Sex, Sun and Sub-machine guns. Spring Breakers (2012).

SpringBreakersIf Girls Gone Wild ever mean’t gone rogue as part of a deluded white trash rapper’s crime syndicate, then I guess that’s what Spring Breakers (2012) is. Spring Breakers is a…oh. I’m not really sure? Uh. Drama…Crime? Softcore..? Uhh. Teen crime movie! Is that a thing? It’s a film brought to you by relatively unknown director Harmony Korine, starring his wife Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco, and quite controversially Selena Gomez. Initially people thought the idea was it’d be a highly sexual and trashy teen movie with a twist. And while that’s kind of true, it’s much more subversive, and deeper in it’s message.

Faith, Candy, Brittany, and Cotty (Selena Gomez, Venessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) are four young girls who can’t wait to get away for Spring Break. However, the problem of the funds needed arises. Faith is a religious girl, and more reserved than the other 3, shown via earlier scenes in a church group. However, Candy, Brittany and Cotty rob a chicken joint for the cash, holding several people at gunpoint before smoothly escaping. They go to Spring Break and party it up like they planned, but are soon arrested following the events of a party. Estranged and demented rapper Alien (James Franco) pays the bail for the girls. Their relationship as friends is strained, as Alien drops them into a seedy underground of guns, coke, and blood feuds.

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The film is incredibly sexualised throughout, but with good purpose. I think in a way Harmony is making a statement that we’ve become so desensitized to images of a sexual nature that the use of it is essentially irrelevant in some ways. That’s not to say you don’t notice the sexuality in Spring Breakers, but you’re kind of smothered by it. Every shot contains the male gaze, and towards the end of the film it’s just kind of, there? It’s hard to express, and that’s why Spring Breakers impressed me, there’s a lot of thought provoking shots and themes, and as a film it’s incredibly intriguing.  Audiences were initially skeptical about the film’s content and topic. However, Candy and Brittany aren’t so much owned or abused by Alien, it’s very much the opposite. He’s seduced by them and under their influence. That’s empowerment if anything.

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Admittedly the film’s story is pretty basic, and not the most gripping of narratives. However, it is very aesthetically beautiful, and interesting in it’s use of shot effects particularly in scenes of drug use, and it’s use of voice overlay. The score is also suiting, but contrasting. It uses Dubstep and modern dance music in scenes of euphoria and happyness, juxtaposed with Rap in scenes of danger and tension. Performances were mostly mixed, with Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson easily stealing the show among the girls. James Franco was also pretty fantastic. He’s just so underrated, the man is a master of disguise and still gets little respect in regards to parts. I just don’t understand.

Anyhow, that’s Spring Breakers. Not the most brilliant film ever, but it’s certainly thought-provoking, thematic, and glossy. Selina Gomez should never act again however. Tune in next time, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views

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Greatest Directors: Woody Allen; Part 9: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

AMidsummerAfter a long hiatus of avoiding Woody Allen films and allowing myself to refresh, I finally bring you part 9 of my series! Today we’ll be looking at Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982, quite a mouthful, I know). It’s one of his more unknown films, simply due to the audience backlash he received due to Stardust Memories (1980). It’s a dramatic comedy, notably similar to Love and Death or Interiors. It’s somewhat a period piece, though it doesn’t state specifically when it occurs. In it’s context, it’s very much a full-on homage to Ingmar Bergman, in particular his first acclaimed film Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). Not a parody, so much as a re-envisioning as I understand it. I expected something much more satirical, and comedy-based in my initial research of the film, immediately likening it to the style of his earlier films.

The story boils down to a couple who live in the countryside, who invite two more couples to join them for a romantic weekend. Chaos ensues as something about the isolated and romantic countryside instills an element of romance and lust into the mood. Andrew and Adrian (Woody Allen, and Mary Steenburgen) star as the hosts, a married couple who are having trouble consummating their love. Seductive doctor Maxwell (Tony Roberts) and lusty young nurse Dulcy (Julie Hagerty) join them in addition to Leopold the unbearable older philosopher (Jose Ferrer) and his soon to be wife Ariel (Mia Farrow). Maxwell declares his love for Ariel shortly after meeting her, Andrew feels the same, while Dulcy is enamored by the older Leopold, as Adrian struggles to face her sexual problems.

A flying bicycle, that is.

A flying bicycle, that is.

The film unlike Allen’s earlier pieces is much more focused on the genre and it’s elements as opposed to the comedy element. The comedy mainly manifests in a few scenes, other than tongue in cheek gags within the script. However, it’s very light-hearted and natural in tones and is very aesthetically pleasant. The countryside, the lush forest and natural lighting is to be enjoyed and suits the whole questioning of life that occurs within it. In Danish fashion in homage to Ingmar Bergman, the film feels very naturalistic. There’s basically no music bar the title sequence, and it doesn’t try to force or alter our perspective with particular shots. As a result, along with Woody’s very whimsical and satirical writing you get a very relaxing, fresh, and original cinematic experience. 

