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(500) Days of Summer (2009)
An honest story about relationships, not just a fairy tale about love
At first glance (500) Days of Summer is a traditional romance. Boy meets girl. Boy believes in love, girl doesn't. Boy aims to show girl that love is real. But (500) Days doesn't quite stick with those before it, boldly announcing from the beginning that the film is not a love story. It is not a film devoid of love, but it is about relationships rather than love itself. It instead chronicles the journey from beginning to end of the whirlwind romance and the after-effects.
The film does a great job of getting the viewer caught up in the quirky romance between Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Tom and Zooey Deschanel's Summer mostly due to the wonderful performances from the two actors and the great writing by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber. There is a real warmth to their performances, and the romance feels natural and real, even despite the impending sense of doom that comes from the future post-relationship days that are littered throughout. The time jumping (complete with telling background animations) makes the viewer acutely aware of the truth of the opening narration, with the future days showing the despondent Tom trying to cope after their romance breaks down. Due to the chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel it was necessary for her to marry another man in order to begin the realisation that the relationship truly is over, to both Tom and the viewer who shares in his loss.
The examination of moments from different perspectives showed off how well crafted the scenes were, with the moments being subtle in one viewpoint but so clear from another mindset, and because of this so poignant to real life. People see what they want to see, and quite often that might not be the reality. Tom's incredibly grounded younger sister Rachel (Chloë Grace Moretz) provides this clarity for Tom, and in some ways the audience, and is a generally entertaining character in her limited appearances. Moretz isn't the only supporting character worth mentioning with Tom's co-worker McKenzie and their boss Vance, played by Geoffrey Arend and Clark Gregg respectively, both providing laughs and valuable input to Tom's life.
Summer's final scene, on day 488, is a nice one that finally allows Tom to let her go. Leading to day 500 where he meets a girl who he immediately clicks with and his journey begins all over again. Will she be the one for Tom? Who knows, the film teaches about living in the moment and that it is merely coincidence, not fate, that dictates the direction of lives. The moment that she reveals her name to be Autumn is a little cheesy, but it is effective at driving home the point of the film and Tom's breaking of the fourth wall to acknowledge as such could have easily come across as too much but it is played just right as he reacts along with the audience instead of trying to lead them.
One of the strongest and most inventive scenes pitted "Expectation" against "Reality" as Tom went to Summer's roof party that actually turned out to be her engagement party. Despite being one of the less subtle ways that the film presented Tom's dashed hopes, it perfectly displayed the contrast in the way that his feeling of love had influenced his mindset on the situation and made the engagement news have the biggest possible crushing impact it could have.
The decision for Tom to work in a greetings card factory was an inspired way to represent the characters emotions through his job, and his dream career of architecture was an effective allegory for the films analysis of relationships.
Despite the potentially dark subject matter the film looks at it from a generally balanced outlook, showing both the highs and lows of relationships with the ultimate message one of hope. The film also has plenty of funny moments that usually feel like laughing with the characters, not at them. The upbeat feeling is also kept alive by the soundtrack that settles along so well with the quirky relationship presented.
(500) Days of Summer may not be a love story, but in its honest approach to relationships it presents a much more accurate love story than most films out there. The subtlety that Marc Webb presents the affection and the disconnection of the characters with is something that sets this film apart from not just others in its genre, but any film containing a romance of any kind.
Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Another fun film but Kick-Ass gets lost in the shuffle
The strongest part of Kick Ass 2 was the story of Mindy Macready, better known to audiences as Hit-Girl. Despite reluctantly taking Dave Lizewski under her wing to train him to improve his heroics as Kick-Ass, she gives up the superhero lifestyle under the request of her new guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut). This leads the fifteen year old into territory she finds considerably more difficult than dispatching criminals: high-school. Her struggle to fit in there is very Mean Girls but is still a good foray due to the quality of the performances of Moretz and Chestnut. Marcus was believable as the frustrated guardian who was sick of being outsmarted, or at least ignored, at every opportunity as he only wanted the best for Mindy's actual life. Unfortunately the pay-off for this storyline is weak at best, starting strong with Mindy turning up dressed up as one of the popular girls and talking about how it is nothing more than an easy disguise to be as fake as them but inexplicably and lazily falling into toilet humour to resolve her struggles thanks to "The Sh***er". Such a badly missed opportunity. Mindy soon reverts back to Hit-Girl to help out Kick-Ass in his battle with The Motherf****r before leaving New York for San Francisco. But before she left she planted a kiss on Dave, which is just weird because she is fifteen and their whole relationship comes across as uncomfortable for this reason.
