Man of Steel

This is an older review I’m reposting in light of DC’s Wonder Woman doing so well. I plan to review it soon. Man of Steel didnt impress me much.

Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel. He’s known for directing films like Sucker Punch, 300, and some others. Amy Adams was his choice for Lois Lane, Henry Cavill: Clark Kent, Diane Lane as Clark Kent’s mother, and Kevin Costner as his earthly father. It is a relatively star studded cast worth reading from a list if one has the time.

I will say that I think there are far too many movies out there depicting the White House being destroyed. It’s not that I am overly patriotic but I think the movie makers do it simply for shock value. This movie doesn’t attack the White House but there is that same unorthodox violence being done. I really felt at times I was experiencing the destruction of the twin towers at 911. Those were the violent times. When this film started out it was endearing. I leaned over to my wife and told her they were getting it right. There is one scene where Clark saves the school bus that has plowed off a bridge. That was awesome and made me want to learn more about this Clark Kent! Unfortunately the long segments of gratuitous destruction and violence (reminiscent of White House destruction) are so boring and off-putting I contemplated walking out. If it weren’t for my wife who never walks out, I would have.

There are three parts to this film: escape from Krypton, Clark growing up, and the longest part: when the Krypton people arrive and destroy earth (almost). When the destruction segments begin, the movie is nothing more than GI Joe. I have noticed the movie public is paying to see these sorts of military films so I won’t slam them too hard. As for me, I am really not into the Army commercial type movies. I know some of my friends are so I won’t get judgmental here. I would hate to alienate friends and the movie going audience. This opening weekend it is doing way better than expected. I could be wrong but I sensed a right wing, religious agenda as well. There were many places I saw this but one example was when Faora, one of the Kryptons, said something to effect of they will win because they represent the strongest of evolution and “evolution always wins.” After that Superman is able to destroy her mask and kill her. There are other places I could use as support: for example Clark Kent says he’s just a guy from Kansas and yet he is not human and ready to lay down his life for all humans. Just a thought, feel free to dismiss it.

One thing that is sure about this movie is the destruction. It lacks the love story, humor, and humanity of previous Supermans. I thought I was going to love it and they explained the origin of baby Superman well. Unfortunately, when the destroyers come in, it’s just another overly patriotic (sappy) Independence Day/GI Joe formula. I wanted a modern telling of Superman but it was a bait and switch.

Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the Furnace is a working class struggle film that shows how a man can descend into lower moral places when all hope is taken away.

Plot
“When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement doesn’t follow through fast enough, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice.” -IMDB
This is a good description but there are some other elements at play. One being a brother’s keeper, even into adulthood is clearly there. How long should one protect and shelter a sibling? Beyond that, can you blame a person for gambling and street boxing (which is very bloody) when there are not rational solutions to a working class existence. Has the man failed society or has society failed the man? These are interesting topics presented in the plot.

Actors
Christian Bale Russell Baze
Casey Affleck Rodney Baze Jr.
Zoe Saldana (as Zoë Saldana) Lena Taylor
Woody Harrelson Harlan DeGroat
Bale does a great job in this role. He is suffering. H etries his best with the bad hand he has been dealt but you feel his frustration in never getting ahead. Affleck also does an amazing job. It was a pleasure watching these two brothers in the script playing off each other.

Director/Writer
Scott Cooper
Brad Ingelsby (written by) and, Scott Cooper (written by)

Other Info
Crime, Drama, Thriller
R
Fri 06 Dec 2013 UTC
116min
IMDB Rating: 6.8

My Final Thoughts
Great film. A little gritty and violent so not for everyone. Not a feel good film but vengeance fans may enjoy it.

8/10

Downton Abbey (TV Series)

With Downton Abbey, you get more than just a Masterpiece Theater type show. You get all the features of a melodrama, romance, mystery, and soap opera wrapped in one. I’m here to tell you, it’s enjoyable!

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As with most tv series, it has multiple directors for different seasons. Probably the most famous are Andy Goddard and James Strong (Law and Order UK, Dr. Who). There are also a lot of actors with a core few comprising the main cast. They are mostly British actors.

I really like watching the dynamics of a wealthy house in England in the 1920’s. There is a clear regiment of duties from the Butler down to the footman and even below that. Every worker knows her/his place and that is interesting to watch. Why are they so obedient to position and decorum? Basically, they value their jobs. You get to see the inner workings of the leadership and the choices they have to make to keep things working.

