Kansas who protect him from the world as he matures into one of the most powerful beings in existence: the whole of Earth is no doubt familiar with Superman‘s origin story by now – whether from comic books or film, odds are you’re aware of Kal-El/aka Clark Kent/aka Supes. So in launching Man Of Steel [2013] director  has taken a risk tackling the iconic character and risking Super-franchise fatigue from the get go. But with the guidance of Legendary Pics producer Christopher Nolan, screenwriter  and composer Hans Zimmer, he manages to add a few twists to Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster beloved Superman mythology, creating a film that – while not exactly fresh – is nevertheless chock-full of a vibrant confidence and plenty of tentpole swagger to justify the relaunch of a once proud franchise. Moments of bad dialogue and heavy-handed (unavoidable) exposition aside, Man Of Steel gets so much correct that it should have no problems ushering in a new flock of fans. Huge scope, high stakes and grand action sequences make this pound for pound the most entertaining Superman film to date – though NOT the BEST FILM – that’s undeniably Richard Donner & Christopher Reeve‘s Superman [1978]. I’m just saying this film is a huge tentpole that will easily step on a lot of this season’s blockbuster hopes with its huge red boots. This is no small feat when you consider the franchise was near death following the last attempt at a reboot, Superman Returns [2006]. The interesting thing about Man Of Steel is its unusual narrative, loaded with flashbacks that could have been a mess but  instead mirror the fractured mind of a person… um, alien… who is lost and confused, a Stranger in a Strange Land. And it works; the structure IS Superman. The minds behind Man Of Steel were smart not to try to emulate the earnestness we associate with the John Williams anthem-ed classic, instead creating a character that is larger than even the filmmakers themselves. And their interpretation works. Aided by a truly remarkable performance from Henry Cavill, there’s a ton of emotion on top of two tons of action, creating a character who’s accessible despite his super-humanity. He’s just plain likable; the ultimate boy scout, lonely and lost, a tortured soul who happens to go by the name of Kal-El from Krypton. Cavill fills the larger than life role with great poise, and while there’s no red underwear on display (sorry ladies), rest assured the dude looks a’ight in that S suit. And the supporting cast is super tight too: Kevin Costner brings irascible heart to protective foster parent Jonathan Kent, Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Take Shelter, and the classic Michael Shannon Reads the Insane Delta Gamma Sorority Letter video short) brings his notorious crazy eyed intensity to self-righteous heavy General Zod, while Antje Traue steals the show as Faorah-Ul, an instant classic badass! And the action sequences!?!? Exactly what you’d expect if Supes was real: mass destruction courtesy of pissed-off Kryptonians, with Metropolitans (residents of Metropolis?) caught in the crossfire. So much carnage it’s almost another in the line of apocalypse films. And since with huge scope comes huge cost you’ll find yourself snickering at some in-your-face-product-placement in all that smoldering rumble! In short, I had a damn good time, and hope DC Comics uses this as the bar when they attempt the inevitable sequel. So if you’re tired of superhero flicks I’ve got bad news for you: if they continue to be this bold and adventurous they’re here to stay.

man of steel

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June 20, 2013   No Comments


Before Empire Strikes Back, before Aliens, before Evil Dead II, here is the original “better than” sequel, which mines the source material for what is essential and pushes the magic a step further. Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is not only superior to the original but it is also the culmination of James Whale‘s singular sardonic surrealism. This is the film that marks him as the forefather of quirky horror and delectable strangeness. Take this scene in which Doctor Pretorius (played with fervor by Ernest Thesiger) charms Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) into joining forces on a new experiment – a scene chock-full of fantastic dialogue, jarring expressionistic sets, and eye-popping (for the time) special effects, way ahead of its time in tone, subject, and wit, presaging a future full of fictional mad scientists and very real clone technology. A key scene in a fascinating movie whose wraparound story begins with Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who also plays the Bride) and which continues to self-reflexively play with the themes of creation throughout. Ballerinas in bottles, kings and popes the playthings of a twisted madman: of Gods and Monsters indeed!

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January 9, 2012   No Comments

Existential Swordplay – SOUL OF THE SWORD

SOUL OF THE SWORD is a superlative Wu-Xia from the Brothers Shaw.