The progression of former Red Mist, Chris D'Amico, into super-villain The Motherf****r was a rocky one. It was refreshing to see such a weak and useless human being rising to such a high position simply because he is rich with the character himself even observing that he is like an anti-Bruce Wayne. His transition was helped along heavily by his own supporting cast, specifically Javier (John Leguizamo) and Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina). Mother Russia provided a physical threat that would make Ivan Drago quake in fear, although was unfortunately dispatched easily as she simply stood still to take the glass that followed Hit-Girl's over-the-top reaction to the adrenaline injection. Javier, D'Amico's right hand man, provides the grounded voice to try and stop him from going too far because he is consumed by hatred and a thirst for revenge against his mortal enemy Kick-Ass. Within that he pointed out how ridiculous the racist names for his sidekicks were, the films self-awareness only partly excuses the material for their lame names. Javier's death at the hands of D'Amico's own uncle provided the catalyst for The Motherf****r to go full-blown super-villain. D'Amico refusing to allow Kick-Ass to save his life purely out of hatred before falling victim to his own "lazy" shark would have been a fitting end to the character, although thanks to a post-credits scene it turns out that he is still alive. Judging by Kick-Ass's metal helmet at the end and the lack of limbs of D'Amico, it would seem that a third film will see some cyborg heroics to send up the Iron Man area of the superhero market.
The Justice Forever group was interesting, with the expectedly fun additions of Colonel Stars and Stripes and Doctor Gravity (Donald Faison). Not to mention Night-Bitch (Lindy Booth), the closest the silver screen will see to a Harley Quinn adaptation for some time and any way to see a live-action Harley Quinn is a good one. It also saw Dave's friend Marty don a suit as Battle Guy, leading to Todd attempting the same but thanks to his ridiculous levels of stupidity, that seem way too overplayed, he ends up revealing Dave's identity to The Motherf****r due to feeling left behind by his friends.
Dave's life was torn apart in the film, first losing his girlfriend Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) and later his father (Garrett M. Brown). Katie's treatment in this film is shameful, completely undoing everything about the character from the first film in her very brief appearance. Instead of the sincere character the audience and Dave got to know last time out, Katie here is a complete bitch who misreads one argument and reveals that she has been cheating on him. She was a major focus of Dave's in the first film, so for her to be brushed aside so easily and by completely destroying her character in the process didn't seem wise at all. On the flip side, Dave's father sees a good, if slightly generic, character progression. Suspecting his son's weird and unexplained behaviour to be down to drug abuse he searches his room and discovers his Kick-Ass outfit. After an argument about whether Dave should be doing it or not he moves out of home. When the police arrest all masked vigilantes Dave's father turns himself in as Kick-Ass, despite his own displeasure in his sons antics, but this results in The Motherf****r's henchmen murdering him following Todd revealing their true identities. Blaming himself and his superhero antics for his father's death Dave ends Kick-Ass but is ultimately forced back into it.
Where Kick-Ass 2 is strong is in presented a plausible perspective on what a world filled with ordinary people dressing up as superheroes would result in: chaos. Things such as invading the funeral feel natural, whereas most superhero films would allow the funeral to be left in peace to just let the hero mourn but it is the perfect time for the villain to strike whilst the hero is vulnerable and unsuspecting. D'Amico purchasing a team to help his villainy due to realising his own inadequacies was smart too, as D'Amico realises that his only power is wealth and he actually capitalises on that. The notion of costumed heroes being gang-attacked for YouTube video hits seems real too, like an extreme happy-slapping phenomena.
Despite providing plenty of laughs, some of the humour really is a little childish and trying too hard to be controversial, such as the previously mentioned "Sh***er" and the post-credits exclamation of the penis loss.
Apollo 18 (2011)
Good idea, badly executed.
Apollo 18 enters very familiar territory, in both the hand-held genre and the science-fiction horror/suspense genre. It has a nice premise in theory, and there are certainly things about it that work, but the film falls flat in creating suspense and undeniably pales in comparison to other films in the same vein.
