FlixChatter Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

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Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Runtime: 2 hrs 7 minutes

Hollywood loves BOAT, that is, films Based On a True Story, and few are as overdue yet timely as Hidden Figures. Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, it tells the story of a team of African-American women who worked at NASA and their integral roles in helping the U.S. advance during the Space Race during the Cold War era. Billed as ‘human computers,’ these women are the quintessential unsung heroes with an inspirational and important story to tell.

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Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe star as Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson respectively. A trifecta of massively talented Black actresses who brought wit, grace and humor to their roles. The film is at times harrowing to watch and it made me sad and angry at the appalling treatments of Black people, especially women, during a time when racial segregation was still legally enforced in the country. The fact that this happened merely 50 some years ago literally gives me chills. Yet the film never descended into somber or depressing territory, but it was brimming with a defiant but hopeful spirit throughout.

Right from the opening scene when their car broke down and they had to deal with the white cop who arrived to question them instead of offering to help, there’s a lighthearted tone to the film. It’s not that the filmmakers are making light of the situation however, in fact, this is a crowd-pleasing film that’s told with equal amusement and gravitas. Even during a key scene where Katherine had to walk half a mile one way just to go to the colored bathrooms, drink from a separate coffee kettle marked ‘colored’ and endure constant belittlement from her colleagues, the film never felt too heavy-handed or overly-sentimental. There’s also the moment Dorothy was kicked out of the Virginia public library for venturing out of the ‘colored’ section. Spencer’s Dorothy remained dignified and defiant as she rode home on the bus with her young boys.

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It’s hard to pick a favorite out of the three female protagonists, as they’re all excellent and given an equally compelling character arc. Henson’s Katharine seemed to have the largest arc of the three and it’s such a joy to watch her in the role. She had to act several scenes writing complex mathematical formula on a board in a single long take, and she managed to do it effortlessly and believably. All three women were convincing in their roles, their portrayals felt real instead of simplistic caricatures. The memorable male characters are Kevin Costner as the director of the Space Task Group, Mahershala Ali as Katharine’s love interest and Glen Powell as John Glenn. None of them ever overshadowed the women, but adds a perspective of the gender/racial issues of the time. On a side note, this movie made me curious to check out The Right Stuff now which chronicles the space race.

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I’m glad I waited to do my top 10 list until January as this film merits a spot on there. Boasting beautiful cinematography by Mandy Walker and rousing music by Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, film also looks AND sounds great. It’s an important film to be sure, but also a well-written and well-acted piece that’s as inspiring as it is entertaining. It made me laugh and cry, with an ending that made me want to get up and cheer. I certainly don’t mind watching this again.

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Have you seen Hidden Figures? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: CRIMINAL (2016)

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For the last couple of years, Hollywood is giving Kevin Costner another shot at being a box office draw. Unfortunately all the films he starred in as the lead mustered very little box office returns and looks like that trend will continue with his new action thriller.

After a botched mission, CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) was killed and his boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) needs to know what happened. Pope was going to bring in a hacker named Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt) who has the possession of a very powerful technology that can destroy the world. In order to find out what happened and locate Stroop, Wells contacted Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) who’s an expert at transferring memory cells from one being to another. Dr. Franks decided to choose a very dangerous criminal named Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) to receive Pope’s memory.

After the brain operation, Stewart told Wells and Franks that he doesn’t have Pope’s memory inside him, this of course was a lie since Stewart has own agenda after seeing flashes of what happened to Pope before he died. Wells was furious and told his men to take Stewart back to prison. But Stewart was able to escape and he’s on the run not only from CIA agents but a very powerful man named Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Spanish actor Jordi Mollà) and his assassins.

With the successes of the Jason Bourne films, seems like many spy action films have tried to copy those films. And this one is no exception, we get the usual CIA folks tracking our hero through surveillance cameras, car chases and hand to hand combat. I did like the script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, they tried to bring some new ideas to a familiar genre. Unfortunately the pacing of the movie is a bit uneven and I think the blame should go to director Ariel Vromen. He doesn’t seem to know if he wants to make a gritty action thriller or dramatic thriller. Also, this may not be his fault because of the movie’s very low budget but the action sequences were poorly staged and ended way too quickly. I did appreciate that he didn’t shy away from making the violent scenes very bloody, I miss seeing R-rated action films.

Performances wise, the movie belongs to Costner and he’s quite good here. At first his character starts out as a very despicable person but of course he becomes the hero and saves the world as the movie progresses. Oldman and Jones didn’t have much to do and same can be said of Gal Gadot.