Another thing that makes it interesting is the way they mention news of the day such as the Titanic sinking. They keep a historical context that way and it’s a lot of fun.

FINAL THOUGHTS
There are love affairs and resentments and even vengeance plays. It wouldn’t seem possible but you have all the enjoyment and excitement of a movie set in modern times. It’s not what they say and do that keeps you interested, rather it’s why they hold back. It’s a little slow at times and not for everyone. Kids will be bored but for those day 18 and up, I highly recommend you give it a chance and see if you get sucked in like I did as you binge watch.

9/10

Alien (1979)

The concept of an unknown creature (the xenomorph) being inside you and feeding off your insides is a bone shivering one indeed. That was the concept that catapulted this first of the Alien movies into orbit.

Director Ridley Scott had a vision to get this done and he did it with real props, costumes, and a lot of goo! You won’t find any cgi in this film, just well sculpted and shiny creature heads and protruding sharp teeth.

There are so many amazing actors in this first film but Sigourney Weaver will always stand out to me as strong first impression. She is the one who takes on the creature. It’s as if she is attached to it, like its mother. But this mother/child relationship is only host/parasite. The creature wants to kill her and use her to make more offspring.

Like Blade Runner, there is the theme of androids in this film that makes it very interesting. When the android is destroyed for telling the crew they are doomed, it’s his head alone that does the talking. In 1979, special effects were like parlor tricks, they had to use what they had to get the point across. Sometimes, this makes for better effects.

Alien is a space story about a ship sent to retrieve colonists on a far off planet and return them to Earth. They discover a vicious alien lifeform on board that is engineered to wipe out the human race and only they can stop it.

After multiple watchings through the years, I have to say this film is still scary to me and I marvel at how well done the analog effects are. The story is excellent and I hope every horror or sci-fi fan gets a chance to see it once in their lifetime. The acting and the story are top notch and it’s a career high for Ridley Scott as director.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Black outer space is scary. So is being alone. Add to that the fear of an unknown, “Alien,” creature and you have the potential for a terrifying film. Ridley Scott managed to create that. It’s probably one of the most scary films out there in this genre. The idea that nature is cold and uncaring is always a fascinating concept in a movie. Whether it’s a white whale or a 1,000 pound Grizzly Bear, nature needs to feed and it will at any cost in order to survive. In this film, we are held before scenes of nature in its rawest form, uncaring, feeding. It’s a mind-blowing film, I give it my highest recommendation possible to everyone, except young kids say under 8 years old.

10/10

The Vow

Watching poor Leo try to win Paige back may be a painful journey but it does raise interesting conversation.

Article first published as The Vow on Blogcritics.

The Vow is a movie directed by Michael Sucsy, known for Deep Impact. It stars Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channng Tatum) as its main characters. It has been advertised as a romance flick. It nonetheless presents the difficult, unromantic topic of a brain injury. After a serious car accident where she goes through the windshield, Paige winds up in a coma. After some time, she wakes up unable to remember her husband Leo or any part of their relationship. Leo goes to great lengths to remind her of their life together with no success. His efforts leave her cold and she moves out to live with her parents. Much of the romance of this film is shown in flashbacks. We see what Paige and Leo were like before the accident. We don’t see Leo and Paige happy together throughout the movie as the promos suggest.

Sorry to disappoint the romance seekers but this is not a “feel good” movie. Still, it has some value on a date. Watching Paige leave Leo is uncomfortable. I kept wondering why she wouldn’t give him more time to try and win her back. After all, he did nothing wrong to deserve losing her. The question then becomes: should one keep the vow out of duty when feelings are gone? Watching poor Leo try to win Paige back may be a painful journey but it does raise interesting conversation.

Dating and marriage are popular subjects for movies. When a movie seems to have romance, some call it a “chick flick.” In this movie’s case however, the romance is rare so it doesn’t qualify. I’d call it a decent drama though because good dramas make you think. It reminded me of when someone broke up with me in real life. Others reading this may recall that same “punch in the stomach” feeling. The actual woman the movie is based on, Krickitt Carpenter, who said in a New York Post interview, “You make a promise before God with your wedding vows.” She seems to have a different view of The Vow than the director.  With respect to her and what she has been through, that isn’t a very romantic concept for a chick flick. This film has ads that look more like the Notebook than a brain injury study or otherwise religious film. To summarize my view, the Vow fails as a romance but is ok as a drama. If you watch it on a date, it can serve as an interesting conversation starter.

