Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel

(PG-13) 2h, 23min

Plot Summary: Kal-El, one of the last of an extinguished race disguised as an unremarkable human, is forced to reveal his identity when Earth is invaded by an army of survivors who threaten to bring the planet to the brink of destruction.

Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay & story), Christopher Nolan (story), Jerry Siegel (Superman created by), Joe Shuster (Superman created by)

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See) This is new and improved Superman. Today’s audiences generally don’t care for flawless characters who are all-powerful, morally inpenetrable, and have all the answers to every problem in life. Snyder and company dirty Superman up a bit, focusing on his formative years. You can recognize Nolan’s influence on this film. Viewers get to observe as young Kal struggles with impossible situations to develop his moral compass, as well as to survive battles in which he is the underdog. Theology fans will appreciate the many subtle biblical analogies inherent throughout the movie.

As we discussed in Episode 23, Part 1, of the podcast, not since Christopher Reeve has any actor embodied this role so effectively that it becomes hard to picture anyone else playing Superman, and Cavill does so while changing the direction of the character. Not only is Cavill utterly convincing in his gritty portrayal of Superman’s loneliness, confusion, bottled-up anger, idealism, and loyalty, but he even looks more like Superman than anyone else that has ever worn the costume.  Beyond having the strong jaw, cleft chin, and piercing blue eyes, acccording to IMDB, Cavill trained for 11 months to take his already-V-shaped physique to the next level, ingesting five 1,000-calorie shakes a day to bulk up, then dropping to 1,500 calories a day to shred to 7% body fat, all while shunning steroids and working out with Gym Jones trainer Mark Twight until he couldn’t walk out of the gym. Snyder made it a point to include shirtless scenes in the film just to show that Cavill’s hard work on his body was real and not just the costume or CGI.

However, at least from an acting perspective, Cavill does not do all the heavy lifting by himself. The rest of the cast is top-notch.  As also discussed on the podcast, Shannon established his own intense and unyielding interpretation of General Zod. Adams portrays Lois Lane as a combat journalist, which gives the character a very different dynamic than the passive, helpless cheerleader that she has been in the past. Russell CroweAyelet Zurer, Diane Lane, and Kevin Costner not only make you care about Superman’s parents through their charismatic performances, but their characters are also legends to the map of Superman’s psyche, through which you can recognize aspects of his personality and moral code.

The visual effects in this film are stunning. They are everything that you could ask for in terms of big explosions, mind-blowing CGI, and breathtaking scenery. Krypton is its own character in this movie.

My only disappointment was that some hokiness was present throughout the film, beyond what is inherent in a comic book. For instance, it is silly to have a school bus full of kids plummet off a bridge, hit the water, and cut to every kid in the bus still sitting in their seats, unharmed; the impact with the water would have resulted in numerous injuries and kids flying all over the bus.

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The Amazing Spiderman (2012)

Amazing Spiderman

(PG-13) 2 h, 16 min

Plot Summary: After Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically altered spider, he gains newfound, spider-like powers and ventures out to solve the mystery of his parent’s mysterious death.

Director: Marc Webb

Writers: James Vanderbilt (screenplay & story), Alvin Sargent (screenplay), Steve Kloves (screenplay), Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comic book by), Steve Ditko (based on the Marvel comic book by)

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  As we discussed in Episode 23, Part 1, of the podcast, we love the Spiderman character, and Garfield not only does him justice, but he also presents a unique and charismatic version of Peter Parker that is even more interesting than when he dons the mask. Emma Stone brings The Girlfriend Experience, making Gwen Stacy endearing in her own right, not just because of how much the hero cares for her. Martin Sheen and Sally Field not only make you care about Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but they show you aspects of Spiderman that Garfield can’t by himself. Denis Leary really manages to walk that fine line between pompous jerk and loyal protector right into the viewer’s heart. In short, the acting is phenomenal.

Unfortunately, the storyline is nothing special, and the movie is too often unnecessarily hokey (Really? Is it that easy to break into a high-security lab with genetically unstable spiders?), which conflicts with the film’s more gritty tone. This film feels more like a background setup for sequel, which I have yet to see, but which I’m hoping will take the franchise to the next level, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier did for its franchise.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000)

(PG) 91 mins

Plot Summary: The madcap moose and his squirrel sidekick head into the real world to thwart a devious plot.