This is the kind of action movie that probably best-suited for a TV movie of the week or straight to home video. It’s too bad though, with a cast like this, you’d think the final product would be something special.

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Have you seen CRIMINAL? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: 3 Days to Kill

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A dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

Ok, the fact that McG directed this from Luc Besson’s script doesn’t exactly spell ‘must see’ on my list. Heck, the last film by those two I saw were This Means War (even w/ Tom Hardy in it, it’s only worth seeing when killing time on a plane!) and the abysmal The Family respectively. But I gave this a shot because I’m a big fan of Kevin Costner and it’s nice to see him in a leading role again.

So the film begins with a shoot-out at a hotel between a CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) and the agency’s biggest fish, a nasty terrorist in possession of nuclear bombs. The operation was a bust partly because Renner passed out as he’s apparently been suffering from brain cancer. So he’s given only a few months to live and he decides to spend it with his estranged wife and teenage daughter in where else, Paris. That’s classic Besson as he has such a penchant for setting his films in his hometown the City of Lights.

What surprised me here is that this flick is not just all action and car chases, though of course you can expect a lot of that from McG and Besson. There’s equal drama here in the form of a father-daughter relationship. I don’t mind that part even if it all looks familiar and somewhat schmaltzy at times. Hailee Steinfeld is quite good as his bratty teen Zooey who’s slowly warming up to her dad, she makes her character more interesting than otherwise would under a less capable young actress. Connie Nielsen doesn’t get much to do as Costner’s estranged wife but it’s been a while since I saw her in anything so it’s nice to see she’s still working.

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The resemblance to Taken is uncanny given the action paired with father/daughter drama. But the fact that there are more preposterous action scenes in the Liam Neeson vehicle, Taken was decidedly more entertaining. It may seem that Neeson is giving advice to Costner to be another aging seasoned action star, but to be fair, Costner was already doing action flicks early in his career, even played a spy in No Way Out and most recently a CIA mentor in the latest Jack Ryan movie. I must say he’s still got it, and still looks good doing it, too.

I think the weakest link in this movie is Amber Heard. Her character is so darn cheesy, the clichéd femme fatale of a blond seductress with stiletto heels & red lips, complete with corny lines like “I’m everybody’s type” as she shamelessly flirts with Ethan. There’s an apparent disdain that Ethan is showing towards Vivi which is nice to see as I share his dread. All the scenes with Vivi is so lame and cringe-worthy. I was never fond of Heard since I saw her in The Joneses, and she proves to be a one-note actress here.

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Mixing genres is always tricky and I don’t think the filmmaker/writer involved are skilled enough to make it work here. It ends up working more of an action comedy with some drama thrown in. The espionage stuff is used more in a gimmicky manner that I can’t even call it a spy thriller. There’s also a subplot involving an African immigrant family staying in his Paris flat that feels awkward here. I think it’s meant to show Ethan’s softer side but it’s rather overkill as we’ve already got that from his relationship with his daughter. Plus that whole baby delivery is so unrealistic that it was utterly risible. There are some genuine laughs to be had though, especially the scenes involving Marc Andréoni as the bad guy’s limo driver. There’s also a droll running gag with Ethan’s phone, set to Icona Pop’s perky tune I Love It (I Don’t Care) by Zooey, that keeps going off at the most inopportune time.

All things considered, I find this movie fairly entertaining as I didn’t take it too seriously. Much like True Lies where there are more plot holes than bullet holes in the cars the hero’s shooting at. The Paris scenery are nice to look at and there’s the obligatory car chases and shoot-outs that should please action fans. I definitely think Costner still makes this one worthwhile in my book. He’s watchable even in the the repetitive scenes of him being disoriented from the cancer drug. At 59, he’s still got his movie-star charisma and presence to pull off an action hero role. I’m certainly glad this turns out to be better than McG and Besson’s previous films I mentioned above. So if you’re a fan of this genre and Costner, I’d say this is well-worth a matinee viewing or a rental.

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Have you seen 3 Days to Kill? Well, I’d love to hear what you think!

Question of the Week: 80s/90s aging movie stars still in action – Love ’em or Hate ’em?

Tonight I’m going to a screening of 3 Days to Kill. Yes the trailer looks ridiculous and the director is McG so the likelihood of this being good is pretty slim. But y’know what, I’m still going to see it for the nostalgia factor as I quite like Kevin Costner as an action hero, whom I first saw in a spy thriller No Way Out in the late 80s. I’m dating myself here, but those who grew up in the 80s like I did likely remember these stars in their prime. Costner’s getting a career resurgence since winning a Golden Globe for his performance in the TV miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. Interestingly, he’s only one of a slew of 80s/90s movie stars who’re still in demand in today’s movies.