Everything Must Go

Article first published as Everything Must Go on Blogcritics.
Everything Must Go
was directed by Dan Rush. This is his debut as a director. Will Ferrell (Nick Halsey) lends an everyman face to suburban failure and renewal in this dark comedy. Alcoholism and depression are addressed in this movie, hefty topics for an independent film but they are handled deftly and respectfully.

It begins with Nick Halsey losing his job. If you think it can’t get worse than that for a suburban married man in a mortgage, it does. When he gets home, he finds all his possessions, including clothes, strewn across the front lawn. Can’t get worse? Yes it can. Soon after he arrives home he finds he cannot get into the house as his wife has changed the locks. This is when we begin to see he is an alcoholic. He plops down on the easy chair in the yard and decides to have a yard sale. The course of events that follow involve a young kid who visits him on the lawn (Kenny Loftus played by C.J. Wallace who is the son of Notorious B.I.G. in real life). Their interplay is marvelous because it is tender and human.

Kenny doesn’t judge Nick for his misgivings. Instead, they find a common ground where they share a love of baseball and a common theme of loneliness. For me, this relationship was the most significant. There are other ones in the movie though. Samantha (Rebecca Hall), Nick ex-wife, is adamantly against him. Though we don’t know the details it can be boiled down to the well-known failings of an alcoholic in a marriage. Details show us that Nick was not just a casual alcoholic but a raving black-out type. He’s quite lucid and sensible in the movie though. The cop that drives by and has befriended Nick, Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), seems to have Nick’s best interest at heart but that remains to be seen. Needless to say, Nick’s days on the lawn must come to an end. When they do, we see a transformation. While a bit predictable, it is the journey that held my attention. What would you do if you lost everything in a day? This movie let’s that “what-if” play out to a clear conclusion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely, it was an image of our humanity. Who has never been afraid of living out in the street? At a time in history when so many people are being forced out of their homes, it can be cathartic to watch this. Will Ferrell shows us in this film that he can act. Sure, he is funny but his acting makes it easy to believe he is homeless.

Watching Nick and Kenny together is touching. With all the bad going on in Nick’s life, he takes the time to get to know Kenny. I know from personal experience as a teacher kids require patience. The other relationships are a little flat and I thought could have been developed more. Still, this movie was valuable in the way it portrayed Nick’s relationship with Kenny. There is a lot to take away from that and it makes Everything Must Go highly entertaining.

A Christmas Story (1983)

I think most Americans, happy with their upbringing, are delighted to tell stories about their childhood. If we tell them, they become immortal. Such is apparently the case with humorist Jean Shepherd. His semi-fictional memoir In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash is the basis for this lovely, wonderful film.

Looking at this film on face value alone may cause it to appear like a Hallmark channel move or a strictly family film. The truth is it’s more than that. A humorist lends his life supply of experiences growing up to produce family-friendly comedy, with a slightly twisted bent. I know I wouldn’t have liked it if it was simple a family Christmas film.

It takes place in the 1940’s when American life was a lot simpler. Even still, you see the father come home from work getting mad at the broken furnace, cussing at it. You see that daily dilemma of Ralphie and his little brother trying to get to school in sub zero temperatures. And then of course, there are the bullies to and from school to worry about.

Why the hell do we tell our kids to believe in Santa Claus? This question is indirectly raised but never answered. In fact, it raises gender role issues, peer pressure, and American traditions. It reminds us of our traditions, even ones we’ve taken for granted all our lives. As we laugh at Ralphie and this family, we are really laughing at ourselves.

Bob Clark directed this amazing piece. He will be remembered by some as directing the coming-of-age film from 1982, Porky’s. While not as racy as that film, this one deals with boys growing up and poking fun at our human situation.

Some of the cast should be mentioned: Peter Billingsley played Ralphie. Before that, in America he was recognized as the Nestle Quick chocolate Milk kid. Darren McGavin plays “The Old Man,” Ralphie’s father. His role is superlative. He plays the somewhat detached aging father so well. When he cusses at the furnace, you swear you’ve heard that somewhere before! The whole cast is amazing and it’s an excellent script they use to deliver the jokes and message in the film.

