Saturday, July 13, 2013
With Bryan Singer’s dull SUPERMAN RETURNS reboot forgotten, the franchise turned to Christopher Nolan, the man who saved Batman from camp, to give the comic book hero another new beginning. He produces and shares story credit with David S. Goyer but abdicates directorial duties to Zack Snyder. Most of the film’s first half embellishes upon and modifies Superman’s well-trod origin story with some degree of success. On dying planet Krypton General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a military coup and attempts to stop Jor-El (Russell Crowe) from sending newborn son Kal-El off the doomed home world to Earth. The babe escapes, Zod and his cohorts are captured and exiled, but Krypton explodes. Kal-El’s craft lands in Kansas where farmer Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and wife Martha (Diane Lane) adopt him and name him Clark. As the boy grows his powers become evident, but Pa Kent asks him to refrain from using them, even to help others, in order to hide his otherness. This conflict drives adult Clark (Henry Cavill) into the wide world doing odd labor-intensive jobs until drawn inexorably to the Arctic and the spaceship buried beneath the ice, where he learns his true identity. There he also meets Daily Planet ace investigative reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and begins to confront his destiny as Superman. While Goyer’s screenplay focuses on Kal-El as the stranger in a strange land and the fear his alien origin engenders, the film flirts with unexpected poignancy. Costner and Lane exude homespun decency, while Adams elicits sparks from an otherwise somber Cavill. However, once Zod and his minions arrive intending to turn Earth into a new Krypton, director Snyder jettisons any thematic groundwork laid and commences a 40-minute aural and visual assault that leaves viewers’ ears ringing and heads pounding. Most distressing, the numbing carnage undermines Superman’s established moral character, because he seems to tacitly accept the unseen but inevitable casualties incurred during his devastating battle with Zod. In reimagining Superman the filmmakers have obliterated him beyond recognition.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
After striking gold in the crude yet warm-hearted BRIDESMAIDS, director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy return to the crass comedy well with this sporadically funny but overlong female buddy cop movie. Despite an impressive success rate, FBI agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) rubs colleagues the wrong way with her strict adherence to procedure and a know-it-all confidence. Supervisor Hale (Demian Bichir) transfers her to Boston to apprehend a drug kingpin, with the hope that she may learn people skills by interacting with local law enforcement. Enter foul-mouthed force of nature Detective Mullins (McCarthy), a tough native who follows her instinct wherever it may lead (usually into chaos) to the resignation of her demoralized sad sack Captain Woods (Thomas F. Wilson). Of course these polar opposites must team up in the investigation, and of course both will come to like and respect each other before the end credits role. Katie Dippold’s script leans heavily on the gender switch concept and finds little else that’s fresh. The story is meager, and the characters are mere sketches filled in perfunctorily by a game cast. In his previous feature, director Feig paced his film and shaped each scene to perfection. Here he attempts to bolster the thin script with improvisation, and the results are decidedly mixed. In scene after shapeless scene the gifted McCarthy seems to have been given free rein to embellish dialogue. But her riffs miss more than they hit, and the pace drags. It comes to a standstill during the unfunny Mullins family scenes, noisy nadirs that waste the talents of Jane Curtin and Michael Rapaport, among others. Furthermore Feig fails to maintain a consistent tone, with the humor lurching from the bellicose to the heartfelt to the violent. (Want to see a tracheotomy played for laughs? This is your movie.) Although Bullock makes an amiable foil for McCarthy, her evolution from straight-laced agent to rebellious rogue fails to convince. However, Michael McDonald’s subtle, knowing turn as sadistic villain Julian proves the axiom forgotten by too many actors and filmmakers nowadays. Less is more.