Director: Des McAnuff

Writers: Jay Ward (characters), Kenneth Lonergan

Stars: Robert De NiroRene Russo and Piper Perabo

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  Not even classic cartoon characters, an all-star cast, and a heap of self deprecation can cover for how unfunny this movie is.  This is one that only young kids, or huge fans of Rocky and Bullwinkle, might enjoy (unlike films like Shrek, which are entertaining to both children and adults).  De Niro and Jason Alexander were awesome as Fearless Leader and Boris, though.

Red Riding Hood (2011)

(PG-13) 99 mins

Synopsis: Set in a medieval village that is haunted by a werewolf, a young girl falls for an orphaned woodcutter, much to her family’s displeasure.

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Writer: David Johnson

Stars: Amanda SeyfriedLukas Haas and Gary Oldman

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  Forget about the well-known folk story…at most, this movie merely offers scattered homages to it.  That would be just fine, except that the film’s actual story is pretty boring and slooooooow.  There is a scary werewolf (thankfully, the filmmakers didn’t try to overdo it; it doesn’t look ridiculous), and Oldman as a power-drunk, self-righteous, pompous hate-monger (which I would usually enjoy, but his awesomeness is limited by a weak script).  However, this movie is basically about a teenage girl torn between two boys.  The whodunit aspect takes a backseat…but by the end of the movie, you really don’t care who the wolf is anyway…unless you’re a teenage girl…then maybe you love this film.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

(PG) 113 mins

Synopsis: Lucy and Edmund Pevensie return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace where they meet up with Prince Caspian for a trip across the sea aboard the royal ship The Dawn Treader. Along the way they encounter dragons, dwarves, merfolk, and a band of lost warriors before reaching the edge of the world.

Director: Michael Apted

Writers: Christopher Markus (screenplay), Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Michael Petroni (screenplay), and C.S. Lewis (novel)

Stars: Ben BarnesSkandar Keynes and Georgie Henley

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  The Narnia series is like The Wizard of Oz meets Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings, but not as good as any of them.  Still, I enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, just like I enjoyed the Narnia books as a kid, because of the new, creative world that they introduced, the entertaining story line, and the well-done special effects.  This movie is not as good as the other two Narnia films.  Other than the dragon, there is not much value added–green mist is not enough to take this series to the next level.  While I realize that this movie is geared toward kids, this is one family film that you might put on for your child but only kind of pay attention to while you do other things.

Clash of the Titans (2010)

(PG-13) 106 mins

Synopsis: The mortal son of the god Zeus embarks on a perilous journey to stop the underworld and its minions from spreading their evil to Earth as well as the heavens.

Director: Louis Leterrier

Writers: Travis Beacham (screenplay), Phil Hay (screenplay), Matt Manfredi (screenplay), and Beverley Cross (1981 screenplay)

Stars: Sam WorthingtonLiam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  I am a fan of Greek mythology, so seeing some of it brought to life with the power of modern-day special effects was pretty cool.  I liked the depiction of Mount Olympus, with the gods presiding over an invisible floor under which mountaintops, clouds, and seas provided a better view than a corner office ever could.  I also enjoyed the opening scene in which mythological history were illustrated in the stars.

I was originally a little iffy about the resemblance of the Kraken (which is part of Scandinavian folklore, not Greek mythology, by the way) to the rancor monster that Luke Skywalker fought in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).

Then I read this quote from Leterrier: “I have no problem citing my homages.  The Rancor, I remember when I first saw it. … It terrified the hell out of me.”–okay, I can respect that.

The cast was generally good.  Fiennes stood out as a terrorizing Hades, and his whole evil-tornado-and-airborne-minions motif was pretty cool, as well.

I didn’t like the casting choice for Medusa, though; I understand that she used to be beautiful, but she was supposedly transformed into such a horrible-looking creature that she would turn any man that gazed upon her into stone.  All I saw was supermodel Natalia Vodianova with smoky makeup (wasn’t that in style for a bit, anyway?), a tail, and snakes for hair.  Again, Leterrier defended his choice:  “She’s pretty scary when she turns on the Medusa powers, but before that she has to be alluring, she has to be so beautiful you want to take a peek — but then it’s too late.”  This time I’m not buying it…

I can only think of one part of me that would turn to stone…

The Stygian Witches are much scarier…

It was also kind of weird how subdued Tine Stapelfeldt‘s reaction was at finding out that she just had sex with the king of all the gods, who disguised himself as her husband.  You would have thought it was a Porky’s college prank.  She merely uttered, “Zeus?” like he was Quagmire from next door.  I halfway expected Zeus to respond, “Giggety.”