When seen for the sarcastic, dry, deadpan humor it offers, this film is a winner! Some may be put off by its seemingly traditional appearance but please remember it is poking fun at tradition as much as reminding us of it. Give this incredible memoir film a chance, you won’t regret it.

Reasons to Vote for ‘Breaking Away’ as June 2017’s Movie of the Month at The Large Association of Movie Blogs!

It’s about being young and chasing your dreams.
It stars a very young Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern.

It’s NOT only about a cycle race but also love and coming of age.
It’s a coming of age story about All-American boys you won’t soon forget!
It’s my entry and if I win, I get to appear on the podcast to discuss this wonderful film.

Please go and vote now at this link.

Real Steel

Last night my wife and I sneaked out leaving the brother to babysit and saw Real Steel, the new movie out about robot boxing. I have to say, I wasn’t too excited to see it. The idea of robots punching each other for 2 hours didn’t really pique my interest. But I am happy to recommend it now as a fun family film, with some fight scenes, that has all the charm of the Karate Kid and cgi as good as Transformers.

It was directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the MuseumBig Fat Liar …) and stars Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, and newcomer Kevin Durand. Jackman plays Charlie, an ex prize fighter who now slums as a robot coach (of sorts). Jackman discovers he has a son, Max, and try as he might to do otherwise, he is destined to partner up with his 13 year old son throughout the movie. Charlie and Max try their hand at robot management and coaching but it has mixed results. It isn’t until they have a few shared experiences that they acquire a new, plain, yet mysterious powerful robots. What that power is remains to unfold. Together they discover the worth of teamwork and the analog body in sync with the digital robot technology. I won’t give away anymore about the plot but know that it’s quite a fun ride.

Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, Jackman’s ex. She is the calming force in his life even now that they are not together. They share a little romance that sizzles off the screen. Max is just happy-go-lucky. He ends up getting a dad and a prize fighting robot in the deal. There is not a while lot of real life character development but for what this movie is, an action movie, that isn’t required. Atom is the robot. You end up feeling like he is an actual person. He is the classic underdog fighter with no chance and a small physique. The twist is that he is not a human, like Rocky from the 70’s, but rather a steel fighting machine. He never says to his corner man to “cut me” but several comparisons are obvious, as well as to the Karate Kid.

All in all, this movie isn’t very real amid the steel. That being said, you will cheer when the good robots win fights. It is just the right time for this sort of movie to be made. Technology makes these things seem like real chunks of 1,000 pound metal to watch, enjoy, and give a high five to. While weak on the storyline and character development, this is the ideal underdog movie for the kids of today. And for those of us in our slightly older years, we should suspend disbelief so this movie can please us as well.

Article first published as Real Steel: The Underdog Fight Ensues on Blogcritics.

The Theory of Everything

The-Theory-of-Everything-Poster-2I went in to see this movie while on vacation in Las Vegas with my lovely wife. I expected a romance. Having known of Stephen Hawking and his ultimate divorce, I imagined the film would delete that and sugar coat his romance prior to him becoming confined to a wheelchair. I had it only partly right. The director focused on their romantic relationship in the early years, the late sixties and seventies. You see how they meet and get a feel for what he was trying to with his theory of everything. It is quite touching and certainly the stuff of chick flick type of movies. At the same time, I enjoyed watching that part so it may be suited fpr guys as well, or guys that want to cuddle with girls. It’s after all that is established and they are in a relationship that the disease hits and it hits powerfully. You might call it exquisite pain for the protagonist and the invested audience.

After doctors give Hawking 2 years to live, you see he and his wife have learned to get along. The movie is still a love story but takes on a new dimension of a family. Yes, they are able to have children. Hawking becomes a famous author we follow him through more and more sophisticated wheelchairs. My wife at one point said to me, “This is where you say thank God for technology.” Through the use of a special machine, he learns to speak again through typing. There is also a running theme throughout about religion. She has it, he doesn’t. It makes for some interesting interplay at chosen points in the movie. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if he ever renounces atheism or not. Either way, he delivers a powerful speech on the topic. This is a tear jerker, a romance, and an inspiring film to boot. I give in 5/5 stars.