The idea of basing the film off a real-life event and turning it into a conspiracy movie is a good one, especially if said movie is shot as "found footage", but the premise is not enough to carry the film to anything more than potential.
The opening section of the film establishes the three main characters and the mission itself, and does a pretty good job of it even if it feels like a slightly familiar way to introduce them. The characters themselves felt fairly bland and unremarkable, not that the actors can be at fault here, the script lacked any real depth in both character and plot. Warren Christie and Lloyd Owen actually put in respectably subdued performances, to represent the lack of hope the characters must feel about their chances of escape, but the script is so thin that the performances cannot raise these characters anywhere above being dull shells of people.
The plot was slow, which worked initially as the mysterious electrical interference and subtle movements created a mysterious atmosphere and a mild sense of tension, but it was never build upon, merely continued. It seemed like the film was trying harder to feel like genuine found footage than to create an engaging experience for the viewer. The fact about the moon rocks being given to foreign dignitaries and going missing was a more interesting takeaway than the films actual story. Perhaps with better characters they could have gotten away with the pacing a little better, but the film just fell entirely flat and actually felt stretched out at its short 86 minute running time (and that's including 10 minutes of credits). The film, and its pacing, improve a bit after Walker is bitten and infected but even then it still lacks suspense or horror because it feels so predictable and still slow.
Scares were few and far between, with only real one or two moments of either shock or unease. One of the shock moments actually didn't come from horror at all, it came from Walker waking up from a pretend sleep to scare Anderson. The explosion of the black stone that is removed from Walker's chest is probably the only true shock moment in the picture, but it is done well with a bit of suspense created with the poking and scratching of it first. The closest the film got to creating suspense were the sequences with the periodic flashing light, so the surroundings were unknown and anything could appear when the next flash happened. Sadly this was only utilised twice in the film, although at least that didn't run the risk of overdoing it and making it feel like a gimmick.
The use of different framings and effects to portray different cameras is one of the biggest positives of the film. It makes the notion of the footage being real actually seem a little more legitimate, if every camera had looked identical but from a different angle then it would be pretty difficult to believe for even a minute that this was real footage. The constant lack of full clarity also went a way to making the footage look realistic and together made the film feel more like it had been shot in 1974.
The make-up/effects for the infected Walker (and briefly Anderson) were impressive and looked believable, perhaps aided by the camera effects, but either way they did a great job.
Yes Man (2008)
If you like Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty, you'll like this.
Yes Man is a fun experience. Yes it is clichéd, and yes it doesn't stray from the tried and true comedy film formula, but it is a very enjoyable film. The film's story is almost identical to Liar Liar but sees Carrey agreeing instead of being honest, and in many ways it plays like what would happen if you swapped the running order of the first and second acts of Bruce Almighty.
But with Jim Carrey both at his craziest and also most sincere it is difficult to not have fun watching this movie. And when combined with the natural quirky charm of Zooey Deschanel the random adventures are infectious in their own way. The moral compass of the story is provided by Bradley Cooper who plays the best friend Peter, it is far from a show-stealing role but Cooper does his best with the part and gets a few good comedy moments too. Terence Stamp's cameo role as the leader of the Yes cult is enjoyable but slightly awkward at times. The real revelation is Rhys Darby, who plays Carl's boss Norman, and is hilarious in almost everything he does.
The premise of a man saying yes to everything is an interesting one, and it tells a good moral story about why people should always keep an open mind, but the most intriguing part of the premise is the fact that this is a real life story written by comedian Danny Wallace (who makes a cameo appearance in the bar towards the end) after he was did the 'Yes Man' for six months in real life.
Even in a film that requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief there is one thing that really stands out as strange, and that is Peter telling the police about the Yes agreement in front of Allison. It is far from how a lawyer would do it, and feels like a forced way to present the films dilemma for Carl to overcome and win his love back.
Jack Reacher (2012)
The film shows potential to break the action mould, but only manages to be above average
Jack Reacher shows a lot of potential to break the mould of action movies, but unfortunately fails to deliver a special experience. The opening scene is one of the best examples of the potential this picture had, but sadly it fell into the typical formula of the action hero. What you end up with is an above average action thriller that despite attempts to vary from the norm, ends up taking the safe road.