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is a seemingly underrated film. I found it hard to find any in-depth criticism of it, than a simple number system. It’s 6.6 on IMDB? If that means anything, which I’m not particularly sure it does. I’ll conclude with some facts and predictions. The role of Ariel was written for Allen’s long-time collaborator Diane Keaton. Keaton was busy promoting the film Reds at the time, and could not act. As a result, Allen cast model Mia Farrow who Allen would marry. Their relationship would end in controversy but we’ll cross that bridge when we do. Farrow actually received a Razzie for her performance in this. I’ve literally no idea why. I mean sure she wasn’t fantastic or as good as Keaton would be, but a Razzie? Who knows. I liked the film (Not typing it’s name again) as it’s really quite original (albeit based on another film) and just quite musing. Until next time, film fans. Follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. 

80 Years of the Caped Crusader: A Screen History of Batman; Part 1.

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Detective Comics 27, circa 1939. The first appearance of Batman.

Batman is a character that’s truly been through the ages. Existing since his conception in 1939, Bruce Wayne has remained a dominant figure in popular culture ever since, all the way up to the groundbreaking Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) by director Christopher Nolan. In this article I’ll analyse and dissect every appearance of our beloved caped crusader on the big screen, as well as some notable television moments and some relevant factoids from the books that started it all.  

So before we dive right in, let’s talk a bit about the origins of Batman’s conception. Bruce Wayne was just a boy, as he saw his parents die in front of him in the hands of a mugger, as a result Batman was born. Bob Kane and Bill identify a lot of inspiration from The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Zorro in their creation of Batman. Both are aristocratic vigilantes with double identities, that play the fool in public.  In particular Bob Kane identifies The Mark of Zorro (1930) and The Bat Whispers (1920) as inspiration from the big screen. In his ideology he represents fear, that the guilty will be persecuted symbolized by his moniker of the bat. However, he has ranged from campy and incredibly flamboyant, to gadget-based and more reclusive, to darker and more brutal. What’s interesting is how the original content, the original premise of one character can be interpreted in so any contrasting and varying ways and how certain elements have come to define Batman, as others have been labeled obselete and discarded. Batman constantly changes as he journeys through different eras and spheres of popular culture, often reflecting the mood of the time.

Often referred to as the Yin and Yang of the DC Comics universe.

Often referred to as the Yin and Yang of the DC Comics universe.

A lot can be learned about Batman by contrasting him to Superman. Superman and Batman are juggernauts of the comic book world, and are often juxtaposed against each other. While both good, they share many oppositions. Superman often masquerades as Superman, while ultimately Clark Kent is the real person behind the crimson S. He is also working class and has a job. Ultimately Superman is about helping people, saving the day. Opposite to that, Batman is kind of the real form. Where Bruce Wayne is this publicity stunt, this lie, who appears at charity balls and in the newspaper with opulent models. In addition Batman isn’t so much about saving the day, as much as preventing crime, serving just desserts and such. Superman is the light, the hero people are proud of and all the kids want to be. Batman is the covert one, he preys at night, he is feared not worshiped, he is the dark.

Batman (1943) Directed by Lambert Hillyer

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I know a lot of you were probably expecting Adam West at this point. Yeah, turns out there were two serials released in the 1940’s that ultimately lead to the ultra-camp 60’s TV Show that we know and love. I won’t pretend that these serials were overtly important in Batman’s makeup or identity as a character, because ultimately they’re mostly just forgotten. However, there are a few notable things to mention. Batman (1943) was actually the first piece of media to have a bat-cave  a piece of continuity that actually continued on into the permanent lore of batman. It’s also notable for adjusting Albert’s appearance from a rather portly young fellow, into his older, thinner distinguished butler we know today.

Another interesting factoid is Batman was actually an agent of the government in Batman (1943), as producers were not willing to depict him as a vigilante taking the law into his own hands. Also there was no attempt for a bat-mobile due to sheer lack of budget, so Robin and Batman rode around in black Cadillac instead. In recent years, the serial has been known for it’s incredibly racial content. Being made in the war, the villain is contextually Japanese meaning the script is full of Japanese slur. For example, the narration in the opening ten minutes explains why the neighborhood the evil Dr.Daka lives in is so deserted: “This was part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America and known as little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost street.” Yeah. ‘Shifty-eyed Japs’. Wow, no wonder when the Japanese owned Sony re-released the serial it was highly edited. Batman himself even comes out with quite a few racial slurs. Good thing that didn’t latch on to his lore, somehow I don’t think he’d still be a part of relevant popular culture as a notorious hater of Asian people. However while we lambaste it now, contextually the patriotism is probably a part of why Batman was so well-received among the American public, as terrible as that is.

