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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

The End of an Era – THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES seals the deal with a bang.

At the inception (yup) of writer/director Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Gotham has had 8 years of peace – with nothing remotely as threatening as The Joker (respectfully not mentioned ONCE the entire film) having surfaced during this long period of tranquility. Law enforcement is happy, the Gotham elite are happy, life is good, and as a result Bruce Wayne has hung up his spurs and retired the Batman. But of course when shit hits the fan this permanent vacation is cut short. It seems old buddies The League Of Shadows have a score to settle – not only with Bruce but also with Gotham city. Enter a new foe named Bane (Tom Hardy), trained by Ra’s al Ghul himself (the ubiquitous Liam Neeson), who’s come to finish what was started in the first chapter of the trilogy: namely to raze the corrupt city to the ground by any means necessary, in this case a good ol’ fashioned Atom bomb – and to break the Batman in mind, body, and spirit. Add to the mix master thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who complicates matters for Bats and rides the fence about whether Gotham and is worth saving, and you have a heady villainous brew. Of course our brooding hero has a few friends to help him on his journey, in the form of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and “hothead” police officer Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a cop inspired by Batman and more than willing to go beyond the call of duty. Will The Dark Knight and his allies save Gotham? Will Batman endure, as Alfred once foretold? Or does he have a death wish, as Alfred foretells early on? These are the stakes in Nolan‘s final yarn. Does the film work? Yes, though it never hits the levels of excellence of the previous films – there’s nothing as emotionally compelling as the interrogation scene from The Dark Knight, and there’s some pretty silly shit in the form of a mobile atom bomb (why not just level the damn city from a distance?) and a subplot involving police trapped in tunnels for months – all a bit much. But taken as a whole, The Dark Knight Rises merges perfectly with Nolan’s vision, and is a fitting ending – averting the disaster that claimed Sam Raimi‘s Spiderman 3 and Richard Lester‘s Superman 3 – and by so doing achieving that rare feat, of a single-director-superhero trifecta. As for the cast, it’s all accolades – Bale is a solid Bruce/Bats but finds himself in the shadow of some stellar co-stars: Michael Caine is without flaw, the perfect Alfred, end of story. Hathaway and Gordon Levitt are wonderful additions to the lore, expelling any iffy feelings you may have had about their casting within minutes of screen-time. And Hardy does so much with eye contact that it almost (almost) makes his massive muscles unnecessary. He’s creepy, his voice is demented, and it just works. And talk about payoff – the last 5 minutes of this film are truly special, and a brilliant send-off to the entire saga. He saved the franchise with Begins, and gave us two solid films afterwards: though it has minor problems, they aren’t so big as to blemish the big picture- with The Dark Knight Rises Nolan sticks the landing and proves that Comic Book Cinema is here to stay. Allow yourself to fall in, and you’ll find it’s a satisfying ride.

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July 26, 2012   5 Comments

20 FANTASTIC FINALES FROM FILMDOM (4 of 4)

If you’ve been following us for the last month and a half, you know that we partnered with BoxingUweBoll to bring you The TOP 20 CLOSING SCENES in film, as selected by the writers on both staffs. And today we bring you the final installment, numbers 1-5:

5.) Inception (2010) –  Christopher Nolan

[by Sean Carnegie]

The dream is over. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) wakes up upon successfully completing the process of inception and walks dazedly through US customs, back to the home he once knew. Once he arrives at his house, he instinctively pulls out his totem and gives it a spin to reassure himself that he isn’t still dreaming. His attention is soon drawn away however, by the sight of his two children and as they rush into his arms the camera pans back to the now forgotten top. The music builds, the top wobbles and… Cut to black.
I have never heard so many theater goers simultaneously exhale in surprise at the ending of film as I did during that final cut of Inception. With this movie, Christopher Nolan built something as puzzlingly complex as a house of cards stuffed inside of a Russian nesting doll. All the way through my first viewing of the movie, I was convinced there was no possible way for him to land a satisfying ending after creating such a wonderfully complex narrative. Yet all it took was the slight wobbling of a top and a perfectly timed cut to knock the wind out of my lungs and set the internet on absolute fire with the question, “Is Cobb still dreaming”? Even though there have been millions of words spent on the subject, the bottom line is that the question is far more important than the answer. Nolan left the blank. It’s up to you to fill it.

[admin. note: embedding has once again been disabled – but please follow the link to see the ending.]