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In fact, within a week of each other, 59-year-old Costner and 61-year-old Liam Neeson have a new movie coming out with each of them getting top billing. Both are action movies, which seem to be the genre these old, err seasoned movie stars get hired for, strangely enough. I just came across this NY Post article last night where I read about Neeson’s reaction why he took those action roles: “Because they’re dumb enough to offer them to me … It’s like, I’m 61 years of age. I mean, come on. It’s a joke. It’s like [mimes talking into phone], ‘How much? OK, I’ll be there.’” Ahah, you gotta love his honesty!

But hey, there are economic reasons why Hollywood would rather offer action roles to familiar names. That NY Post article also talked about how foreign audiences actually love ‘stars of immediate past’ and the universal appeal of an action adventure is easier to market than a decidedly more culturally-relevant comedy or drama. The Expendables 2 only grossed $85 mil domestically but made well over $200 mil in foreign markets total. Even the relative dud like Escape Plan with Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger which only earned a paltry $25 mil here in the US made over $100 mil in foreign markets. So they may be old but certainly not flat-lined yet at the box office.

There’s practically a new sub-genre of *aging stars in action* movies with a cast that pride themselves of being older, wiser and still very much bad ass. It has spun several successful franchises like Taken (Neeson’s vehicle), RED aka Retired Extremely Dangerous (Bruce Willis’ vehicle) and The Expendables, kick-started by Sly himself, easily one of THE biggest action heroes of all time, and starring the who’s who of 80s & 90s action.

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The Expendables‘ strong point is truly in the cast [I’ve seen the first film, it’s definitely NOT the script] and the possibilities seem endless. If you’re somewhat famous in the 90s and can still walk properly without a cane, there’s a chance Sly’d offer you a role [that is if you didn’t demand $1 mil/per day pay check like Bruce Willis]. It turns out he IS expendable after all ahah, though he’s not exactly running out of work. This Summer he’s reprising his role as detective in Sin City 2, which guess what, opens just a week after Expendables 3 😀

So long as the demand is there, I think we can expect relative *young’uns* like Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves and Johnny Depp, who are in the early 50s or will hit it this year, would be around for at least another decade or so.


So what do you think folks? Do you wish these aging stars would retire already or are you loving the perpetual trend of aging stars in action?

FlixChatter Review – Jack Ryan: The Shadow Recruit

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It’s been over a decade that we saw a Jack Ryan film. Chris Pine now fills the shoes that’s been vacated by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck in the fifth feature of the long-dormant franchise. The major difference is, this is the first time that the film’s plot isn’t based on a specific novel by Tom Clancy, so in a way it’s a reboot. Before the title shows up, in roughly 20 min of so, we’re treated to an origin story of our hero. Instead of being set on the Cold War era, Ryan’s journey began post 9/11 as seeing the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers inspired him to join the army. He survived a chopper attack and had to undergo an extensive physical therapy for nearly two years, all the while a CIA agent Thomas Harper has been secretly monitoring his progress. As soon as deems Ryan is ready for action, Harper recruits him and send him back to college to finish his PhD in economics.

A decade later, Ryan working in Wall Street monitoring suspicious activity that might post terrorist threat. Soon he discovers that a stealthy Russian investment worth billions that could damage the US stock market down to the level of the great depression. The villain in question is a Soviet Army veteran Viktor Cheverin who’s none too happy about the US’ intervention of the Soviet’s invasion in Afghanistan. Posing as a broker on a mission to audit Cheverin’s account, Ryan is off to Moscow.

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The first fight sequence between Ryan and a Ugandan hired-assassin twice his size (you might’ve seen him in the trailer) packs a punch. Ryan somehow manages to outmaneuver a trained killer despite relatively limited training. After all, he’s more of an analyst than a Bourne-type killing machine, more brain than brawn but it certainly worked in his favor. Ryan’s ‘regular guy’ appeal and his humanity is what separates our protagonist from the typical action hero. After he kills someone, Ryan is in a state of shock. He doesn’t take killing lightly as if it’s ‘just a job’ like Bond would say. He’s haunted by the experience and that dread is written all over his face.