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Robin (Douglas Croft) and Batman (Lewis Wilson)

While generally happy with the actors performances. A lot was said about Lewis Wilson’s physique and how it wasn’t suitable. He was ‘thick round the middle’, and didn’t have an athletic body like Batman always did. Though these oversights are forgivable given it’s an extremely modest low budget production of a superhero comic, a very ambitious project at that. Never the less, we can see here how this costume differs, but is extremely similar to the Adam West one of the 60’s. While not a cinematic masterpiece by any means, Batman (1943) and it’s sequel Batman and Robin (1949) put Batman on the map with cinema audiences and warranted enough popularity for the 1960’s TV Show and it’s subsequent film. 

Batman Dracula (1964)

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While not particularly important in the overall history of Batman, the fact that Andy Warhol of all people made a Batman film really makes you realize how big Batman was as a cultural symbol, and still is. Batman Dracula or ‘Batman x Dracula’ is mostly lost now with a few odd stills floating around, and no actual footage. However it was deemed incredibly subversive from those who saw it, and was said to be the first appearance of an incredibly campy Batman.  This would turn out to be the first of many sexual readings of Batman, and could be said to have loosely inspired the 60’s TV Show although we can’t say that in confidence since basically no one from this generation has seen it.

Batman (1966) and the 60’s Live-action series.

I guess this is Batman’s ‘True’ first appearance in film, as in feature film as its full-length and not a serial. Batman is played by Adam West, with Burt Ward as Robin. The film featured a menagerie of Batman’s more prominent villains in some ridiculous loopy scheme to get rid of Batman, mainly relying on the alluring Catwoman to seduce him. This depiction of Batman is entirely a product of it’s time that doesn’t really reflect the dark origins of the character at all. It’s campy, often ludicrous, and ultimately it’s more a light wacky humorous satire than anything else. The villains are essentially one and the same with only mildly different personalities which shows how the film and TV series wasn’t really based on the comic books, it was just a aesthetic shell for wacky hi-jinx. However the show did permanently introduce Batgirl into the series, first coining the origins of Barbara Gordon.

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From left to right, the 60’s incarnations of The Riddler, The Penguin, Catwoman, and of course The Joker.

As a result of this show, and after it had finished it left a certain legacy attached to Batman. Because of it’s brightly coloured aesthetics, ridiculous camp and quirky nature, people began to strongly associated that kind of thing with Batman. Particularly the idea that Batman and Robin might be of the homosexual persuasion. This tied with Andy Warhol’s interpretation, and a general opinion the public via a fair amount of sources, and some out of context reasoning from the older books from the 50’s, it’s understandable why.

Batman/Robin 60'sThe writers in the late 60’s after the show had been cancelled desperately tried to dispel ideas of homosexuality, and it being camp as sales were declining rapidly and mainly writers claimed it was because of the legacy the show left, so many people were at that point buying Marvel instead. It’s also claimed that at numerous points in the seventies DC wanted to cancel Batman due to drastically low sales while Superman was thriving, and possibly replace him with one of their more minor heroes.

Superfriends! and a general lack of direction

As of the 70’s sales were floundering due to a disinterest in Batman as moods changed towards the campish Batman everyone used to love although it maintained cult status outside the U.S. Regardless of the writing staff’s effort to change the comics Batman back into a moor brooding detective character interest will still mostly lax. However, 20th century animation giants Hanna Barbera were able to breath some new interest into Batman with his permanent place on the Superfriends.

The original queue card for the Super Friends (1973-1974)

The original queue card for the Super Friends (1973-1974)

The Super Friends was an incredibly popular Saturday morning cartoon that broke the mold for animation. It starred many of DC’s flagship characters along with Hanna-Barbera’s own creations.  The show originated in a time with Dc’s JLA (Justice League of America) was still a fairly young concept compared to the flagship title it is now. The fact Super Friends was made for children revitalized Batman somewhat, allowing his image to recover from allegations of homosexuality, and the camp nature that people began to reject from the TV Show.  However regardless of the show’s popularity the comic book still continued to flounder.

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‘The New Adventures of Batman’ starring Batman, Robin, and the now abandoned concept of Bat-mite, an Imp from another dimension who claims to be Batman’s biggest fan.

Following Super Friends Hanna Barbera saw enough marketability in Batman that they decided to continue his exploits in the cartoon The New Adventures of Bat-Man into late 80’s into a syndicated block with Tarzan, following the Superman/Batman adventure hour. As the 70’s receded into the 80’s, it would symbolize a time of change for Batman. A context in which the character would appreciated as the dark detective he was always conceived as to much critical acclaim.

The 1980’s and ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. 

