Thursday, June 20, 2013

Man of Steel

The character of Superman, from the DC line of comic books and graphic novels, has had a bit of a rough history in the last few decades when it comes to translating him and his story to film. Superman Returns was a decent outing directed by Bryan Singer back in 2006, but it wasn’t quite satisfying to Superman fans and seemed more of a love letter to Richard Donner and his 1978 classic than a diving board for ongoing sequels to come. Movements were made here and there, from Kevin Smith’s treatment to the almost certain depravity Tim Burton was planning, which, thankfully, never came to fruition.

Ever since I had watched that final scene in The Matrix, where Neo takes off in flight, I knew the special effects were there and just waiting for a good Superman script to allow it life. But, alas, it seemed as if it was never meant to be.

Enter Christopher Nolan, giving Batman new life with his Dark Knight trilogy and cementing his roots into the filmmaking ground while making tons of money for Warner Bros. in the process. He could do no wrong in the eyes of the WB execs and was allowed free reign with any project of his choosing.  So when it was announced that he would “godfather” a new Superman film as a producer, I had some small hope starting to grow inside me. Little by little, over the last couple of years, we heard tidbits of info, a not-too-interesting teaser trailer that had risen doubt in my mind, and finally a full-fledged trailer that made me curious, until Man of Steel was released to us…

Yes, after over 30 years of a Superman drought, we get Zack Snyder and David Goyer’s vision—or shall I say reimagining—of the DC superhero that may be setting the upcoming Justice League movie on its way to us.

But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves. First, let’s get into Man of Steel

…without spoilers, I promise.

To synopsize, the film is a complete reboot, starting with the origin of Superman/Kal-El, as he’s born on the alien world of Krypton. As war begins on the planet, his parents, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer), knowing that their planet is doomed—because of the pending destruction that led to the war initiated by Genral Zod (Michael Shannon) and his soldiers—they send their son off into space to reach the planet of Earth for a chance to live out his life. As General Zod, along with his remaining soldiers, is arrested and tried for his crimes, he’s sentenced to the Phantom Zone. On Earth, the adult Kal-El (Henry Cavill), not knowing his origin and identifying himself as Clark Kent, raised by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), is on a journey, taking odd jobs around the country, to find out who he really is. As his journey comes to an end and he finds out who he is, he then finds himself at odds with our country’s military and a returning threat that found its way from Krypton: General Zod.

I didn’t want to give away too much about this film, which is why I went with a quick plot summary and didn’t give away too much detail on the story. But going into this movie, I was completely mesmerized from start to finish.

The beginning scenes on Krypton was spectacular and I’m glad they went with changing it up, going away from the crystal/ice look of the 1978 film to this Star Wars-esque landscape that they feature here. Rather than wanting the film to move on and get to Kal-El’s life on our world, I wanted to stay on Krypton to see more of it. The clothing and armor worn throughout the scenes on Krypton had an old renaissance feel to it, seeming like the planet was in the dark ages. But the technology, looking primitive and insect-like, was surprisingly fresh and was its own, not seeming like a Star Wars rip-off.

I felt there was a good balance while the story played out and moving to Kal-El/Clark’s adult years as he travels the country, trying to find his way on earth. I mention balance, because there are equal parts of present-day story, as well as flashback scenes to Clark growing up in Smallville.

Once we see Cavill take the reins and become the character of Superman, the movie takes on a bewildering feel and takes us on a believable, yet effects-laden, rollercoaster ride that never lets up. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that the movie is not exciting before that, but if you want…the last third of this film delivers.

Now I have to admit, at first, Henry Cavill, as Superman, was a concern for me going into this. When I found out the character—being such an American icon—was being played by a British actor, it sort of bothered me. But by the time we see him play out the first heroic act in the film, I was totally okay with him and his portrayal, looking forward to upcoming sequels and the planned Justice League movie.

The second concern was Michael Shannon playing General Zod. I mean, after seeing Terence Stamp make that role his own in 1980’s Superman II, I felt like nobody should ever attempt to fill his shoes. Surprisingly, Shannon nails it and even adds a little more heart and soul to the character, even making us see his side of his argument in the story.

Kevin Costner really turns in a great performance as Jonathan Kent and I actually wish we had more of his character interacting with the actors playing the 9-year-old and 13-year-old Clark Kent (Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry respectively). But the flashback scenes we get from him were stellar accomplishments and made us understand how he—as well as Diane Lane as Martha Kent—was a key character in Clark’s upbringing.

