Tuesday, 23 July 2013

MAN OF STEEL Review

MAN OF STEEL

 This should have been so good. The writing team behind the critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy and the director who managed to make the "unfilmable" graphic novel Watchmen into a pretty good film team up to reboot the Superman franchise - all but killed off by Bryan Singer's 2006 megaflop Superman Returns. Movie fans everywhere have been salivating since this was announced. Sadly who turned up was the writing team behind Blade: Trinity and the director of Sucker Punch.

 It starts well, pretty much jumping straight in with the death of the planet Krypton and a failed rebellion by General Zod (Michael Shannon) which sees him imprisoned for his inevitable return later, although sadly for fans of the seventies films not in a giant piece of glass. The planet duly collapses and Superbaby is sent to Earth - where we cut straight to him as a young adult drifting around, taking part-time jobs in restaurants and on oil rigs whilst trying to keep his powers under wraps. The childhood years are glimpsed in brief flashbacks - which is a shame as these are some of the best sequences in the film as we see the young Kal-El confused and upset by his emerging superpowers.

Sadly the film - having built this emotional momentum - all but loses it completely from the moment that Zod returns, threatening to destroy the planet unless Kal-El is handed over. This leads to a series of all-Kryptonian punch ups as the superpowered tourists smack each other about for what seems like an eternity. Whilst full credit has to be given to the effects team, for these scenes are technically very impressive, after a while the fights get repetitive. The first time we see Superman throw a punch, smashing his opponent through layers of buildings before they crater on the ground, it's exciting. When it happens for the 100th time in the same fight, it's become a bit dull. When we eventually arrive at the Supes-Zod climax, it's just more of the same and as the buildings collapse to Hans Zimmer's pounding percussion (no John Williams thematic development here) it starts to resemble to soulless destruction of a Transformers sequel.

However the most crippling flaw in Man of Steel is that it lacks a basic second act.
Something is needed to establish exactly why Superman would go to such great lengths to defend a race whose reaction to his appearance is throw him in chains and interrogate him in an army base. A few sub-inspirational flashback moments with Kevin Costner's adoptive dad don't quite do it I missed the scenes of him doing simple rescues/ bank robbery foiling and seeing the look of wonderment on the faces of the ordinary folk. It just feels like the necessary transition between the guy struggling to come to terms with his identity and the guy saving the planet is missing. The lack of humour here is also a major problem. One guesses that the Nolan-Goyer writing team decided that the nerdy japes of Clark Kent wouldn't fit with their darker Batman-esque take on the character. But even the Batman films provided some humour, either from Alfred or Bruce Wayne's obnoxious millionaire playboy routine.

Here Superman has no-one to play off. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is introduced early as if she could be such a foil but then turns out to be as soul-searchingly serious as the rest of them whilst the script struggles to give her something to do. Ultimately the one attempt at a funny line is given to a minor character near the end and it bombs. It's a shame as there is some good stuff here, namely the aforementioned effects and the key performance is good too. Henry Cavill is a strong Superman - there's a terrific scene where he debates putting the jerk who just threw beer in his face in the hospital - combining the human and alien sides of the character well. Michael Shannon take on Zod as less of an authorative god-figure and more as a soldier doing what's in his nature is intriguing but he's hampered by his dialogue (mostly consisting of variations on "I'm going to destroy Earth/Kal-El/everything). Adams, Costner, Laurence Fishburne etc. are fine in underwritten roles.

 Given that this is the first film in history to turn a profit before it opened (due to product placement and marketing tie-ins) then a sequel is inevitable. Let's hope that they can come up with something on both character and emotional levels to match the special effects. Oh, and some chemistry between Clark and Lois wouldn't go amiss. Well he needs something to stick around for.  2/5

T. Baynton

Monday, 22 July 2013

Gatsby Review

THE GREAT GATSBY

Ah 3D. Geniune cinematic tool or pointless excuse for cinemas and studios to charge extra for tickets and glasses-hire? The debate will go on. But, if like me, you find yourself leaning towards the latter, you opinions may well be changed by the opening shot of Baz Luhrmann's latest. A flat 2D title card suddenly morphs into 3D and gives way to a shot of a green light blinking through mist across a body of water. Sounds simple enough? Words cannot describe how realistic this one shot looks - it feels like you could dive in and swim across. Arguably the opening shot of the year so far.