Sales of Batman titles were still fairly low until 1986 when Frank Miller wrote the 4 part series ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. The book chronicles a 55-year old Bruce Wayne who is old and harrowed from years of crime fighting. He must return to the city again, dealing with a gang known as ‘the mutants’ who harass the city after a several year haitus. The series returned the character to his dark roots, whilst diversifying the character as well. 

To be continued.

Casino (1995) and Scorsese’s ‘Epic’ structure.

casino_1995_5Casino is one of Martin Scorsese’s generally underrated films. Thing is, when you have such a vast and praised filmography like Scorsese’s even a long, gritty, and gripping epic like Casino can be dismissed as ‘minor’ in comparison to the likes of Goodfellas, or Raging Bull. However, I really like Casino. There’s something about the allure of gambling films that’s entirely unique. The risk, the seedy underground nature of it all, and the heavily ironic opulent atmosphere. We rationalize casinos as classy places, an excuse to wear a suit or look smart. The irony lies in the hookers, the shady business deals, fraud, the presence of hired muscle and drug-filled pockets. Casino captures that to a tee. It’s textured and glitzy, and you know from the very beginning it’ll all fall down, just not how or why. 

Casino is a fairly long film at 2:52:00 or so, so I won’t bore you with my traditional narrative synopsis, i’ll just briefly summarize it for you folks. Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert Deniro) is a sports handicapper and a mob associate who is put in charge of a Casino known as the Tangiers. He doesn’t have a gaming license, nor does he care as he simply changes his job title and simply runs the casino from afar. Things become seedy as his childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) moves to Vegas and begins to hustle the very casino Sam works at. Nicky receives a gaming ban, and as a result begins to cement himself as an underworld power in Las Vegas. In addition, Sam’s wife Ginger (Sharon Stone) soon begins to change from the glamorous siren she once was, into a lying and cheating coke addict, as she threatens to drive a wedge between Sam and Nicky’s already strained relationship. Things end messily.

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Casino is a strange formula for a film. It acts and for all intensive purposes is an epic, a long narrative told by multiple points of view that spans a relatively large time period. But in many ways it isn’t. In epics, specifically in Scorcese’s you start with a rise to power before the struggle to maintain it. But in the opening minutes of the film Sam Rothstein gains control of the Casino, and his power is made evident pretty much then throughout the entire film. Also of note is Sam’s car exploding at the beginning, and the flashback to current events. I didn’t really see the point in this choice retrospectively? I’m not quite sure what it adds to the film, it seems mostly unneeded. However, it is very much epic in it’s ‘fall’. Much like Greek tragedies and very traditional storytelling Casino details the fall of our three protagonists in great agonizing detail. Nick Santoro is buried in the desert, still breathing along with his brother. Ginger dies of an overdose. Sam’s empire is mostly collapsed with the Tangiers casino being knocked down. 

'So, you're a righty then?'

‘So, you’re a righty then?’

Although, while I did say it was fundamentally different a series of remarkable similarities can be drawn between Casino, and Scorsese’s other films. In particular, in it’s story-line structure it bares a likeness to Gangs of New York, and Raging Bull. All three of these films take place within a particular turbulent time, and inevitably build up to the end of that period. Raging Bull depicts a boxers career wind down to crushing defeat, Gangs of New York documents the military ending a time of revelry and gang warfare. While Casino depicts the end of mob dealings and influence in the casinos, as Ace’s long uninterrupted prologue at the end tells us:

The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior’s college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it’s like checkin’ into an airport – Sam Rothstein

Scorcese depicts the turbulence, the violence, the warfare, ending on a period of calm as order is restored. Quite honestly it’s because audiences like chaos, we don’t wanna see the order. We’re glued to insane and dominant figures like Nick Santoro, Jake Lamotta, Bill the Butcher. The reason why these situations and characters seem so real and vibrant is primarily because they are, ripped from the pages of history.

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Casino is also very notable for his use of minor or supporting characters. It stars James Woods as the lurid and despicable Lester Diamond, the man who constantly uses Sam’s wife Ginger. He’s important because he really helps clarify the character of Sam. Sam deals with Lester by sending men, having him beaten to a bloody pulp outside in front of his wife. He is of power, thinks of himself as a man of standing and wouldn’t get his hands dirty with Lester. If it was Nick Santoro in this situation, he might have stabbed Lester several times in the jugular with a fountain pen, which happened in earlier scenes. Lester functions as a narrative trigger, to cause the tension between Sam and Ginger, which in turn leads to the tragic downfall of all three of our characters. In addition it stars long-term collaborator Frank Vincent as Frankie Marino. Frankie is primarily Nick’s second banana, his right-hand man, his extra muscle. He betrays Nick, and beats him and his brother to a bloody pulp with a baseball bat. This could have been anyone, but to see this character who was always by Nick’s side do it, added surprise and shock to an otherwise inevitable end. I also liked the irony that Nicky always talked about burying people in the desert during his monologues, and the only person we see buried is him.