4.) The Thing (1982) – John Carpenter

[by Boaz Dror]

Carpenter’s soon-to-be-prequel’d remake of the Howard Hawks‘ classic begins with a bang and spends the entire 2nd act building suspense as an alien shape-shifter infiltrates a rag-tag pack of Alpha Males and wreaks havoc on their minds, bodies and souls. Against a harsh arctic landscape, the twists and turns hold increasingly higher stakes, as the fate of the world hangs in the balance. And though the eye-candy that fuels this film is Rob Bottin‘s amazing creature effects, the ending is as bare-bones as possible: having seemingly killed the creature, super-cool helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) stumbles to what his final resting place by the camp’s flickering remains. Suddenly his rival Childs (Keith David) appears, “you the only one who made it?” the weight of his words filled with meaning. “Not the only one,” MacReady replies, insinuating what we’re all thinking. As Childs protests that he’s as human as the next guy, it occurs to us that the next guy – Mac himself – might not be so human. “Why don’t we just wait here a little while… see what happens.” Carpenter drops the curtain on the two men and freezes them figuratively in our minds before winter freezes them literally in their tracks, and whether we’re watching two combatant species or two of humanity’s unknown saviors, it’s a perfect ending to a movie in which no one is what he seems, and nothing can be trusted. It’s a delectably open-ended resolution to a masterpiece that won’t be topped anytime soon.

[admin. note: for a more in-depth review of the Thing look here.]

3.) The 400 Blows (1959) –  François Truffaut

[by David Micevic]

When Truffaut shot The 400 Blows, he was an outsider in the film industry, more than that, a hostile adversary—a fiery critic who famously wrote a call-to-arms deriding the stagnation he saw enveloping French cinema. At odds with the industry, by the famous final shot of his groundbreaking debut, he arguably now was the industry. With The 400 Blows he placed an indelible mark on the French film landscape, ushering in a new era of auteur cinema. To watch this scene in isolation doesn’t do it justice. It requires that you come to fully understand the plight of the film’s protagonist, renegade youth Antoine Doinel; to witness his persecution at the hands of authority figures, his eventual confinement in a juvenile detention center and his sudden escape from it all. If cinema, to paraphrase Godard, is not the station, but the train, Truffaut knew that his film needed to expresses that sense of endlessness. To convey the open-ended nature of Doinel’s journey, Truffaut employed a simple, but now-legendary cinematic technique. As Antoine makes his way onto the isolated beach, the camera zooms in on a freeze-frame of his face, and then the film abruptly ends. Truffaut leaves us with a haunting image of absolute uncertainty. There is no resolution; no reprieve. Antoine remains forever frozen in our minds, caught between the captivity of his past and the endless expanse of the unknown future.

2.) Chinatown (1974) –  Roman Polanski

[by Steven Short]

Although it’s remembered both for its technical dexterity and its unflinchingly bleak view of humanity, the ending to Chinatown is perhaps most revered for it astronomically high tragedy-per-minute ratio. In a scant five minutes, the hero is falsely arrested, his lady is shot in the head, a screaming child is carried away in the arms of an elderly pedophile, and the film’s main villain skulks away into the night. The gravity of the sequence is bolstered by a jarring lack of music, and an incorporation of eye-level shots and sparse editing lend the otherwise stylistically bold film an unpredictable, documentary-like feel. Through Polanski’s smart use of shaky P.O.V. shots, the viewer is standing right next to protagonist Jake Gittes as this shocking display of inhumanity unfolds. Everything Gittes has accomplished up until the film’s final moments has been for naught, and before all hope is extinguished a colleague mutters the famous phrase, “Forget it, Jake; it’s Chinatown.” As viewers we know those words have fallen on deaf ears, as his already dreary worldview was shaped by a similar incident in the past. He won’t forget Chinatown, and his compounded cynicism speaks to those of us who know the world can really be that bad.

1.) The Usual Suspects (1995)Bryan Singer

[by Boaz Dror]

There are gimmick endings and then there are outright shocks, culminations that cause us to question not only what came before but also the very nature of storytelling. The Usual Suspects, which pushes the concept of an unreliable narrator to dizzying heights, proves that “the bigger the lie, the more will believe it.” As smug agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) – with whom we’ve identified the entire film – bullies lowly Verbal Kint into finishing his account of Satanic Keyser Soze, we know his betrayal will earn him death. We pity Kint as he’s released, which is our undoing – for in the ensuing moments everything is transformed. Without Kint to lead him, Kujan finally sees the truth – and we see through his eyes. As Spacey shapeshifts from Kint to Soze in one of the greatest tracking shots in film, the audience’s collective jaw drops beyond the fourth wall. We realize we’ve not only been the victims of the greatest sleight of hand in film history, but that we’ve been active participants in our own undoing – we wanted this unbelievable tale-within-a-tale, of a mythical superman and a pathetic gimp, of colorful bad guys and outlandish double-crosses. And as Soze disappears forever, his greatest triumph is the one bit of fiction proven to be true: of his own greatness. Though as an audience we’re left exposed – swindled even – this fleeting fiction is an ultimate Truth we can cling to, a wisp of smoke in a hall of mirrors. The perfect ending to a perfect lie. And then – poof – it’s gone.