But then what else would you have expected from Baz Luhrmann? This is the man who had Romeo meet Juliet in an Ecstasy - induced haze and turn-of-the-century Paris bourgeoisie belting out Nirvana. Subtlety was never going to be on the cards. Which makes him at first glance an odd choice to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald's complex class satire (personally I always thought Woody Allen to be a good choice, Fitzgerald references are rife in his films and he even appears as a character in both Zelig and Midnight in Paris). Or does it? Doomed romance and extravagant parties have been hallmarks of Luhrmann's output to date so it's safe to assume that it was these that appealed to him.

We meet our protagonist, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in a sanatorium being treated for alcoholism as Fitzgerald himself was to be, flashing back to the time he met Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and became involved in his attempts to woo the love of his life (Carey Mulligan) now unhappily married to the rich, racist, affair-having Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Aside from the flashy visuals (more on them later) the film's main strength is DiCaprio's performance as Gatsby, perfectly nailing a difficult character. You can practically see the flood of emotions continually threatening to tear away the flashy outward fa├žade. The fantastic moment leading up to Gatsby and Daisy's reunion when Gatsby's excitement and nervousness overwhelm him should have landed him some sort of nomination alone.

The rest of the performances are less complex but still good, Mulligan managing to make Daisy sweet and vacuous at the same time, Edgerton a brilliant bastard as Tom and there's a superb cameo from Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan as Gatsby's shady associate Meyer Wolfsheim. Only Tobey Maguire's bland Nick doesn't make an impact, but given that he's called upon to do little but look wondrously around him that may not entirely be his fault. However for all the performances the real stars of any Baz Luhrmann film are always going to be the visuals and soundtrack and Gatsby doesn't disappoint. Cinematographer Simon Duggan and production designer Catherine Martin (Baz's wife!) both deserve credit for their outstanding work here. The film simply looks amazing, from the wild party leading up to Gatsby's entrance to the industrial smoketown outside of the city. Also the controversial soundtrack - mixing jazz standards with Jay-Z - does actually work, bringing the film vividly to life. A gorgeous original score from Luhrmann regular Craig Armstrong is worth a mention too, really lending the romantic scenes impact.

Put simply, if you're a Baz fan you'll probably love it. If however you're a Fitzgerald fan you may be left wanting. The film adapts the most basic version of the story, relegating most subplots to a passing mention or dropping them altogether. I particularly missed the scene from the end of the book where Nick meets Gatsby's father. Also some key characters (Wolfsheim, Jordan Baker and Gatsby's butler) are more or less completely sidelined. Whilst some sacrifice was necessary to get the film down to a manageable running time, when the central plot does emerge from under the fireworks and dancing it does seem a little thin on the ground. And yet for all this I still consider the film a success. It's an adaptation that Gatsby himself would have approved of. It's loud, flashy, romantic and emotional, pure cinema as spectacle. And all the better for it. Old sport.   4/5

Review by T. Baynton.

The new guy in town...

GregglesOnFilm has been busy the last few months with other ventures, but as ever is still committed to bringing you the best in all things film.

With that in mind, we welcome the font of film knowledge that is Tom Baynton to the Reviews team here at GOF, and the first of his reviews 'The Great Gatsby' will be posted shortly, with another following later on tonight.

Here's to more reviews, more often from us here at GOF, and you can expect some fantastic guest posts and reviews very soon, so do keep checking back in the next few weeks.

So, get down to your local cinema, and catch a movie.

Much love, GregglesOnFilm.