Casino is incredibly textured, authentic, and well-written. The only real flaw I could say for it is that the monologues and narration ultimately makes the whole thing predictable. But I guess anyone who’d really seen anything from the gangster/casino genre could have guessed. Not to mention Pesci’s performance is priceless, no one plays the threatening and terrifying small man so well as Pesci. Deniro is fantastic as usual, as per all of his collaborations with Scorsese. Casino is a fantastic film, it deserves more respect than it gets I think. 

Dr.Easy (2013) – A short film.

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Dr.easy is a tentative first step into cinematic ventures from highly acclaimed music video direction company Shynola. It was recently made public today found herehttp://www.created-to-help-you.com/ Dr.Easy details a medical robot dispatched by police to deal with a tense situation. It uses it’s medical and analytic skills to try and aid the distressed individual, to no avail as tragedy still occurs. There’s something haunting about the words ‘You have so much more to live for’ uttered from the cold metal mainframe of a computer. Dr.Easy is emotionally charged, with twinges of social surrealism. It’s technically sound, and incredibly authentic. It’s a fine piece of short film, and I implore you to give it a watch.

Superman: Doomsday! (2007)

Superman_Doomsday_DVDFollowing the hype of Man of Steel which I reviewed yesterday, and Superman and DC’s future fresh among the tabloids I thought i’d review my favorite animated feature of the man of steel, Superman: Doomsday (2007). When you have a character so powerful as Superman, it’s hard for him to really feel in danger. He rarely ever did in the films, among the cartoons, in the justice league. The last son of Krypton is a god, with the sensibility of a righteous man. However Superman:Doomsday completely subverts and questions the whole ideal of Superman in a very direct and clever manner.

The plot begins with workers from Lexcorp (a company owned by Lex Luthor) digging underground. They find an ancient relic, a container of sorts. The container begins to crack, as an ancient living weapon known on Earth as Doomsday cracks out of the pod and begins to wreak havoc on Metropolis. Doomsday is unrelenting, and his sole design is only to destroy all organic life. The creature is incredibly powerful, and mostly unstoppable. Superman and the beast meet as Doomsday dies as Superman plummets him through orbit into the ground. Superman exerts himself and passes away too, or so it seems. Luthor relocates the body post-funeral, and begins to clone Superman. Meanwhile the clone defies Luthor, destroying the rest of the cloning facility in the process, whilst hospitalizing Luthor. Superman’s Robotic companion in the fortress of Solitude locates his body, and begins to heal him. However the still weak Kal-El must go face his doppelganger as it’s wreaking havoc on metropolis, regardless of his weakened state.

The looming biological weapon Doomsday, in conflict with Superman.

The looming biological weapon Doomsday, in conflict with Superman.

DC and their animated studios are really underrated. Almost all of their animated features are highly entertaining, although on this one the animation is good at best. However the story, and it’s fairly adult approach to Superman is commendable. It questions the character, and brings one of the most notable arcs in Superman’s genealogy to the screen (although very altered). The Death of Superman, or sometimes referred to as the reign of the Supermen is a long unwieldy story arc that took place in the very early 90’s. Superman:Doomsday essentially cut out the comic book filler, providing the inner skeleton of the story instead of the whole thing. Although it’s very neat and concise as a piece of animated fiction.

For fans of Superman, and DC’s animation I’d really suggest Superman:Doomsday. It’s not fantastic by any means, but it’s quite good. For me it’s slightly devalued by the amount of Lois Lane/Clark Kent waffle. How a pair of glasses will constitute a secret identity by any means is truly a mystery to me. Just a short piece of Superman relevance today, I dive back into my study of 1931 tomorrow, as I watch The Public Enemy (1931) starring James Cagney. Cheers for stopping by, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. 

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Man Of Steel (2013), More Man than Super.

ManOfSteel.Man of Steel is incredibly important as a film. Why? Well simply because it’s results and the way it’s received will affect the way the superhero genre develops in the years to come. DC has a lot of marbles riding on the Man Of Steel because of it’s cinematic competition with Marvel. Marvel have been dominating the box office with The Avengers, and Iron Man 3, and films that boast an impressive gross in their adaptation of comic books characters, but offer little substance. Meanwhile, DC has had intense critical success with Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins (2005) , The Dark Knight (2008),  The Dark Knight Rises(2012)). However, other than that it’s not been fairing so well. Green Lantern (2011) was a financial and critical failure, and the last Superman film to be made Superman Returns (2006) while receiving mostly positive reviews was scrapped by DC management due to it’s lack of marketability and underwhelming box office returns. So that brings us to Man Of Steel (2013) directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) written by David Goyer, and produced by Christopher Nolan.

