When it was originally announced that Zack Snyder would be helming the reboot of the Superman franchise I was pretty optimistic. Sure, he had a stumble with the style over substance Sucker Punch, derived from an original idea by him and his wife Deborah, but he had a solid comic track record. His adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 was an astounding page to screen translation which, for me, pale substantially over time but that’s my damage really and his Watchman film is an incredible achievement given the vastness of the source material. So, things were looking up when he was put in charge with a new representation of the big blue boy scout.
Five years ago this week Man Of Steel hit theaters and, excited about the relaunch of a new DC Cinematic Universe, I had my tickets for opening night in my hot little hand. What I received was definitely not the Superman story I knew but instead, I got one from storytellers who seemed to have fundamental issues with most things that made Superman iconic. Gone were the bright colors, replaced by a muted tone filter. The beginning was epic, a real look at how Krypton fell but within that, we had Russell Crowe’s Jor-El flying some sort of random Pokemon character and then an hour into the film we would see him as an artificial intelligence program with incredibly unbelievable cognizance.
It’s almost like Snyder and writer David Goyer hated the origin lore of the character. Kevin Costner is well cast as Clark’s adoptive father Jonathan Kent but lacks any of the warmth we associate with him. Instead, he’s dark, moody and incapable of giving our hero the optimism in humanity. Amy Adams, on the other hand, is totally miscast, starting as a tough reporter with a knack for accentuating product placement but as soon as she sees Superman she is relegated to a wide-eyed giggling fanatic. There are so many character miscues that punctual this largely grim film that has weird pieces of extremely forced levity. This was the beginning of the feeling that there was a lot of creative turmoil in this DC Universe launch.
I close out my look at Man Of Steel with what worked for me and largely it is the castings of our hero and villain respectively, Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon. Cavill has all the look and ability to pull off both the Clark Kent role and Superman. I’m not afraid to say that the man is gorgeous which makes the injustice of the moustache removal that much more monstrous. In the case of Shannon’s portrayal of General Zod, the chameleon-like character actor manages to infuse him with a relatable motive of preservation of his people. His methods are what villainize him and eventually cause the 9/11 parallel that is the third act of Man Of Steel. Sorry, just wanted one last jab at this one on the way out.
Sherlock Gnomes – If you’re looking for something on demand this week or weekend to occupy the kids you will come across this little animated film, the follow up to Gnomeo And Juliet. I’m still sitting here scratching my head, wondering how this film got made. Produced by Elton John’s Rocket Films, the first film was a tediously bland retelling of a classic infused with all your favorites from his catalogue. The weird part is it’s the rehashing of a classic TRAGEDY, something I always felt was weird. Well, this time we have Johnny Depp reaching for a paycheque in this mystery feature the world’s greatest garden gnome detective in a sequel that manages to out bland the last one. Seriously, enough to make me almost fall asleep in a theater filled with energetic children.
The Happening – Aside from The Last Airbender, this is probably the lowest of the lows for M. Night Shyamalan, released ten years ago today. What the hell happened with this movie? Mark Wahlberg plays a high school science teacher in the midst of a worldwide phenomenon of everyone just deciding to off themselves and, oh boy, what a mistake. Wahlberg was even confused by the casting himself, only taking it because he wasn’t a cop or criminal. The film largely feels like Shyamalan trying to deliver a backhand to society for choking out the earth because, spoiler alert, the plants were killing us! In the end, it all just became a large joke directed right at the struggling writer and director.
Hollywood Homicide – Remember this one from fifteen years ago, the film made with two actors who couldn’t stand each other even for a moment? If anything, this is the only thing that this Ron Shelton buddy cop film will be thought of for. According to Josh Hartnett, he and Harrison Ford were so unhappy with each other’s presence that they would spend hours in awkward silence on set. This did not make the movie entertaining at all as we had a bland and formulaic story with stale leads that had zero charisma together and this is coming from a Ford fan. Heck, I’d watch Morning Glory over this garbage again. But not Crystal Skull. Never Crystal Skull.
Trading Places – The formulation of my comedy side definitely came from all the John Landis films I watched far before I really should have been able to, which I accredit to my aunt’s massive VHS collection and the lack of supervision over what I was picking. This Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy classic is one of the leading films in that childhood crash course of funny and it celebrates thirty-five years of existence this week. The product of a very mean-spirited bet between two vicious old rich men, the fish out of water aspect on both ends of our character’s spectrum is still so much fun to watch and Aykroyd in a Santa suit is still my go to Christmas profile picture. And yes, I fell in love with Jamie Lee Curtis and you can watch it over and over again like me with the anniversary Blu-ray!