The action is not something you’ve never seen before. In fact, a lot of what happens in this film feel familiar, there’s nothing groundbreaking by any means. The most thrilling sequence involving Ryan breaking into the baddie’s office plays out like a Mission Impossible sequence, I expect the theme song to come on as I’m watching it! Even the story is somewhat predictable and not as suspenseful as one would expect, yet it’s got enough going for it to keep me tuning in. Chris Pine makes for a pretty good Jack Ryan in that he’s easy to root for in the same vein of his predecessor Harrison Ford. What he lacks in range he more than makes up in screen presence and likability. Kevin Costner has the effortless gravitas as his CIA mentor, apparently he was offered the role of Jack Ryan for The Hunt for Red October but he turned it down. I think he would’ve been excellent in the role and I must say he still looks fit enough to kick ass if need be. Which made me wish they had given him a bit more dynamic stuff to do in this movie.

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The weakest link here is Keira Knightly, who despite pulling off a decent American accent as Ryan’s girlfriend seems horribly miscast. She just isn’t believable in the role of a nurse who’s constantly worried her boyfriend is having an affair. Plus there’s zero chemistry between her and Pine. There is a pretty tense scene between her and Kenneth Branagh as Cheverin at the dinner table, and I have to say she has way more chemistry with him than with Pine. That brings me to Sir Branagh, whose direction here was the main reason I was somewhat anticipating this movie. Well, I can’t say that he acquit himself as well as a director here, compared to his previous work. I’m not too fond of his camera work here with the extensive use of unnecessary close-ups, though I’m glad he’s not a fan of the shaky cam technique. I do think he makes for a pretty compelling baddie. His scenery-chewing performance as Cheverin, complete with an over-the-top Russian accent, is quite a hoot. There’s a hint of chilling unpredictability when he stares at you with his devilish smirk, and Branagh gives himself a grand entrance if you will, the first time he comes on screen.

Overall I enjoyed this one despite many of its flaws. I think the key here is that I buy Pine as Jack Ryan, unlike Ben Affleck who lacks the confidence and charisma in the role. Though Pine plays Ryan as being unsure of his ability, he certainly has that inherent swagger. It’s also fun seeing Costner back in the action genre. It gets no point for originality however, nor does it inject as much life to the long-dormant franchise the way J.J. Abrams did with the Star Trek reboot. The score by one of my favorite composers Patrick Doyle also didn’t wow me as his last work in Branagh’s film THOR, which remains one of my fave soundtrack of recent memory. I think the script could’ve been a lot stronger to make this a memorable spy thriller. As it stands now, it’s just good enough to make me want to see what’s next.


Three and a half stars out of Five
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What do you think of the latest Jack Ryan movie?

R.I.P. Tom Clancy – Thank you for your Jack Ryan thrillers!

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Tom Clancy, the Baltimore-born author died Tuesday October 2nd in his hometown at the age of 66, two months’ shy of the publish date of his new Jack Ryan novel, Command Authority. It’s fascinating to see how the former insurance agent couldn’t find a publisher for his first book, The Hunt for Red October, until Naval Institute Press, which never bought original fiction, took a chance on him in 1985. It’s a great American success story as his work shot up to the NY Times’ best-seller list (17 out 26 of his books made the best seller list), he even garnered the attention of President Ronald Reagan who’s a big fan of his work.

Hollywood took notice and his film adaptations were box office hits. I happen to be a big fan of his Jack Ryan thrillers. Though The Hunt for Red October with Alec Baldwin as the original Jack Ryan is the best of the series, I also have a soft spot for the more action-packed thrillers with Harrison Ford in the role, Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. I enjoy spy thrillers but the strength of Mr. Clancy’s work lies in the protagonist who’s relatable and easy to root for. Even when the film itself is subpar (The Sum of All Fears), the valiant, patriotic but NOT a superhero Jack Ryan endures. Soon the character will be revived with the fourth actor playing the role, more on that in a bit.

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Clancy himself is ambivalent about being a Hollywood darling, apparently the lack of creative control bothered him, as I’d think it would any author. “Giving your book to Hollywood is like turning your daughter over to a pimp,” he famously said. (per ABCnews.com) His reach extends beyond films. His work had inspired TV shows like 24 and Homeland, as well video games like Splinter Cell, which according to NYTimes, were so realistic, the military licensed them for training.

Here’s a tribute from my friend and blog staff Ted S., who’s a big fan of Mr. Clancy:

Tom Clancy was one of my favorite fiction writers back in high school and college, I always get excited when his new novel hit the book shelves. But I have to admit after 9/11, I kind of loss interest in his books. I think I’ve read only two of his novels after the 9/11 attack. You see most of his novels were about what if scenarios and when a real tragedy happened, I just loss interest in his work. He in fact got some heat after 9/11, in one of his novels, Debt of Honor, a “terrorist” clashed an airplane into the State Capital Building in D.C., killing most the government officials, including the president. So of course some people blamed Clancy for writing things write that, but I thought it was pretty silly to blame a fiction writer.