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An interesting fact is Zod’s suit was completely CGI, due to the weight issues.

Unlike Superman Returns (2005), we start at the beginning once again. Krypton is on the brink of destruction due to civil war and a conflict between the political council and it’s military forces led by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Krypton is a society that operates via a caste system, enforcing artificial birth that warps genes to create a suitable being for his chosen life task. The information is stored in a codex that Jor-El (Russell Crowe) steals and sends along with his naturally born son Kal-El to Earth, to carry on his legacy and the legacy of Krypton. Zod slaughters Jor-El, as punishment he and his band of men are exiled to the phantom zone, while Krypton explodes.

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Kryptonian wiseman, and father of Superman, Jor-El

We follow Kal-El as he’s now a citizen of Earth known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). We see him shift from job to job, a faceless wanderer as he keeps his head low. Occasionally we’ll cut to him as a child learning to deal with his heritage and powers under the watchful gaze of his adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). Clark goes towards a cave known as the genesis chamber, a relic of Krypton’s past as journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). She follows him, injuring herself in the process as a kryptonian piece of technology attack hers. Clark saves her and vanishes as she attempts to find her unknown savior. Soon General Zod comes to earth, seeking to destroy Kal-El in a wicked plan to terraform earth and transform it into the new Krypton. Zod and his forces attempt to destroy Superman, as the realization comes true that Kal-El’s DNA is the codex of all kryptonian life.

With Nolan’s name attached to the film there’s been a lot of hype and speculation over it being ‘darker’. In my opinion I didn’t see Man of Steel as ‘dark’ or ‘gritty’. It was certainly less sensationalist, and camp but that’s certainly to be expected in a contemporary adaptation that wasn’t paying homage to the older depictions of Superman. For me what made the film was the emphasis on Clark Kent the man. It didn’t try and make a big spectacle out of Kal-El’s powers and the slow bleed and development of Clark’s identity was fantastic. The aesthetics and cinematography of the world around Clark, were truly beautiful and it definitely added a visual depth to this new found emotional side of Superman. However, the film soon recedes as the layers peel off. We get less and less of Clark’s identity, his real character, as the film advances into a series of fairly expected set pieces of action-packed drivel. I’m not saying I hated the action sequences but there were nothing special. However it’s possible I’m being biased because I had a bad reaction. The past faced constant motion of the combat made me relatively dizzy and gave me a headache due to the constant jiggling of the camera.

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It’s performances were pretty flawless, I have to admit. Cavill played it well, capturing the emotional side of Superman, the beardless repressed wanderer. Although he also depicted the moral do-gooder, the last son of Krypton to a tee. Russell Crowe as Jor-El was something I was immediately skeptical about, but he proved to be quite good. Costner also added some reality, some emotion to Clark’s childhood. Setting up this interested duality of his two fathers, Jor-El who wants his son to be a shining god upon man, and Jonathan Kent who would prefer his son to live his life quietly. Michael Shannon did his best as Zod, however it fell fairly flat purely because the character just isn’t that dynamic really. On that note, what a punishment, they get sent away from the planet about the explode, so they can survive. What a cruel and unusual sentence. The special effects were well-done, and fundamentally basic. There weren’t overly focused on either. Generally the majority of the special effects budget is used in the opening scenes on Krypton, which were particularly well done. Especially the design of the Kyptonian technology, and the look and feel of the costuming. A minor detail I quite liked was the origin of the ‘S’ which it alludes to as the shield of Krypton, and a culture symbol as opposed to a simple initial.

On the film and it’s general reception, I think people are instantly dismissing it purely because of it’s legacy of badly translated adaptations. It definitely seems there’s some intense bias for a film I actually thought was quite good, for it to receive universally mixed reviews. I thought it was wholly better than anything Marvel’s churned out in recent years. The whole thing felt very authentic. Admittedly it did lose steam and didn’t continue it’s refreshing emotional parts throughout the entire film. The inherent problem was the ‘Man’ in Superman, the part we haven’t seen before was so much more interesting than the ‘Super’, the spectacle we’re supposed to pay to see. However Man of Steel is mostly make, as opposed to break.