I guess spiritual rape does exist (see Episode 0 of our podcast)…when you get tricked into sex with a god.

I almost gave this movie 3 mugs just for its value as a safari through Greek mythology (with other folklore thrown in like meat extenders).  You can watch your favorite gods, demi-gods, monsters, humans, etc., brought to life through modern-day special effects, and debate whether you liked or didn’t like each choice.  However, too much of this movie was hokey, cheesy, and uninspired for me to recommend that you pay attention all the way through this film.  It’s more suited for having on in the background while you do something else.

Batman Returns (1992)

(PG-13) 127 mins

Synopsis: This film pits the caped crusader against his most fiendish opponents yet: the evil Penguin and the sinuous, mysterious and sensual Catwoman.

Starring: Michael KeatonDanny Devito

Supporting actress: Michelle Pfeiffer

Directed by: Tim Burton

Studio: Warner Bros.

Serious Jest:  (Worth Watching)  A great cast, striking set design, and captivating score brings to life Burton’s entertainingly eccentric versions of Gotham City and its inhabitants.  Keaton is a good actor, but the costume makes his movements very stiff, and the action scenes (other than those involving the Batmobile) are not very entertaining.  This is not my favorite Batman movie series, nor is it my favorite film within its own series, but it is entertaining to watch (not more than once, though).

Liar Liar (1997)

(PG-13) 86 mins

Synopsis: A fast track lawyer can’t lie for 24 hours due to his son’s birthday wish after the lawyer turns his son down for the last time.

Director: Tom Shadyac

Writers: Paul GuayStephen Mazur

Stars: Jim CarreyMaura Tierney and Justin Cooper 

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  According to IMDB, “Carrey declined the role of Dr. Evil in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery so he could be committed to this film.”  Yeesh!  Bad move for him, huh?!  A little too silly, but not enough witty…you’ll get some smirks out of this movie, but I wouldn’t recommend actually spending the 86 minutes to sit down and watch the whole thing…worth having on in the background while you do other stuff, though.  To me, the best parts were those in which Carrey was interacting with his on-screen son (Love The Claw!  Also according to IMDB, Carrey’s dad used to do that to him and his siblings when he was growing up).  *SPOILER*  My biggest laugh came during the last outtake, when Swoosie Kurtz called Cary an over-actor.  Sometimes there’s nothing funnier than a well-timed truth.

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)

(PG) 84 mins

Synopsis: Travel writer Lemuel Gulliver takes an assignment in Bermuda, but ends up on the island of Liliput, where he towers over its tiny citizens.

Director: Rob Letterman

Writers: Joe Stillman (screenplay), Nicholas Stoller (screenplay), and Jonathan Swift (book)

Stars: Jack BlackEmily Blunt and Jason Segel 

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  Ever since movies like Shrek started coming out, movie-makers can’t hide behind the excuse, “It’s a kids’ movie.”  That seemed to be what the screenplay writers tried to do here: take a classic novel, let an energetic and charismatic star like Black bounce all over the place on-screen, sprinkle in some special effects and bright colors, and you’ve got an instant blockbuster, despite your lazy dialogue and flat jokes (and the worst part is, this film isn’t even billed as a kids’ movie!).  Fortunately, audiences saw past the ruse, as well–in the theaters, this film didn’t even gross half of its budget.

No disrespect to the actors, however; they made this movie bearable.  Their chemistry was fun to watch, and Chris O’Dowd especially made many a corny line funny through sheer brilliant delivery.

The Secret Garden (1993)

(G) 102 mins

Synopsis: Sweet, beautifully told story based on the classic story about a lonely orphan girl who goes to live with her uncle in a forbidding British manor house.

Starring: Kate MaberlyHeydon Prowse

Supporting actors: Andrew KnottMaggie Smith

Directed by: Agnieszka Holland

Studio: Warner Bros.

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  Bratty rich kids, crotchety old geezers, and a bunch of flowers…maybe some little girls might like this movie…you won’t.