Hollywood has turned four of his novels into films, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of all Fears. Out of the four films, I thought The Hunt for Red October was the best one, in fact I thought it’s even better than the book version, you can read why I thought so in this post. Funny enough though, out of all of the Jack Ryan novels, I liked The Hunt for Red October the least. Now, The Hunt Red October and Patriot Games stayed pretty true to the source material, while Clear and Present and The Sum of all Fears weren’t. I even remember Clancy was quite upset at the changes the screenwriters made to Clear and Present Danger, he even bad-mouthed the movie before it opened in theaters.

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He wasn’t too happy that Jack Ryan was made into the main character in the movie, in the novel John Clark (Willem Dafoe‘s character in the movie) was the main lead and Ryan didn’t show up until half way through the book. Of course when you have Harrison Ford as the star, he’s still a box office force at the time, you can’t make him a supporting character. So I didn’t mind the filmmakers decided to make that change.

I really like the Jack Ryan series, both films and novels, because he’s more of thinking man’s action hero. In fact in most of the novels, Ryan wasn’t part of the action at all, he uses mostly his brain to solve problems and leave all the action stuff to his comrades Clark and Chavez.

Out of all of Clancy’s novels, my absolute favorites were Without Remorse and The Cardinal of the Kremlin; the former has been in development hell for years, at one point Keanu Reeves signed on to star and John McTiernan was attached to direct but the studio went bankrupt before the cameras started rolling and the last I heard Tom Hardy was courted to play the young John Clark. I hope the new Jack Ryan film does well and maybe they can incorporate the storyline from The Cardinal of the Kremlin into the eventual sequel.

– Ted S.

Well, it’s a bit of peculiar timing that the new poster of the new Jack Ryan film is released on the day of Clancy’s death. But the pensive pose of Chris Pine actually looks appropriately somber, as if the character’s mourning the death of the creator.

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Apparently this film is NOT based on a particular Clancy novel, instead, it’s an original story initially conceived by screenwriter Hossein Amini featuring the Jack Ryan character (per Wiki). Glad they still put Clancy’s name on the poster though. The title seems to have been changed from Shadow One to Shadow Recruit, and it’ll focus on Jack as a young covert CIA analyst who uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. I’m quite looking forward to it given I’m a fan of the character, and Kenneth Branagh directing (as well as playing the villain) doesn’t hurt. Nice to see Kevin Costner playing his military mentor, though I’m not too fond of Keira Knightley as the love interest.

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The trailer’s finally released today, check it out:

The film is scheduled to be released on Christmas Day in the US.

So THANK YOU Mr. Clancy for giving us such great thrillers, and an enduring character we can enjoy for years to come.


So what’s your favorite Tom Clancy work, are you looking forward to the new Jack Ryan film?

Musings on Man of Steel: What works and what doesn’t in the latest Superman reboot

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Oh boy, where do I begin… Some films are tough to review and I find this one to be particularly so because I feel like I’ve invested myself in this movie even long before I saw it. It’s strange I know, and perhaps I shouldn’t have been sooo incredibly pumped but if you’ve read my ‘history‘ if you will, with this character, I can’t help myself. And really, Warner Bros have done a tremendous job building the marketing for this movie and pacing the trailers to get fan boys/girls like me to wait with baited breath.

Well, at 7:30 pm last Tuesday night — after two and a half years wait, and numerous countdown posts — my hubby and I finally sat down and watch this film. I’m glad there were only two trailers before this film came out, though I wish one of them had been for The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, as I didn’t want to wait a moment sooner for this film to start. Now, here’s my thoughts after a few days processing it… pardon the long post, but you know I’m rather indulgent when it comes to Superman 😀

What Works

An absorbing backstory of the hero and his planet

When the filmmakers said this is going to be an origin story, they REALLY meant it. The film opens with our hero still in his mother’s womb and his father, the brilliant scientist Jor-El, helping her deliver him. We know he’s a special ‘man’ on earth, but he’s also a special baby in his native planet, as Kal-El is the first baby born of natural conception in thousands of years. We get a glimpse of a more organic version of Krypton than I’ve ever seen. The landscape and creatures from the alien planet reminds me a bit of Avatar, brushed with much more warm color scheme than the icy, futuristic look of the Richard Donner version. We see the ‘S’ symbol as a prominent element of his family, and I like that this film gives that iconic emblem a bit more background than in previous movies as it’s such an integral part of the character.