Finally, Amy Adams as Lois Lane was really interesting and the character arc was something we’ve never seen in any Superman incarnation on television or film. The chemistry between Adams and Cavill was
believable and enjoyable to watch. Thankfully, there was no “Can You Read My Mind” scenes between them and I never felt that she was unneeded in the story.

Rounding out the cast in Man of Steel: Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, Antje Traue as Zod’s right-hand woman Faora-Ul, Harry Lennix as General Swanwick, Richard Schiff as Dr. Emil Hamilton, and Christopher Meloni as Colonel Nathan Hardy.

So, what’s my final “bit” on Man of Steel?

While the film doesn’t have the epic feel of its 1978 counterpart, I think it was done on purpose, perhaps preparing for the DC universe to open up and making way for the forthcoming Justice League project. The plot had a different twist that we’re used to (if you know a bit about the Superman lore), yet stayed pretty true to its source. The film contains enough heroic feats and battle scenes for any action fan to enjoy, giving us the best Superman film to date, by special effects standards anyway. By the end of this film, Superman has believably solidified himself in this DC universe of films and leaving us to wonder what’s next. Man of Steel is definitely what Warner Bros. needed to jump start their superhero franchises back into film, opening a doorway for more…and I can’t wait. I’m planning to see this again, so that should tell you how good this flick is (I rarely see a movie more than once when it’s making its theatrical run).

Watch out, Marvel…DC is making a comeback!

Thanks for reading!
You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits

Friday, June 7, 2013


Being a big fan of 2012’s V/H/S, when the sequel hit OnDemand circuits yesterday, I gladly paid the ten bucks to order it in for the night. The first one was such a fresh take on the “found-footage” type films, making it more believable how these scenes were caught on film, having novel ideas on reasons why cameras are present rather than just some schmuck lugging around a camcorder when he should be running for his life.

The same can be said for 2013’s V/H/S/2, where the film has some pretty cool concepts on why a camera is recording what we see.

Now, straightaway, I’ll say that this outing wasn’t as good as the first film. Without getting too much into it, I’d say the first film had better story concepts for each tale and we’d gotten better shocks from it as well. V/H/S/2 has some shocks, but they’re more of the gory and visceral type, making us want to turn away from the screen instead of enjoying a good, yet resigned, jump scare. In comparison, part one had me wanting more at the end of the film; part two…well…I was satisfied, but I accepted the ending.

In the wrap-around plot, “Tape 49,” a guy and girl are checking out a house, looking for clues on the disappearance of a college student. Just like the first film, they enter the house through a window and find a room with a bunch of televisions displaying static screens with white noise. Stacks of VHS tapes are piled
nearby and the guy tells the girl to look through them as he searches the rest of the house. Between each vignette, we see how the tape viewings are affecting the girl, causing her nose bleeds and moments of blanking out, until the fatal climax of this wrap-around story.

The actual first story, “Clinical Trials Phase 1,” a man is in a doctor’s office, being looked over and examined. It becomes clear that he has received an artificial eye that contains a camera and records everything the man sees. Upon leaving the clinic, he notices a young lady staring at him as he leaves out the door and she comes into play a little later in this
segment. As darkness falls at his place, the man notices some glitches to his new eye and he starts seeing things, like a bloodied man and a little girl, both pale and ghostlike. He becomes frightened and runs into his bathroom to spend the night in the tub, until the next day when the girl from the clinic rings his doorbell. She explains to him that she received an artificial transplant—a cochlear implant— and like his ocular implant, causes one to have paranormal senses. From then on, the shit hits the fan and we have some shocking moments that were pretty scary. The only problem I had with this one was the solution the girl had to make one of the spirits—who happened to be her uncle—go away; it seemed a little contrived and tacked in for some gratuitous boobage.

So, onto “A Ride in the Park.” I liked this one a lot as it was a fresh idea on how to make a film with a zombie’s point-of-view. With the popularity with these Go Pro cameras with hikers, bikers and all-around adventurers, these cameras can be mounted anywhere to give the viewer the feeling they were riding a bike or jumping off a cliff or zip-lining through a forest or whatever the escapade may be. In this little ditty, a biker is getting set to ride a trail through the woods, with his camera mounted on his helmet, when a lady comes bursting onto the trail before him, screaming about her boyfriend. The biker stops, all the while we see what he sees, and tries to help the lady as he sees she looks wounded and bleeding. He hears noise coming from
off the trail and sees people scrambling up to them, looking inhuman. Turning back to help the lady, he sees she is now puking up blood or some dark liquid and seems to die. But shortly thereafter, she jumps up and attacks the biker, biting and scratching at him. He gets away and appears to fall and lose consciousness, laying in a patch of grass until some other bikers come to his aid. Suddenly, the biker jumps up—obviously a zombie now—and attacks the couple that tried to help him. From then on, it’s a fun watch as we see the biker as a zombie attacking other people. It ends quizzically as we re-think what we know about zombies.