The film opens with a superb sniper sequence. The opening scene is eight minutes in length and doesn't contain a single line of dialogue. Nor does it contain any musical score, in fact no action scenes do here, which is a great touch for complimenting the stealth and no-nonsense approach of Reacher (and the villains) and is one of the things that actually succeeds in setting Reacher apart from the other action films out there. There are no opening titles to be found anywhere here either. We see everything from the viewpoint of the sniper, as we watch him set-up and then assess his targets, one-by-one before he picks them off in a professional fashion, missing only one of his six shots.
The next thing we see is the police collecting evidence that leads them directly to James Barr, a former U.S. army sniper. Case solved. Or is it? When asked for a confession Barr simply writes "Get Jack Reacher" which prompts the same response from the police as it does cinema goers, "Who is Jack Reacher?" A solid way to introduce Cruise's Reacher as a mysterious drifter, and it would be fair to ask the same question after the movie has finished. All we really discover about him is that he is a former policeman in the U.S. Army and that he isn't worried about operating within the law. Reacher also has an impeccable memory and attention to detail, as demonstrated by his knowledge of the police evidence. Perhaps keeping Reacher a mysterious figure was a good way to go, I haven't read the books myself so I am unsure if that is Lee Child's decision or the film taking a different direction, although with this being an adaptation of One Shot, the ninth book in the Reacher series, I doubt that the reading audience know as little about their leading man as the viewing audience. Not that a sequel wouldn't sort out that problem, as this particular story needed a lot of attention to the mystery as opposed to Reacher himself.
The mystery was a good one. There was a double-cross that was subtly hinted at throughout without making it obvious (Detective Emerson is always suspicious of Reacher, but that is always assumed to be because of his mysterious nature). The actual shooting itself was clever in its details, creating the perfect set-up, but a set-up that was too perfect to anyone looking past the obvious. The odd location choice to shoot from, the coin in the meter, the one 'missed' shot to leave evidence and most importantly, the appearance of a random shooting. Not only is shooting four random victims alongside your target smart, but shooting the target second rather than first is a good way to distract all attention from the target, as no-one focuses on the second victim. The sniper does line up his shot of the real target, the owner of a local construction company, with great delicacy and with more time than his others which isn't something you notice during the opening sequence but would notice on any second viewing after it was highlighted later on.
Rosamund Pike's Helen Rodin is a good choice for the role of doubter-turned-ally, helped along by her chemistry with Cruise. The two seem to be flirting in every scene they're in. But thankfully, against all Hollywood tropes, there is no love story between them. Despite their obvious sexual tension (particularly from Helen's side) Reacher just struts off into the sunset, remaining a drifter, not needing to be anchored by the first woman he meets (like nearly every other action hero). This was very Bond-like, but actually better because instead of casual sex and then heading into the sunset, he instead just remains focused on the job and leaves. If you want to keep a character as a mystery figure that can move from location to location on a whim, that's the way to do it.
The films biggest drawback was the car chase scene, the biggest example of formulaic action as Reacher just races with reckless abandon, decimating traffic everywhere and executing more handbrake turns than perhaps any previous car sequence on the silver screen. A lot of them weren't even necessary and actually made his journey more difficult. The camera work for this sequence was unusual to say the least, with the drivers on the extreme left of the screen with the outside of the car and its wing mirror dominating the rest of the image. But perhaps the most frustrating part of this sequence was actually after he got out of the car, as it slowly drifted forward (which was a smart way to lose the cops) the queue at the bus station helped him hide. For no reason. They had witnessed nothing but the police chasing him, yet one man offers his cap and they all help him blend into the crowd to get on the bus. Completely illogical and unrealistic and I would be fairly surprised if this appeared in the book (at least with so little motive for the pedestrians) as the actual plot is pretty intricately designed for attention to detail.
Helen's immediate distrust of her own father felt unnatural too, considering that there were two people to suspect, yet the one she thought was the more likely of the two was her own father? It was obviously done as a red herring for the audience, but it made no sense for the actual character.
Great monster movie that focuses more on the characters than the monster
Cloverfield exceeds as both a monster flick and a horror movie. It does so by being old-school in its approach and showing restraint. The film is all about the characters placed in this situation, not getting carried away with plot or set pieces or making the film about the monster itself. Atmosphere is more important to establishing the horror for the characters, with them not feeling safe at any time after the party.