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The send-off is an emotional one, giving us a picture of the kind of people brought Kal-El into the world, and the grim circumstances of the world he was born into. The extended history scenes was explored pretty well here, which certainly makes me think of Krypton in a different light, that’s it’s a world that’s not so entirely different from our own. It’s definitely a thought-provoking Superman film that lingers with me for days after I saw it.

Exploring the sci-fi aspect

It’s interesting that I never regarded the previous Superman as a science-fiction movie, but this time you could say that Man of Steel is a sci-fi action/drama as it really tackles the ‘science’ of the two worlds of Superman. Words like terraforming, codex, world engines, etc. are terms I never associate with Superman, and we also get vibes of The Matrix or Gattaca in earlier scenes.

There’s a scene that touches upon the fact that Superman’s no longer used to his native Kryptonian atmosphere, as his body’s adapted to earth’s oxygen after living here for three decades. It seems to have a similar weakening power the way Kryptonite does, though there’s no mention of that in the film. It’s fascinating stuff and adds a different layer to the Superman story that’s overlooked in the past.

The non-linear storyline

This is sort of a Christopher Nolan‘s trademark if you will, and I’m glad David S. Goyer decided to interweave the Clark Kent’s upbringing in flashback mode as the adult Clark is grappling with the notion of ‘Where do I come from?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ This narrative style isn’t confusing to me because well, I (as well as most people) already know the story, but it’s still good to see it being played out in a whole different way. I think it helps pace the story as well, because let’s face it, when you’re in the theater watching a Superman movie, you yearn to see Supes in THAT suit. The buildup makes the moment when he comes out of what we’ve come to know as Fortress of Solitude, with his cape billowing in the wind, all the more sweeter. Not a moment too soon, I’d say, and though I’ve seen that clip a bazillion times in the trailer, I’m still getting goosebumps watching it.

Supes ‘super’ Dads

It’s perfect timing that Man of Steel is released on Father’s Day weekend, as both of his fathers in the film are so awesome they’re even worthy of their own ‘My Two Dads’ spinoff, ahah. The reviewer at HitFix.com astutely pointed out one of the most fundamental difference between DC’s two flagship heroes “…Batman is defined by his missing parents, while Superman is defined by his surplus of parents.” That’s so true! And it’s nice to see the excellent casting for both roles. I really enjoy watching Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as Supes’ Kryptonian and earth-bound father, respectively. It’s interesting that both Oscar winners have played Robin Hood and Cavill was quite the masterful archer in Immortals, I guess it runs in the family 😀

I appreciate seeing Jor-El’s character being covered in more depth, with Crowe is in top form here, as valiant and heroic as he was in Gladiator (the ‘This is madness’ line cracks me up a bit though, an homage to Snyder’s previous hit film perhaps?) Thankfully, he’s not relegated to just a talking head like Brando and he appears throughout the film in a hologram, traveling with his son in ‘spirit’ if you were, just like God the Father is in Christ the son. The Judeo-Christian theme in Superman films are always palpable, and here Clark becomes the earthly savior at the exact age of 33. Thus the father/son scenes are easily the highlights of the film for me, and Crowe’s Jor-El is perhaps my favorite character in the film next to the title role.

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Costner hits all the right notes as as the humble and wise farmer from Smallville who loves his adopted son so much he’s willing to lay down his life. I’m glad we get to see Jonathan Kent interacting with the adult Clark in one scene, which happens to be one of the most emotionally-charged moment that no doubt shapes the rest of Clark’s life. The strong moral compass in the hero’s early life is covered in great depth, which made the first half of the film the more compelling part of the movie.

Henry Cavill as Superman

Naturally, to portray someone as iconic and beloved as Superman, in the year of its 75th anniversary no less, it’s crucial that we get an actor who could bring that character justice. Let’s face it though, Christopher Reeve was a tough act to follow in the role, and the comparison is inevitable. Truth be told, Reeve’s Superman will always have a very special place in my heart, I don’t think anyone could ever take his place.

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That said, I’ve been a fan of Cavill’s casting from the get-go, obviously he looks every inch the part both in chiseled physique and down-to-earth mannerism. But the true test is really seeing him on screen, BEING Superman and interacting with the people in the story. Well, I can say with confidence and positive giddy-ness that Cavill did the character justice. Sure we didn’t get the bumbling Clark trying to get Lois’ attention, but that doesn’t mean this version is one dimensional at all. In fact, Cavill believably portrays a more layered persona, showing the vulnerable side of such a larger-than-life character. Not quite the tortured soul the way Bruce Wayne was, but appropriately solemn as a conflicted man haunted by the past dealing with a constant internal struggles within him. Seems like some critics are expecting a wisecracking character with a slew of one liners at the ready, but you know what, I’m not expecting that from Cavill. I’m glad he made the character his own instead of simply channeling Reeve. I like that he’s a man of a few words, someone who wisely prefers to listen than being heard.

