Man of Steel

July 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“The world’s too big, Mom.”

“Make it small.”

Superman has been probably the most recognizable super hero ever created. Back in the 50’s, he made his way from comic book form into a TV legend. In the late 70’s, we finally saw Superman on the silver screen (I’m not counting “Mole Men”). Richard Donner did a spectacular job transcending the super hero into a gorgeous blue and red symbol of justice. He was kind, sensitive, and well…super. He was indestructable. Maybe we needed a hero like that during the waning days of the Cold War, I don’t know. But we embraced Superman.

Then, things got a little…weird. While “Superman II” was a fantastic sequel (either version you see), “Superman III” saw the decline in the franchise. And do we need to go into “Superman IV: Quest For Peace”? This marked the end of the Christopher Reeve era of Superman. We were given another taste in 2006 with the elephantine “Superman Returns”, a complete waste of time and money. And what we unfortunately didn’t realize was that between the mess of IV and “Returns”, we had 2 very good TV shows still making Superman a great story (“The Adventures of Lois & Clark” and “Smallville”).

I had always wanted to see “Smallville” be made into a feature film rather than see the franchise rebooted from the start again. But then Christopher Nolan stepped in, and things seemed to be heading in the right direction.

I wish, though, that it had headed to the right director. Zack Snyder, a notoriously whimsical visual director who seems to constantly be bereft of any thematical or narrative arc, takes the helm here and like he did with “Watchmen”, he makes an ambitious but completely lost movie. At least he didn’t permeate the film with stop-and-slow motion camerawork, though. And, he was given half a good script to work with.

Things get started a bit slowly, however. Not only is this an origin story for Superman, it’s also loaded with backstory for Krypton itself. The first fifteen minutes feel like it belongs more in a sci-fi action yarn than a superhero film. But we are given a handful of characters, Jor-El (well played by Russell Crowe), his wife Laura (Ayelet Zurer), and General Zod (Michael Shannon). Jor-El and Zod saw eye to eye on only one thing: that Krypton was dying. How they want to go about preserving the race beyond the planet’s demise is another matter. Zod is militaristic, so he stages a coup against the Council. Jor-El thinks this is not the way to go about things, and tries to send the first biological born child on Krypton to another planet to start a new race there. This infuriates Zod because he wants something called a ‘codex’ that is sent along with Kal-El, Jor-El’s son. Jor-El is murdered, and Zod and his gang are imprisoned. Krypton eventually falls apart.

But before that happens, Kal-El lands on earth, and we are immediately thrown into the future about 30 years to see an already grown Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) who seems to already be intent on saving people with super powers. He saves people on a rig that’s on fire, and also saves the life of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) while searching on a ship that came from Krypton that could tell him about his past. Lane was part of a research team that was excavating things in ice, and found the ship as well.

Clark has had a troubled past, we learn through flashbacks. As a kid, his father (extremely well played by Kevin Costner) believes these powers he has will be seen as a threat to human kind and tells him not to use them. Clark saves a bunch of kids on a bus and this disappoints his father. “What was I supposed to do, just let them die?” he asks. “Maybe,” his father trails off in response.

This father/son angle is the strongest part of the film. I wish it would have stayed on this path. There is a lot of guilt that Clark takes with him into adulthood, which also explains why he’s so intent on helping people. But this isn’t explored all that much because…

…Krypton is destroyed and the jailed rogues led by Zod are freed, and go searching for Kal-El. They find him, send a message to the world that “You Are Not Alone”, and then send a message to America that they need to give up the alien or be destroyed. Clark, who by now has been identified in print because of a leak by Lois Lane to a blogger, turns himself in.

After that, the film just becomes a joyless exercise in action and extremely noisy explosions. Now, in the middle of all this is a very quiet, patient story of a man who is told he has this great gift and can save mankind. Superman has always been a very Christlike story. He is both god and man. He has the power to save, heal, and he can make the world a better place. His struggle with his identity, and his struggle with his father’s acceptance and self-acceptance is a very good story. But it doesn’t pay off because Superman has to stop Zod.

And the biggest problem I have with this is that there is no dramatic tension between Zod and Superman. Zod is Jor-El’s nemesis, not Superman’s. Sure, Zod killed Superman’s father; but Superman never knew his father. He never even knew where he came from until he was an adult. Zod is simply a cosmic villain, and Shannon plays him at such a heightened, cartoonishly overzealous level that he’s never really anything more than a raving madman. His henchmen do a lot of dirty work, causing another “miniboss sndrome” (the film takes a detour to show us 10-15 minute long sequences of the hero vanquishing lesser villains just to fill space); and, to my surprise, Superman does some dirty work himself. He nearly demolishes half the city of New York while taking Zod with him.