A good horror film knows that less is more, and that is a philosophy that Cloverfield nails. You rarely see the monsters face (only three times) and only see it in its entirety once. Instead you get glimpses that allow you imagination to fill in the gaps.
The film's atmosphere is also to its credit, with the constant feeling of insecurity even though our characters don't face direct danger all that frequently, they never once feel safe. The anticipation of something horrific happening is much more powerful than the actual act itself, something that many modern horrors could do with taking into account. This is achieved, in part, by the hand-held camera effect, but it also a credit to the writing of Drew Goddard and direction of Matt Reeves. There is no fear of placing the characters, and the viewers, in complete darkness and situations that are barely lit and when you cannot see what's happening you naturally assume the worst in a situation like this. The amateurish camera work (with bad shifting focus, weird angles and close-ups, even sometimes missing the action) all immerse the viewer in the story of the characters within the invasion rather than just being a plot film centred around the invasion itself with characters secondary.
The performances are all good, particularly from Jessica Lucas and Lizzy Caplan, with every character progressing in some way over the course of the feature.
Rob's character progression relies solely on his relationship with Beth, initially reluctant to go after her at the party but after the accident he dedicates his life to save her. The love story between the two is sincere and endearing, you really believe that Rob would risk his life on the slightest chance that she is still alive. The abrupt cuts to their Coney Island trip (that is being recorded over) help their story, but the true heart of the work is done by Rob during the opening party sequence.
Perhaps the biggest character change throughout falls squarely at the feet of our designated cameraman: Hud. He is annoying to the point of almost being unbearable during first third of the film, with his endless stupidity and questioning, but as time goes on he becomes much more likable. His dedication to capture both the party and the 'Cloverfield incident' on camera is admirable, doing it simply because "people will want to see this."
A detail that is unlikely to be picked up by most people, but is still fantastic nonetheless, is that the film is the exact length of a DV Tape (the type of film the characters are filming on) to show a true dedication to the lost-footage genre. The opening governmental graphics were also very effective in giving the film a genuine feel of legitimacy (as well as providing LOST fans a little Easter egg).
Refreshing take on the superhero genre
Chronicle is a fresh new take on both the hand-held camera genre and the superhero film. It tells an engaging story about coming-of-age, friendship, family and how power effects people in different ways. The films moral take on the responsibility that comes with power isn't its only message, with it showing how the way people treat each other at all times, no matter how small it initially seems, can lead to much bigger consequences.
Fantastic performances from its great cast, especially the three stars (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan) but also some solid supporting performances from Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw and Bo Petersen. The directing and writing from the combination of Josh Trank and Max Landis is perfectly on target, and the cinematography from Matthew Jensen all contribute to make this a refreshing and bold effort that has deservedly launched the careers of all involved.
****SPOILERS BELOW***** At its heart Chronicle is the tragic tale of the rise and fall of the world's first, and currently only, supervillain. Dane DeHaan's Andrew Detmer is a character that is doomed for misery from the very beginning, and despite all of the things going on around him, Chronicle is truly his tale.
Everything about the film is tragedy, showing how power can easily corrupt, yet still the story running in the background is one of morals and heroism, with the incorruptible Matt being the traditional superhero, yet playing a severe back seat in the movie. The film is a thoroughly refreshing take on the superhero genre, because we see everything through the eyes of what would normally be the villain of the piece. This is not just because he is the main cameraman in the hand-held styling, but because everything is focused on his story. His family life, his rise and fall of a social life and the goodness within him crumbling underneath the pressures of society.
We feel all of this so strongly due to the performance of DeHaan and the direction of Josh Trank. The choppy cuts between shots as Andrew pauses his camera give a real personal and amateur (in a good way) feel to the piece, as if shot by the character himself. The first sky-high flying scene for example made you feel like you were Andrew, flying above the world and through the clouds, immersing the viewer better than 95% of 3D films ever do. The more nuanced shots of Andrew simply lying around whilst we hear the background noise of his father are almost more effective in portraying his home life than the scenes where his father gets physical with him. Andrew's dream of visiting Tibet because of how peaceful it is shows how different a life he could have led if external circumstances had been different, he never really wanted to harm, he just got driven to it and broke. This is perfectly mirrored by the closing scene as Matt takes his camera there.