Michael Shannon as Zod

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I was glad when it was announced that General Zod was going to be the main villain, and boy, did they get an excellent actor to play the part. In some interviews, Michael Shannon said that he never thought of playing a comic-book character and that he found something sympathetic about his character. I appreciate his take on the role as a staunch military leader who’s loyal to a fault. So he’s not simply a megalomaniac who enjoy making people suffer, though of course his mission to save his own kind is basically genocide, something that neither Jor-El nor his son would ever condone. Ok so his bowl cut and goatee is not exactly an attractive look on Shannon, but it’s nice to see a villain who also looks physically menacing. Shannon’s athleticism makes him a formidable foe even for the mighty buff Cavill.

The chemistry of the Cast

The fantastic ensemble cast would be for naught if they don’t have chemistry with each other. But there’s none of that issue in this film, all the performances are strong here and they play off each other well. Despite being the youngest and least experienced actor amongst the key players, Cavill’s able to hold his own effortlessly. I love all his scenes with Crowe and especially this one with Diane Lane as his earth-bound mother. It’s one of the cheeriest moments in the movie where Clark came home after being away from Smallville for some time. The mother & son moment is poignant and sweet.

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The visual imagination of the film

As I’ve mentioned above, the long opening sequence of life in Krypton shows the vast planet where Superman came from. The scene is beautifully realized, with lush valleys, caverns and water mass, with what looks like a primeval animals and wing-like creatures that serve as means of transport.

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The look of Smallville captures the picturesque small town sensibilities and the iconic Kent farm that’s apparently built from scratch looks appropriately earthy next to the massive corn fields (Kevin Costner must’ve felt a sense of déjà vu from filming Fields of Dreams, ahah). Contrast that to the design of the baby Kal-El’s rocket ship that launched him from Krypton. The key word here once again is organic, with its clean lines and a more rounded shape that forms the S-shield. Oh, and if you look closely, seems like Pa Kent’s been collecting all kinds of books about aliens, UFOs, etc. which of course leads to him saying “Youre the answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe?'” when the time comes that he can’t hide it from his adopted son anymore.

I LOVE, LOVE the costume design of this film! The texture and ornate design is just fantastic, and the armor that Jor-El wore has an interesting dichotomy of being ancient looking as well as futuristic at the same time. The iconic Superman suit is re-imagined with a darker, more monochromatic hue. Again, the sleek texture beautifully accentuate the perfectly-sculpted physique of Cavill, and certainly a heck of a lot more bad ass without the red underwear on the outside. I’d love to see Man of Steel being considered for Best Costume Design come Oscar time.

Lois Lane’s larger involvement in the story

I never thought that Lois is merely a damsel in distress in the Superman movies, I mean she’s always been a shrewd career woman. But here, the stellar reporter actually gets more to do in the story and actually gets to be a part of Superman’s mission in saving humanity. No doubt Amy Adams is perhaps the best and most ‘decorated’ actress (with her four Oscar nominations under her belt) to play that character. Though I think Margot Kidder’s spunk in the role remains unmatched, Adams is quite believable and more importantly likable, as Supes’ love interest. Despite the relatively brief screen time between them (less than what I’d have liked to see anyway), Cavill and Adams have a nice chemistry together. But seriously, what girl wouldn’t have a good chemistry with Henry Cavill! I’ve got to admit the scene of them locking lips gets me green with envy! 😉

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It’s no surprise that Snyder likes a strong female character in his films and in this one, we’ve got one on both sides of good and evil, as Zod’s right hand woman Faora (Antje Traue) is a force to be reckoned with!

Last but certainly NOT least…

The flying sequences

Flying is the quintessential powers that makes Superman different from other superheroes. So I’m glad that Snyder put a lot of effort into it and truly makes the whole flying thing SUPER cool! There’s a scene where Jor-El tells his son to ‘keep testing his limits’ as neither of them knows just how powerful the earth’s sun would fuel him. There’s even a sequence of Superman learning how to fly properly, and the scene of him flying all over the globe seemingly faster than a speeding bullet is awesome!

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At the same time, though Supes’ super strength here is magnificent, I’m glad the suspension of disbelief required of us doesn’t go beyond risible grandiosity such as turning back earth axis and turning back time. I mean, I love Superman: The Movie as you all know, but that’s just stretching the preposterous meter way too far even for a superhero movie.