This isn’t the Superman we love! Superman would never destroy anything; and if he did, he would do that thing where he spins around the world a bunch of times to fix what he had broken.

While Henry Cavill turns in a very good performance as Superman, Amy Adams seems very miscast and out of place as Lois; and the two share no chemistry. The only chemistry that really blossoms is between the young Clark and his father. There the movie is very good. It just doesn’t last long enough or follow through for me to completely buy the whole package. The special effects and fights are grandiose, but they grow very tired very quickly because we know how it’s going to end and I’m kind of tired of seeing New York City get demolished in the movies.

This movie was too big. When they made it smaller, it was effective and sound. Instead of going so big, they should’ve kept it smaller. Then it would have been, like young Clark, focused.

My rating: :?

The Goonies – 25 Years Later

June 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment

“Ye…intruders beware…crushing death and grief…soaked with blood…of the trespassing thief.”

How many times have you said this, in that totally awesome Fakey British Accent just like Corey Feldman as “Mouth” in “The Goonies”? If you grew up between the years 1985-1990, you know these words by heart. You probably know half the movie, if not all of it, by heart. It was a defining “kids” movie of the mid 80’s that still lives on as one of my favorites of all time.

What sets it apart for me as a great film compared to a lot of other “kid gang adventure” movies is that this one has a lot of heart; and not only doesn’t spend its running time showing off kids talking in their lingo and being against their parents but the whole plot revolves around a group of foul-mouthed kids who want nothing more than to help their parents. They want to save the Goon Docks, a little neighborhood tucked away in the rainy, gray skies of coastal Astoria, Oregon.

My friends and I wanted to be The Goonies. Of course, we didn’t have to save our neighborhood. None of us had a Spanish speaking cleaning lady who had to beware of cockroaches and live without food or water if she didn’t comply with orders. Also, none of us, unfortunately, lived near a legendary pirate ship carrying thousands of “rich stuff”.

the-goonies
This was the kind of adventure every boy dreams of, hopefully before they get to 16. In the wide-eyed days of 1985, when we were younger, it was still possible to dream that something like this could happen. This movie was incredibly fun, even with the lame typical mafia-is-after-us subplot. I mean, I guess kids movies always have to have a bumbling group of darkly dressed “burglars” or whatever chasing them. At least this one had a young Joey Pants, and the fight over Pepperoni Pizza was funny. And of course, no one can forget Ma Fratelli who utters the famous line, “Kids suck”. But still, I don’t think there’s a kid’s story out there like this one that doesn’t involve some bumbling mafia guys or some lame government plot that only kids can bust wide open.

I like that the Fratellis never steal the spotlight from the Goonies themselves. Their story is even amusing sometimes, and endearing because of Ma’s deformed progeny, named “Sloth”. Plus, the Fratellis are actually dangerous, unlike most other bumbling villains in kids’ movies. We’re introduced to them breaking out of a prison and murdering someone, stuffing the corpse in a freezer at a seasonal restaurant that’s closed. Well, that’s not totally true–the restaurant is somewhat open. But all they serve is pinkish colored water and tongue.

The Goonies realize that what’s important about the restaurant is that underneath is a cave that does, indeed, lead to the pirate’s treasure. The infamous One-Eyed Willie. But along the way, Sloth joins the group, the Fratellis follow them through the tunnels and the booty traps (that’s Booby traps!), and of course there’s a climax where they’re all on the pirate ship itself.

HEY YOU GUYS!!!!

HEY YOU GUYS!!!!

I was first introduced to this movie through a family friend who was talking to my twin sister about it when we were visiting them down in Slidell, Louisiana. She told us about this movie about a pirate and a bunch of kids, and the pirate was named One-Eyed Willie and he had a patch over his eye. It sounded scary to me, and I didn’t really hear much more about it after that. That was because at the time my family and I were living in one of the most remote towns in the country…Lyon’s Falls in Upstate New York. I was surprised that in my second grade class, the student body was invited to a screening of “The Karate Kid”. But nothing about “The Goonies”.