Michael B. Jordan's performance as Steve gave the character a genuine feel despite his massive popularity and charisma, you never once questioned his sincerity in his friendship with Andrew as he developed into a big brother of sorts to the often secluded outcast. Not to overlook Alex Russell, whose performance as Matt was the closest thing to happiness the film gets. He transforms from the analysing superiority complex he begins with into being the moral spine of the film, the one who prioritises love over the powers, who tries to bring Andrew down to reality and keep him grounded. From beginning to end Matt is always looking out for Andrew, even in their fight at the end, as he looks emotionally shattered by having to kill his cousin to stop his destruction. And even after everything he still takes Andrew (or a symbolisation of him anyway) to Tibet, his dream location, with a heartfelt goodbye. Matt himself suffers heaps of tragedy, losing a friend in Steve, having to kill his own cousin and having to leave behind the girl of his dreams (Ashley Hinshaw's Casey) who he had finally gotten after years as he has to take to the road to help save the world whilst avoiding being captured for having powers. He is a true superhero.
Thanks the scripting and the grounded performances from its cast, the film feels authentic. From the way the students act and speak at school to the up-and-down behaviour of his alcoholic and grieving father and the reaction that the public display of powers gets at the end (onlookers immediately filming on phones in awe whilst the police immediately react by viewing it as a threat) it all seems natural to the way people would really behave.
The story reminds me somewhat of Carrie, of which it no doubt took influence, but it sees Andrew's character experience more in the way of natural friendship and warmth from his mother, cousin Matt and his bonding with Steve. His father takes on the role of Margaret White, being the abusive parent that ultimately brings about the downfall of the tragic teenager, seeing him turn on his new best friend Steve that sets in motion the beginning of his ultimate mental collapse.
The one thing I do question, although it feels minor in the overall picture of things, is what the final fight was being filmed on. During the section at the statue we get a couple of different close-up angles of Matt, but there doesn't appear to be any cameras close to them whenever the shot is distant. Only a small gripe, but still seemed odd as I viewed it.
The Wolverine (2013)
Logan finally gets a stand-alone film to do him justice
Logan's latest adventure is undeniably a step-up from X-Men Origins: Wolverine but it falls short of the standard set by X-Men: First Class.
It was great to see Logan out of his usual environment, and it was a fresh location for superhero films in general from their usual US base but for the most part, especially the action scenes, they could have been anywhere. The Japanese location felt underutilised in setting this film apart from others in its genre. The action scenes are good, even if they do raise a few continuity questions, and the last third of the film is certainly filled with action, twists and turns. James Mangold managed to succeed where Origins did not, he managed to introduce a whole cast of characters but they generally all felt developed and not just crammed in for the sake of it.
The film's biggest disappointment though was that it felt like it slipped back into the comfort of it's western formula, taking it from achieving the potential the story had, especially when Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct. The source material presented an opportunity for Logan's darkest and edgiest movie yet, but what we gets feels familiar but in a new location. Where it does set itself apart from previous entries with its dream sequences, which vary from good to distracting, but at least they tried something new.
Make sure you don't leave the cinema when the credits hit though, if you've not learnt the Marvel formula yet then you might want to consider doing so.
Overall, The Wolverine is a fun film but one that falls short of its potential. Hugh Jackman is still a perfect fit for Logan, and it was a nice change to see the character in a new environment and in his own story (Origins was not really a solo outing).
Man of Steel (2013)
A new Superman for a new generation
This is not the Superman you know. And in many ways this isn't a Superman film, this is a Clark Kent film. Man of Steel is a lot more about Clark/Kal-El and his supporting cast of characters than it is about superpowered antics. Not that the film is without action, heroics or fights, it has plenty; but the film is essentially a coming of age film for an outsider asking questions about identity, responsibility, family and acceptance. Some of these questions are raised more directly than others, but all are prevalent themes throughout.