Jurassic Park – Steven Spielberg birthed the blockbuster film with Jaws and continued to re-up that with franchise film after franchise film and twenty-five years ago this adaptation of the popular Michael Crichton book stomped its way onto the screen. This movie was everything to me and, at the time, it was the movie I had seen the most times in theaters by the end of its theatrical run. Running down the surface level of great things in this film I have some serious points. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) was and is the epitome of brainy cool, Sam Neill made everyone want to study dinosaurs, Ellie Sadler was a woman that was tough as nails and, I have to side with Tim here, no raptors in the kitchen. I know people are screaming “Genero eaten off the toilet! C’mon!” This is just a short list of awesomeness, there’s too much to include in a short write up!
The Last Days Of Disco – Twenty years ago today we saw the re-emergence of writer and director Whit Stillman almost five years after his well-reviewed film Barcelona with a movie that would seriously put him on the map. Interestingly enough, he would then disappear again for another hiatus, this time a thirteen year one. A film about two fresh out of college Manhattan book editors looking for love in all the wrong clubs, this film introduced me to the lovely Kate Beckinsale and opened my eyes to the range of Chloe Sevigny, who I knew from Larry Clark’s Kids. It’s interesting to note that Stillman was pressured by the studio to put top name actresses in this film like Winona Ryder but he stuck to his guns and made the film he wanted to. Take that as a lesson.
This Is The End – Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg made their directorial debut five years ago with this totally meta film about the end of the world. Basically, during a party at James Franco’s house, the rapture happens and holes to hell open up all over the world, killing a lot of the party’s guests, some in spectacular fashion. The remaining ones, including Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Rogen and Franco, have to band together to survive in this hilarious film full of in-jokes and self-deprecation. This movie is pure fun, nothing more, nothing less. I can understand people having slight issues with it but you all knew what you were getting into, right?
Hereditary – It’s kind of a bit of a genre week so let’s kick it off with this hotly anticipated horror film that is shaking everyone to their core. The reviews are hugely favorable for writer and director Ari Aster’s debut in a film that he says isn’t a horror movie. If the trailer’s slight ambiguity doesn’t rope you in, the Academy Award-worthy performance from the long-loved Toni Collette should or the terrifying performance from young star Milly Shapiro really should do the trick. As far as original and ground-breaking chillers go, Hereditary is one of those rare films you do not want to sleep on.
Hotel Artemis – Were you like me when you were watching John Wick and thought “Man, I’d love to see a film dedicated to that assassin’s hotel”? Well, it seems that Iron Man 3 and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation writer Drew Pearce was listening because, in a way, this is exactly what we got with this stylish, multi-character action-thriller. The cast is big, featuring Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Jeff Goldblum and the red-hot This Is Us star Sterling K. Brown, in a story set in the near future about a criminal safe house and hospital run by Foster’s character, The Nurse. Expect great action and deep character nuances. Yes, this movie will have any action fan’s money.
Love, Simon – We are over the halfway mark in 2018 and there have been only a couple movies that have outright surprised me and this was one of them. Nick Robinson shows his star power in the titular role as a popular teen with the deep seated secret that he is gay. Directed by CW head honcho Greg Berlanti, this film plays with the warmth of a John Hughes classic infused with today’s sensibilities and whatever faults the story has, maybe with a bit of pacing issues and predictability, it is still able to overcome and totally nail a satisfying ending. This is a definite must see and hopefully the step to even bigger things for Robinson as well as his co-star, 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford.
The Strangers: Prey At Night – When Bryan Bertino’s first film came out ten years ago, I was a massive fan of its minimalist style so I was definitely on board with this follow up. Instead of just focusing on a single house, this film has our trio of masked killers who murder for convenience stalking an entire remote trailer park. The film is a bigger scale than the previous installment, not by a lot, but the shift of filmmaking style is where is gains most of its appeal. 47 Meters Down filmmaker Johannes Roberts takes over the director’s chair and delivers a film that has the feel of an 80s slasher, complete with a full scene within the glow of a neon sign. The use of music also plays a great atmospheric role and you may never hear “Total Eclipse of the Heart” the same way again.