The next tale, “Safe Haven,” a group of three guys and one girl decide to film a news documentary of a known Indonesian cult. During this outing, the footage is shot with the news cameras, as well as a few spy cams. Hoping to get a look at what goes on within the compound, the crew goes to the leader of the cult to
ask his permission to film them inside their place. He tells them his views of his cult and alluding to what they do within the compound, but it becomes clear to the news crew that things aren’t right within, as the founder speaks of how he purifies the young children within the group, referring to sex. He keeps referring to him and his people going to the Paradise Gates soon, which makes the viewer think of the few cults that have come to pass (Jim Jones and the People’s Temple and Heaven’s Gate) and ended with suicides. As the crew enters the compound, the feeling between them—as well as the viewer—is unease. Everyone they meet seems euphoric and a little unsettling as the crew makes their way within the corridors of the compound. When the sound of a large bell starts tolling off chimes, the founder thumbs a microphone to announce it is time to start the descent to Paradise Gates and that’s when the craziness begins.

One of the more engaging stories in this anthology is “Slumber Party Alien Abduction.” The novel idea with the camera work, again, utilizes the Go Pro type of camera, this time strapping it to the family dog. At a family cabin near a lake, the parents of two boys and a teenaged girl leave for the night, leaving the girl to be in charge of the boys. As expected, the girl’s boyfriend shows up and the boys are forgotten. A couple of the boys’ friends come over and they start playing pranks on the girl and her boyfriend. One prank involves the
boys sneaking up under water—with water balloons and squirt guns—to the pier where the girl and her boyfriend are laying out, to pop up and unloading on them. This time around, one of the boys have the camera strapped to them and for a few seconds plops down under water where we see some kind of creature swimming towards the camera in the distance. Before we can make it out, the girl’s boyfriend dives in the water and we don’t see the creature any more. That night, after the boys pull another prank on the girl and her beau, the invasion begins to a very frightening climax.

As a whole, the wrap around story is pretty interesting, but it almost seems to duplicate what we saw in the first film. I thought they could’ve changed it up a bit instead of the same story of some people sent to an abandoned house to look for something. Yet, it still had a good creepy feel to it as we saw things in the background that the character didn’t see. Each story had its own style and really didn’t disappoint, but it seemed to go for gore rather than an interesting story. I guess it just seemed predictable and I never felt surprised like I had in the first film.

The artificial eye story could’ve added a little more to it, to make the gory ending seem like that was the only thing to do. Maybe if he experienced more mayhem for a few nights to show us he had no choice but to do what he did, it’d make it more believable. I’ve got to give the director props for trying to tackle this one, because an eye doesn’t move around like someone holding the camera. Yet, you’ve got to suspend disbelief, especially when they include the guy’s blinking—very nice touch.

I wish the ending of the zombie biker could’ve been foreshadowed somehow, but the ending was still a nice touch and a twist to the zombie lore.

The story of the cult being filmed for a documentary was pretty good, but I kind of wished it was featured in English so we didn’t have to read subtitles and miss some of the action on the screen because of it.

Finally , the alien abduction was pretty awesome, showing only enough of the aliens to creep you out. Was it me? Or did that blast of noise accompanying the bright lights of the aliens sound like the horn from the Creeper in Jeepers Creepers?

Overall, this is a worthy sequel and I’ll, more than likely, buy it on Blu-Ray when it’s released. It’s worth the OnDemand purchase and, if it’s released in your neck of the woods, worth the theater admission price as well.

My final “bit” on V/H/S/2?

I hope they continue this franchise and keep making quality sequels. No need to polish it up to give it a more Hollywood look, because it’ll go the way of the Paranormal Activity dodo. As long as they keep the look of watching something on VHS, it’ll keep a faithful audience. When—or if—V/H/S/3 comes out, I’ll definitely shell out another ten dollars to see it. Magnet Releasing has definitely given us horror hounds something to look forward to, helping the horror genre come back full force.

Thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits or you can email me at Cinema Bits!