What’s next for DC? Well there’s been some floundering in direction ever since the incredible ‘success’ of the Avengers (Mostly financial as opposed to critical). Obviously the Justice league was always going to be their call to match it. More obvious would be them turning to Nolan wanting him to lead the whole DC cinematic universe said to compete with Marvels. While Nolan’s involvement may still be used he’s mostly signed off on any ideas of ‘his’ Batman from the Dark Knight trilogy making any kind of appearance in Justice League or other DC films. Bale was mostly positive for the idea if Nolan was attached to the project but that probably won’t happen. It’s also unsure if the Superman appearing in Man of Steel would be the one appearing in Justice League. It’s mixed reviews mean an uncertain future for the fate of the Justice League film, but it seems Goyer and Snyder will be attached to the project. I liked Man of Steel, and would guess it’ll probably remain one of the better blockbusters of this year. Thank for stopping by, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views

Phantom (2013)

Phantom_Ed_HarrisPhantom (2013) is a film set in the turbulent times of the cold war, a time of political strife where nuclear fallout was very much a possibility. However, it’s often been a concept that’s hard to express in film, because it’s hard to depict a solely political conflict, while still managing to be an entertaining piece of cinema. It’s a very ambitious project from Director Todd Robinson, that’s not necessarily based on fact but speculates based on it. Its cast of fairly underrated and undercasted actors are certainly to be appreciated. The film stars Ed Harris, David Duchovny, and William Fichtner all in leading roles.

The film revolves around Demi (Ed Harris), an old and shamed soviet submarine captain closed to retirement. He is a navy personnel haunted by his father’s sheer success, and his own inability to live up to his father’s legacy. He is asked to go on a final mission with his crew, his commanding officer being the up and coming Alex Kozlov (William Fichtner) soon to be promoted. Things get complicated when members of the KGB join the crew, and are the only ones who have access to the secret mission objectives. The objective is to test a cloaking device known as the phantom, which can easily fool the American sonar systems into thinking the submarine is a humble merchant vessel, or any other number of inconspicuous crafts. Bruni (David Duchovny) the leader of the KGB takes control of the ship, in an attempt to abandon the mission objectives, and cause nuclear war by attacking American forces, while disguised as the chinese. However, Demi and his loyal crew thwart his plans, as Demi and his officer Alex escape the ship safely.

pHANTOM

The story is basically a theory as to why an un-detonated nuclear warhead was found at the bottom of the ocean, as the pre-credit text at the end tells us. The story isn’t bad per say, but the script is incredibly clunky, and slow. In addition it’s kind of hard to have an entire story take place on a submarine, doesn’t really allow the plot to develop well. The special effects were incredibly minimal, and didn’t bring life to the true danger of the situation. 

The cast of Phantom are good actors, and do try to bring life to the Phantom’s fairly dull and weak script. I personally didn’t hate the film, and thought it was reasonable if you were interested in the subject matter. However, in it’s economic takings it’s by every definition a box office flop, and a critical failure, widely panned by the likes of Rotten Tomatoes. I didn’t really think it deserved that, I saw the film more as lacking, or mediocre than just simply awful. Phantom won’t blow you away, but it’s performances are reasonable and could be seen as an interesting premise if nothing else. 

Riddle (2013), or a Gigantic Waste of Time.

RiddleA riddle can easily be defined as one of two things: a mystifying, misleading, or puzzling question posed as a problem to be solved or guessed. Or alternatively something or someone difficult to understand. Riddle (2013) is not a deep-rooted conundrum, or a hard to solve mystery. It is very misleading, puzzling, and mystifying it’s in lack of technical accuracy. However the solution is ultimately that it’s basically a waste of time.  Riddle is directed by John O. Hartman (Wyatt Earp 1994) and Nicholas Mross. I would say it stars Val Kilmer, but that’s basically a lie as his screentime in the film consists of about 6 minutes. Why his face is on the poster, I have literally no idea. His character is an irrelevant stock character, who has roughly 5 lines in the whole film. If we’re putting irrelevant cameo roles on the poster, where’s William Sadler’s face? He was in it too, and was actually marginally more relevant. Anyhow anger aside, it stars Elisabeth Harnois, and a lot of fresh faces.

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Holly Teller (Elizabeth Harnois) is a sensible do-gooder who has a very healthy relationship with her brother. One day at school, her brother Nathan is harassed by two bullies. They take him for a ride in their car, as the one driving heads straight into a truck only to swerve away at the last second. Nathan urinates himself, as they stop at a gas station so he can clean up. A few seconds later Nathan is missing. 3 years later, her brother is still missing, as Holly believes she sees him drive away in a truck with a strange looking man. She finds out where Nathan is living and uncovers a ‘mystery’ to find him much to the discomfort of Sheriff Richards (Val Kilmer). The inhabitants of Riddle become unsettled as Holly roots around, along with her friend, and the two guys who lost him in the first place. Holly and her brother were adopted, he was taken by their original father, and that’s about it.

The old burning man finish. The 1980's wants their set piece back.

The old burning man finish. The 1980’s wants their set piece back.