South Park: Season 21 and Jericho: The Complete Series – I don’t usually talk about television in these pieces but the good people at Paramount hooked me up with these great box sets and I feel pretty lucky. South Park’s home video packaging is still top notch and the best part is that Trey Parker and Matt Stone still do mini-commentaries on each episode. Hearing the motivations behind their biting satire is always interesting. On the topic of the post nuclear series Jericho, this Skeet Ulrich show was the first network property to be revived after cancelation due to fan support. Why did this happen?
This week on the show Steve talks with Drex about the all-woman spin-off Ocean’s 8, the big cast action flick Hotel Artemis, the highly anticipated horror film Hereditary and the “year in the life” documentary The Quest Of Alain Ducasse. On Blu-ray and On Demand Steve looks at the Ava DuVernay directed A Wrinkle In Time, The “wet fart” of action films this year Death Wish, the dark comedy crime thriller Gringo, a surprisingly great teen romance Every Day and the Disney re-release of the original Peter Pan animated film.
I kind of blew out all the anniversary films and throwbacks on my High Spots this week (check them out!) so I thought I’d throw you five flicks that just hit Netflix instead.
The Disaster Artist – The clout for this film was huge heading into the Golden Globes and after James Franco’s win and the sex abuse accusations it all went away. I hate to be the guy that says “that aside” but the film is still one of my favorites last year, a biopic about the friendship between two dreamers, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, and the batshit crazy “so bad it’s good” film The Room which would result from this collaboration. Both James and Dave Franco are incredible in their respective roles. To see James chameleon into the oddness of Wiseau is seriously something to behold.
Hail, Caesar! – For a Coen Brothers film, people sure forgot about this one really quick. A quirky little Hollywood behind the scenes story set in 1950s Hollywood, this movie had me in stitches with its brilliant script and reliable performances from Josh Brolin, George Clooney and Tilda Swinton, as well as a breakout role from the now Han Solo actor Alden Ehrenreich. It also helps your eyes that it was shot by 2018 Academy Award winner Roger Deakins, the best way to sell a feature film.
Jarhead – A lot of people said that director Sam Mendes dropped the ball with this adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s book but I quite liked it and I even saw it in theaters. Was it because he followed American Beauty and Road To Perdition with this one, a slightly paler showing of Mendes ability? Maybe. The film shows the extreme boredom of war, with soldiers trained to kill then left to be driven mad in the hot desert of the Middle East. Jake Gyllenhaal commands this film in the lead but it’s Peter Sarsgaard who really brings the gravitas. Keeping with the Deakins theme, he did this one too.
Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels – Guy Ritchie debuted with this film, a biting London Underground crime comedy about a group of friends down on their luck and looking for an easy score to get a crime boss off their backs. The smash cuts and the quick and snappy dialogue was what engaged us but it was the introductions of future stars like Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones that made this one a repeat view. I discovered this one way back on VHS and had it on an almost continuous loop. The pairing of Ritchie and producer Matthew Vaughn may be one of the best ever.
Nick And Nora’s Infinite Playlist – This one is partially for my wife who absolutely adores this film. The chemistry between the leads, Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, is so palpable and the two play to their strengths in a romance that doesn’t immediately go for the clichéd love jugular but instead lets the characters evolve over the course of the film. What results is moments that we may have seen in life or experienced all to a soundtrack featuring an eclectic mix that really does make a blissfully infinite playlist. Imagine that!
THE CONVO – Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, has deleted all her posts from Instagram. It’s because she suffered months of racist and sexist abuse. Tran is Vietnamese-American and is the first woman of colour to play a lead role in the Star Wars series.
Also this week: ABC is expected to decide in the coming days whether to create a spinoff of ‘Roseanne’, built on Sara Gilbert’s character, Darlene. Variety is reporting that executive producers have met with the president of ABC Entertainment to pitch the spinoff, and the indications are that John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf would be willing to take part in the proposed series.
THE FLICK – Ocean’s 8 – In a spin-off to the Ocean’s films, Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala. The cast is big, featuring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna and Anne Hathaway, but can this film deliver as big as its predecessors?
THE BINGE – The Break with Michelle Wolf – Every week a brand new episode of this show drops and, now two episodes in, it’s trying to find its footing but it’s pretty shaky. What is a constant is that Michelle Wolf is charming, adorable and acerbically biting at all times. There is a reason she was asked to do the White House Correspondents dinner.