Most of my Shaw Bros. love has thus far been directed at kung-fu mastermind Lau Kar Leung (here and here), but there were other great directors and kung-fu choreographers in the Shaw stables, and plenty of great movies like this one – 1978’s Soul of the Sword [Sha Jue]. LKL’s once partner, Tang Chia handles the action choreography in this Wu-Xia film directed by Hua Shan (who gave us the classic Super Inframan), but it isn’t the action alone which makes this movie so watchable. Wu Xia: the closest thing Americans have to it is the genre of Western fiction – by authors such as Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey – but instead of The Wild West it’s an effervescent green Sherwood forest-like China, populated by colorful swordsmen with unique powers who endlessly greet one another: “I’m Fox Tail, carrying the jade sword of the mystic mountain.” “I have heard of you. I’m Fire Head, my teacher was your grand teacher’s teacher. I look forward to double crossing you soon.” The Wu Xia of the 60’s and 70’s (Come Drink With Me, The Magic Blade) were elegant and full of bluster, and in all honesty somewhat dull. But not this one – it’s grim, gritty and pulls no punches. Ti Lung plays “Nameless,” a swordsman on a quest to unseat the current “King of Swords” and become the greatest martial artist in the world (i.e. China). As an orphan, Nameless witnesses the masked King of Swords kill a swordsman whose wife then commits suicide, and the event inspires him to seek a life of power in order to defend the weak. But when we meet him as an adult he has forgotten all but his quest: he is arrogant, aggressive and cruel, with a single-mindedness which lays waste to friends and lovers. While today’s Wu Xia – like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Hero – are mostly critical of notions of heroism, this was one of the first to subvert conventions, and it is certainly more subtle and rewarding in its critique of the Warrior’s Code. The direction is slick, the acting superb (with Ku Feng and Norman Chu lending their talents), and the fantastic ambiguous ending underlines the existential crisis facing all heroic quests – whether they be personal journeys or great revolutions. But what really lifts the movie is the B story, when Nameless falls in love with the very same woman (the beautiful Lin Chen-Chi) as the one who’s suicide first set him on his journey (the beautiful Lin Chen-Chi). And it’s this surreal twist – of a swordsman haunted by a love which may destroy his quest – that raises the bar and gives the film a surreal, Buñuelian quality – like a martial arts version of Cemetery Man! And that’s just plain awesome – a surprise jewel in the Shaw Bros. treasure chest which I suggest you unearth immediately.

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April 27, 2011   No Comments

Nørdic Monster Flick – THE TROLL HUNTER

THE TROLL HUNTER is a fun romp through the Norwegian countryside – with Trolls thrown in for good measure.

If movies like Cloverfield and Monsters have taught us anything, it’s that filmmakers can sprinkle 5 minutes worth of special effects over 90+ minutes of documentary-styled narrative and create a healthy buzz by lumping all the “good parts” into a misleading, spectacle-laden trailer. Boom. Money in the bank, next project in the works. The only catch is that usually the resulting movie is so freakin’ thin that it doesn’t have a shelf life beyond the initial viewing. Writer-Director André Øvredal‘s highly-anticipated Troll Hunter [a.k.a. Trolljegeren] (2010) seeks to remedy this by keeping its CGI monsters in the background and placing a human character in the foreground – the titular Troll Hunter, played by Otto Jespersen, a man so fed up with his secret state-sponsored job keeping Norway’s trolls in check that he allows an amateur film crew access to his work. Off they go in search of trolls, the skeptical trio of non-believers (trolls can smell god-fearing men, so none are allowed on the trip) rolling their eyes and mocking their eccentric subject – until he delivers the goods. As monsters go, the trolls themselves are a welcome departure – goofy and oafish, they give the film a fantastical and comedic edge, albeit an esoteric one which non-Norwegians won’t fully appreciate. And besides these charming CGI concoctions there’s some good pacing, very dry comedy, and breathtaking, travelogue-like views of Norway’s majestic forests and Fjords to keep the viewer interested between troll sightings (the fact that trolls only come out at night serves the film’s structure well). It’s a fun movie, especially for fans of low budget monster movies, but despite its many qualities The Troll Hunter ends up feeling very much like a blown opportunity, which only just scratches the surface of its numerous subplots (the romantic life of our hero, the fate of our camera crew, the bureaucratic mysteries of the TST) and settles for predictable and contrived twists and turns. And even though filmmakers can chalk the lack of resolution up to the first-person, “lost-footage” trope at the heart of the film, I personally couldn’t shake the feeling that they should have squeezed more humor, magic, and wonderment of those darned trolls, and the man who hunts them.

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February 14, 2011   No Comments

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