So what’s wrong with Riddle? Let’s start with a plot analysis. First of all, if you’re a bully and you don’t like someone, why would you ever want them to go for a ride with you? Why abandon the old tried and true methods of assaulting the kid or verbal abuse, but asking if he wants to go for a joyride? Why would you ever possibly want that. What were they intending to do? leave him in the woods or something? Second of all, how did their biological father happen to conveniently be there at the right time in all of 20 seconds when he was in the toilet. Was he stalking them? Why did the people of Riddle never see the boy around town considering Holly saw them driving in a different town. Riddle is a mess of basic plot errors, and logic knots but quite fundamentally the premise isn’t even vaguely entertaining. The Thriller is a genre that has such rich roots in it’s genealogy and it really is a shame to see films try and emulate the Hitchcock-esque style so badly.

The performances surprisingly weren’t bad, not good by any stretch of the imagination, but satisfactory. The film had barely enough engagement to keep me watching just because I was more curious than anything. What else is there to say really? A horribly deformed father who killed his wive, sought to reclaim his son and did, and attempted to kill his daughter, murdering many of her newly made friends in the process. I can’t help but think the story wouldn’t have happened if Nathan wasn’t seemingly incapable of the most basic of motor functions. Riddle is a catastrophe of a film, suffering from incredibly basic errors in casting, writing, and direction. It clearly tried to plug the film solely based on the cameos by Val Kilmer and William Sadler (Why did you bother guys!?) What riles me most is how bizarre the poster is in all of it’s completely irrelevance. Well, that’s all for this time. I may review something that’s not a complete waste of time later today. But we’ll see. Follow me @Sams_Reel_Views.

A study of Film in 1931: Frankenstein!

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My second piece of retrospective analysis, looking into the year 1931, continuing from Cimmaron (1931) I take a look at iconic horror monster flick Frankenstein. 

Mankind will always strive to push limits and boundaries particularly when science is involved. As a race we constantly demand answers, progression, hungry for knowledge and advancement. Our fascination with death, and the mortal coil and ideas of immortality constantly plague fictional works. Frankenstein is a story of that gone too far. Frankenstein is one of the most iconic horror films ever made with the monster of Frankenstein being a significant figure in popular culture even now a full 82 years later. Directed by James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein, Man in the Iron Mask) a very influential figure in the field of classic horror. It’s based on the play by Peggy Webling, which in turn is heavily based on Mary Shelley’s 18th century novel of the same name. 

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Henry and Fritz robbing a freshly laid grave for components.

One thing most modern audiences will say is how the film isn’t remotely scary in a contemporary context. This is true, but the thing is Frankenstein still has such a depth to it. A lot of controversy was stirred in the scene in which Frankenstein’s monster throws a small girl into a pond not quite realizing the logic of it. He likened it to the flower petals that float on the water, his undeveloped brain not really sure of the consequences as the girl slowly drowns. Is the monster the villain? or the wicked scientist who wanted to play god? Frankenstein can be likened to a child in many ways, a child in a man’s body. The whole principle likens to Lennie from of Mice and Men in some ways. What’s bizarre is how there’s basically no punishment for defiling the natural order for Dr.Frankenstein, it’s all happy marriage after the beast has been felled. They only blame the monster, and not the fool that made him, though a lot of the blame could be upon Fritz for taking the deformed brain I suppose. That kind of mood supports the alternative reading even more. 

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It’s set design is truly classic, and really sets a gloomy atmosphere and morbid tone. For example the graveyard scene is very morose, and sets the whole motif of reanimation and death off perfectly. Something also highly impressive is it’s use of special effects, not only in the timeless makeup and creation of Frankenstein, but also the laboratory equipment. It’s said the set designer highly researched and recreated the effect made from genuine live Tesla coils for the lightning scene, which truly captures the mood of the storm both literally and figuratively as the beast becomes alive again.

It’s alive! It’s alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God! – Doctor Frankenstein.

In addition it’s performances and cast are also fairly good. Colin Clive is often epitomized as the mad scientist, coining the role that started the stock character who would often be replicated and parodied in subsequent years. Boris Karloff also received critical acclaim for his depiction of Frankenstein’s monster. 

'IT'S ALIIIIIIVE'

‘IT’S ALIIIIIIVE!’

In it’s cultural impact, Frankenstein has permeated the sphere of popular culture and still makes appearances in contemporary fiction on a consistent basis. There are countless remakes and modern retellings of the story of Frankenstein, a notable cameo is in horror homage film Van Helsing (2004). In addition Frankenstein is easily the highest grossing film of 1931, with an contextually impressive total of $12,000,000 from a measly budget of $200,000. Compared to ‘Best Picture’ of that year Cimmaron, it’s a shining success economically. Along with Dracula (Also 1931) Frankenstein helped popularize the horror genre and established a fairly niche’ genre for the years to come for the likes of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Peter Cushing and Vincent price to lavish in. That’s all for this time, join me next time as we resume our study of 1931, with a look into Dracula (1931). Thanks for reading, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views.