The film is what you would expect in tone from the Nolan-Snyder team-up, especially if you have seen trailers or posters, it is a lot darker than any previous outings and the few attempts at humour feel noticeably out of place and awkward. But for anyone afraid that "going Batman Begins" on the usually cheerful boy scout, do not fear, the tone feels appropriate for the story being told. And despite being an origin story it doesn't feel like retreading old ground, it is true that everyone knows the back-story of Superman, but this film tells it with more attention to his true origin – his home planet, Krypton – and focuses on the struggles that growing up with such extraordinary abilities creates. This is something it does effectively.
The opening section takes place exclusively on Krypton, and it looks beautiful, the whole film is very stylish but the Krypton section really stands out. Using Birthright's explanation that the 'S' symbol is actually a Kryptonian symbol that represents the House of El was a good touch that gives more back-story to his outfit (including the symbol change and loss of red briefs). It is impressive how the film makes each location type feel different, Krypton and its ships are instantly recognisable by their futuristic sci-fi feel, Smallville feels like sleepy small-town America and Metropolis feels like exactly that: a vast generic city with skyscrapers at every turn. The time shifts are also dealt with smoothly, there is never any confusion what point in time we are watching, and their use for his childhood moments spare any lengthy rehash of seeing Clark growing up.
Where the film both excels and falls is in its action scenes. They are some of the most destructive and brutal you will see in any modern blockbuster, but this in itself brings a problem. For a man who dedicates himself to saving the world and the people in it, the action destroys a lot of buildings and presumably the people within them. This could of course be explained away when Zod does it, as he has no regard for human life anyway, but when Superman is willingly destroying buildings instead of trying to defend them it really ignores Supes cause. It is this approach that lands this film very much into blockbuster territory, as opposed to a genre-crossing comic book film like The Dark Knight, Man of Steel seems content to embrace being nothing more than a blockbuster.
Overall, Man of Steel builds a great foundation for the Superman franchise relaunch, bringing a strong Clark Kent in Henry Cavill and a good cast of supporting characters.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
A clever whodunnit featuring the cream of the British acting crop
The acting and cinematography really shine in what is a smart espionage film that highlights just how lonely and paranoid of a job a spy really is, very little of your Bond-esque glamour to this lifestyle. The story is filled with twists and turns, as well as frequent shifts in time help to keep you guessing until the very end.
For a film that is a who's who of British actors, you would go into this expecting top notch acting performances if nothing else. And the film doesn't disappoint, in particular Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch but that is not to slight the work of the likes of Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones and Mark Strong who all put in solid performances here. The best part of the performances is that every actor keeps it subdued, as this film is all about being grounded and the actors follow suit, all allowing each other to remain on a level playing field. For a true sign of the restraint shown here, Gary Oldman's protagonist has no dialogue until over 15 minutes into the film and when he does speak he remains cool, calm and collected at almost all points.
Due to the very nature of the plot, constant attention is a necessity. Miss something and you might not even know whether you are in the present or the past, and will almost certainly find yourself lost with the story, at least temporarily. This is mostly down to how underplayed everything is. You won't be seeing explosions here, no car chases either. What you will instead find is a lot sitting and deliberating, plotting and spying.
A great example of how understated and lonely the film and its characters are comes from the moment that Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) is told by Smiley that everything he does from that point on will be watched, then tells him to tie up any loose ends. The next scene sees Guillam arrive home to his boyfriend/partner and simply stand, looking despondent whilst he is talked at. We then see his partner packing his bag and leaving, asking for an explanation whilst Guillam just sits, trying to hold back his tears until he breaks down as soon as the door closes. No need to make a big deal about the homophobia within the service, no need to make a big deal out of Guillam's sexuality, just a mostly silent scene that sums it all up without the need to dumb it down or insult the audience's intelligence. This revelation, even despite the film making no big deal of it, explains why despite Guillam's reputation as a resident skirt chaser in the office is never seen doing it, and why he gently dismisses the lady at the bag check-in who is clearly into him.
The mystery of who the mole is within "The Circus" is one that you will likely not guess, at least not with any certainty. Even as you approach the reveal, and indeed at the moment of it, you still find yourself paranoid and questioning whether or not it is truly him or if another twist is inbound.
The cinematography is also stand-out, with unique angling and extreme close-ups increasing the feeling of unease and paranoia.
Tinker Tailor is a unique film, in that it is, ironically, one that trusts; both the viewer's ability to focus at all times to follow the story, and its actors to play their roles without getting carried away. But with acting talent like the ones seen here, how could you not trust?