[admin. note: unfortunately, embedding has once again been disabled – but please follow the link to see the ending.]

What do you think? You agree/disagree? Either way, we hope you’ve enjoyed our countdown – be sure to revisit parts 12, 3, and to also visit Boxing Uwe Boll for the first installment, The countdown of the top 20 film openings! Please keep visiting both blogs for fantastic writing about movies, and look for more collaborations in the future! Thanks!

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August 8, 2011   3 Comments

Raanan Rants Against the Grain – INCEPTION

INCEPTION gets my irascible cousin’s blood pumping in a negative way.

Thought I’d give my cousin Raanan a platform to air his grievances with Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION (2010):

“Christopher Nolan spent ten years working on the screenplay for Inception, which, after wading through the movie’s inchoate and muddled plot for nearly two and a half hours, I have decided is a bit of trivia he would have been wise to keep to himself. The screenplay feels like it was dashed off in one long, coke-filled night, the excess amount of Dopamine in his brain providing him with just the right amount of unwarranted confidence to feel like the gaping holes in the narrative actually made sense.
The plot goes something like this: Dom Cobb deals in the art of Extraction, which is exactly what it sounds like- the illegal act of sneaking into a Corporate Big Whig’s subconscious while they are in a vulnerable dream state and stealing valuable information which you then sell to other rival Corporate Big Whigs for a ton of money. Okay, it’s not exactly what it sounds like, but you get the point. The movie starts (or does it?) with Saito, a Corporate Big Whig played with Die-Hard-Villain-Effeminacy by Ken Wattanabe, offering Cobb one last job: to sneak into the mind of Robert Fischer Jr., the son of a rival Corporate Big Whig, and implant an idea in his head which when he awakes he will think is his own. This is called Inception, and believe it or not, it makes Extraction look like a piece of cake. The idea will be for Fischer to break up his father’s Vague Corporate Empire, which will allow Saito’s Vague Corporate Empire to gain Complete Vague Global Dominance. It’s around here that the movie gets a little convoluted. The reason this is Cobb’s last job is because Saito is offering to use his clout to remove the warrants preventing him from returning to America and seeing his kids again. And why is he a fugitive back home? Because he has been falsely accused (or has he?) of murdering his wife, the same wife who is always reappearing (or is she?) in the meticulously constructed dream world Cobb creates for his sleeping victims (or does he?) while he is stealing information that he then brings back with him to the real world (or is it the real world?) By the end of the movie, the only thing I could be certain was real was the headache I got from trying to follow the plot.
If you haven’t already figured it out, Christopher Nolan is far too ambitious a filmmaker to concern himself with such trivial details like a coherent narrative or memorable characters. Instead, he spends the entire movie constantly reminding the audience that every twist and turn in his Matryoshka-doll-plot is nothing more than a flabby, overwrought metaphor for dreams or life or the nature of reality. Nolan would probably argue he’s being coy and self-reflexive, and that his refusal to treat the story with any credibility is a way of reminding the audience about the artificiality of moviemaking. But I think that’s a cheap excuse, and maybe even a little arrogant. The goal of the artist is not to remind us that it’s all make-believe- a revelation that would only really be mind-blowing to the schizophrenic members of the audience- but rather to try as hard as you can to make the people watching your movie forget this sad fact for a couple of hours, so that when they finally do leave the theater, they feel as if they have emerged from a dream. And this is the one thing Nolan got right: watching a good movie is very much like dreaming. The only problem is, watching this movie didn’t feel like you were doing either one of those things.”

For the record, I thought it was highly entertaining but needlessly convoluted, and was annoyed by its reliance on MacGuffins and parallel action/cliffhangers. I would’ve loved to have seen a low-budget or new-wave treatment of the script, along the lines of an Alphaville, Kamikaze ’89,  or π (Pi), which would’ve brought out the conceptual labyrinthine quality of the script instead of the “hey-look-I-can-make-something-that-sorta-resembles-a-dream” spectacle of it all. But then again that would have meant losing the floating hotel set pieces, which I dug – so forget that. Say what you will, it was definitely a well-written (perhaps overly-written?) and ambitious script, for which it – and Nolan – deserve a lot of credit. I’m sure many of you disagree. Send me your responses and I’ll post ‘em.

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July 29, 2010   No Comments

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