It wasn’t until 1986, a year after it being released, that I finally got to see the movie. Living in Atlanta, Georgia, and surrounded by neighbors who all had kids me and my sister’s age whom had all seen the movie, it was only a matter of time before I finally got to myself. My next door neighbor, whose hobbies including setting fire to things and copying movies he rented onto blank VHS tapes, let me borrow a copy of it. I was hooked from the first viewing. I identified with its main protagonist, Mikey, and some of my friends around the neighborhood resembled the kids in the movie. I wasn’t nearly as brave or cunning as Mikey, and I didn’t have asthma or braces; but I had a bowl hair cut and I was about his height, I think. I liked quoting Mikey.

“Down here it’s our time… it’s our time down here.”

My friends and I had little adventures of our own. There was an abandoned barn down at the end of a street in our neighborhood that was spooky and old. Naturally, we explored it. There was also a field and a forest behind it. I always wanted to imagine what was beyond…I found out later that it was a Seven Eleven. But at age 8, that’s still pretty cool.

Pizza...? Shhh! Pepperoni...? Shhh!

Pizza…? Shhh! Pepperoni…? Shhh!

The movie shaped my childhood, along with other adventure movies like “Explorers”, “The NeverEnding Story”, “The Dark Crystal”, “Labyrinth”, and “The Goonies” famous rip-off, “The Monster Squad”. Throughout my teenage years I didn’t watch it much. I was over all of that, and I had to give it a break. I think I had watched it 20-30 times during the years of ‘86 and ‘91.

But probably about 8 years ago, around the time when it started to be “cool” to think back on the 80’s (VH1 really went to town with all of that…they sure Loved the 80’s…), I really missed this movie. I still had a clamshell VHS tape (those always made me feel weird, because it just seemed baby proofed or something) and I popped it in and watched it. It really made me ache for my childhood again. I couldn’t watch it for years after that.

For whatever reason, “The Goonies” is still a little painful for me because it’s such a reminder of a wonderful time in my life that’s long over. Sounds strange, but it’s like revisiting the grave of my youth. I don’t know if kids nowadays are introduced to “The Goonies”, but even if they are, it’s not the same. “The Goonies” came out in the middle of the 80’s, when it started to define itself as a decade and date itself. There are elements of the movie that are incredibly dated. The clothing (Mouth’s Member’s Only jacket), Stef’s insanely large glasses, Chunk’s Hawaiian shirt and plaid pants (when was that ever popular?) and of course…the music. Some of the songs they listen to are just brutally 80’s teen rock ditties I’m sure were sellers back in ‘85. But now, they just sound bad. Fun bad, but bad.

This past weekend marked the 25th Anniversary of “The Goonies”. AMC was showing it throughout the weekend. Twenty-five years. It’s pretty hard to think about that. When I was growing up I still remember thinking the 25th Anniversary of “Psycho” meant “it’s old”. Now “The Goonies” is in that class. It’s old. It’s a by-gone era. The Silver Anniversary. It’s just not fair. It should never be considered an old movie–but it is. I just listed reasons why, too. But I don’t want to accept it! I don’t want to accept that I’m old!

OK, I had to get that out of the way.

The DVD release, while not providing a true widescreen presentation (ahem), was a real treat. The commentary track featuring the cast and director was so nice to watch along with revisiting the movie. It was like catching up with old friends. OK yeah, we weren’t really friends. But I made so many connections with these characters, that’s what they felt like. And apparently, these kids formed friendships on the set as well, so it was a real reunion for them as well. It was cute to see, and it’s a cute movie.

Everything from Data’s Pinches of Power to his father telling him in his native Chinese “You are my greatest invention”; Chunk getting his favorite pizza (Domino’s?!?) from his mom and telling Sloth that he loves him; Mouth and Stef sharing a moment; and, the hottie cheerleader Andy telling Mikey he’s a good kisser.

Ah, the Truffle Shuffle!

Ah, the Truffle Shuffle!

With more viewings of the movie, more things just become so darn cute about it. Data’s rant when he falls down the stairs is really hilarious. Mouth’s “I’m taking them all back” soliloquy moves me. And I just think it’s funny that Jake Fratelli makes up a story (presumably?) about going to the Bronx Zoo; and then tells Sloth a story (most definitely true) that they spent money meant to fix his broken teeth on brother Francis’ toupee. There are a lot of little things that just come out of nowhere that add to how great this movie is.

Sure, there’s vulgarity that caused some tidal waves from parent groups back when it came out; but even Ebert said these kids sounded “like real kids”. Of course that meant to him that he couldn’t follow what they were talking about. But we, of course, followed it perfectly. Even when they contracted themselves. Contra…contradicted themselves. We just didn’t want to dictate…or delude ourselves.

Happy Twenty-Fifth, “The Goonies”. You’re still good enough.