What Doesn’t 

Ok, now you all know how much I want to LOVE this movie. I want to clap and cheer when the end credits roll and shout out ‘awesooooooooome!!’ at top of my lungs. Well, it didn’t quite happen at first viewing, and here’s why…

The fight scenes go on way too long

Yes I know that from the trailers and featurettes that there are going to be some significant butt-kicking sequences in this one. I mean, after such a lengthy battle-free exposition if you will, naturally people are expecting more robust stuff, but I think it ends up being a bit of an overkill as the fight scenes grows increasingly relentless. As soon as Zod descend on earth with his small band of Kryptonian army, all hell breaks lose!

The destruction in Metropolis would make Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich green with envy. It’s as if Zack Snyder is over-compensating for some people’s complaints that the previous Superman movie didn’t have ‘enough’ action. Seriously, by the time Superman fights Zod & co. for the fifth or sixth times, and it just gets tedious. There’s also an overlong scene of Superman fighting these weird alien creatures with long tentacles towards the end, it’s really hard to see what the heck is going on. It’s a case of CGI-overload, which is never a good thing.

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Seeing Supes and his nemesis going through building after building, leaving heaps of destruction in its wake, it quickly becomes pointless as we all know these Kryptonians are all indestructible. Plus, their fights actually cause more human casualties as skyscrapers are collapsing all around them.

Lacking one stand-out scene that exemplifies Superman as the ‘savior of humanity’

Ironically, with sooo many battle scenes and so much time devoted to Supes kicking all kinds of butt, there is not a single defining moment, if you will, that makes me want to get up and cheer. Superman: The Movie has that iconic chopper-rescue scene with Lois, Superman II has the battle at the end with Zod & co. that leads to the finale at the Fortress of Solitude, and even Superman Returns has that rousing plane rescue scene that earns Supes a thunderous heroes’ welcome! (Btw you can watch all of those scenes here).

The most memorable part for me is the scene where Supes first tackles Zod, destroying his helmet that protects him from being overwhelmed by his heightened senses. I think it’s brilliant that they show an insight to just how crucial Clark’s parents teaching was in getting him to control his powers. But it falls short from being a truly glorious scene, and most importantly, we never quite see Superman as being welcomed by the people of earth as their alien hero, even though the stake in this film is even greater than anything Lex Luthor ever posed to humanity. There’s only acknowledgement from a few military people and some Daily Planet employees, but most earthlings pretty much are still in the dark as who Superman is.

Hans Zimmer’s score didn’t quite hit an emotional high for me

This is really a bummer as I’ve grown to enjoy this soundtrack, and accept the fact no score is going to be as iconic as what John Williams’ has done (even Zimmer himself realized this). I’ve actually been listening to the score on its own and really enjoyed it. But somehow, I don’t really remember the music being all that memorable in the film. Perhaps it’s intentional to make the score to sort of blend in with the story, but I expected it to give me this emotional rush like it did in the previous film, but it wasn’t quite there. Perhaps on second viewing I might have a different opinion on it, but as it is now, it’s a bit underwhelming.

The Verdict?

Despite the flaws I’ve pointed out, there are still a LOT to love in this film. So yeah, I still LOVE Superman and Man of Steel certainly did not dampen my love for the character. The bold new interpretation certainly didn’t frustrate me the way Superman Returns did with the ‘Supes boy’ twist, though it could’ve been more engaging all the way through. The first half of the film before we even see Kal-El donning the suit is definitely more compelling to me than the later when Superman perform all kinds of impressive heroic stunts. I think Richard Corliss in his TIME review sums it up nicely: “The super part of Man of Steel is just O.K.; but the man part is super.”

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I do want to point out that there IS a beating heart amidst all the booming spectacle and I do think the filmmakers deliver on the promise of a ‘first contact’ story. In addition, just because it’s a darker and grittier interpretation, it doesn’t mean it’s gloom and doom. The message about hope is not lost on me here,  I think Christopher Nolan + David Goyer + Zack Snyder‘s vision certainly has the potential to launch a lucrative franchise for DC. I for one wants to see more of THIS version of Superman, surely with Henry Cavill in the title role!

So no, I’m NOT disappointed in this one. In fact, the longer it sits with me the more I appreciate it and I’m still eager to see it again (in fact I’ve already got my tickets for an encore later tonight) 😀 Well, after a second viewing, I’ve now settled with the higher score than what I’ve originally intended…

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What are YOUR thoughts on this film? Let’s compare notes on this one, folks!