Friday, June 21, 2013

Man of Steel - A Two-Minute Movie Review

Man of Steel is a lazy, often brilliant, too often rudderless, over-CGI’d letdown.  The man of steel deserves better than this. We can all hope its inevitable sequels are given a more loving touch. Under Zach Snyder, Superman is too far removed from the hero we’ve come to know and love.
Yes, there are many things to love about Man of Steel. The background story is developed better than in any of the previous films. Henry Cavill seems born to play the lead role, adding his unique take to the renowned character, whereas Brandon Routh from Superman Returns proved to be simply a Christopher Reeve lookalike.  I also liked Krypton’s depiction, this time fully realized as a planet in peril, both from inside and within its leadership. But the problems with Man of Steel far outweigh its positives.

First, the fight scenes are too reminiscent of the unnatural, blurring scenes from the first series of Spiderman movies. In comparison, I never sensed while watching Christopher Nolan’s Batman films that the action pieces were nothing more than a collection of ones and zeros. In Man of Steel, I too often saw Superman and General Zod as CGI warriors instead of flesh-and-blood combatants. Was Snyder simply attempting to showcase their speed and strength? Maybe so. And it didn’t work. Second, the characters in this film make ignorant decisions. I can’t elaborate without spoiling things, but pay attention to the climactic battle and ask yourself why Superman flies off to take care of things in a barren wasteland while Lois Lane and co. are left to hold down the fort in Metropolis (while hundreds of citizens are put in harm’s way).

Man of Steel is nothing short of a letdown. I’ll leave it at that and hope for better sequels.


They seem to do the best with what their given. Cavill’s superman is fully developed and believable.  I’d like to have seen more from Lawrence Fishburne’s Perry White, but he played the previously spastic and over-the-top newspaper man close to the vest.


A mixed bag. I sense they could have used a few more meetings.

Special effects


Man of Steel is rated PG13.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Now You See Me - A Two-Minute Movie Review

Now You See Me is an engaging film about a group of magicians, The Four Horsemen, as they’re called, who perform high-concept, impossibly complex, elaborately staged illusions where the audiences walk out with more than they walked in with.  They are Robin Hoods who always seem two steps in front of the cops and their rich targets. The film’s greatest illusion? Making us believe it’s a better film than it is. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Now You See Me. I don’t require all my Ts crossed to like a film. And that’s good, because this one leaves all but the magic and a few shallow details on the cutting room floor.

The Four Horsemen are brought together by a mysterious stranger, but they all seem to have crossed paths at one time or another. The fast-talking J. Daniel Atlas, played by Jesse Eisenberg, has had a fling of sorts with Isla Fisher’s Henley Reeves. Why we’re told that is a mystery, because it doesn’t add anything to the story or even spawn the ex-couple snippiness or flirtations you’d expect. The mentalist, Woody Harrelson’s Merritt McKinney, is the oldest of the four and has issues with Atlas’ need for control. The fourth, Dave Franco’s Jack Wilder, is a small-time street swindler and self-proclaimed Atlas fan. One of Now You See Me’s issues is that it never moves past surface level. The various frictions that occur within the team are introduced and promptly forgotten. They are puppets being pulled by strings, it seems. But when they’re on stage, The Four Horsemen are engaging and entertaining. And it's there when the film is at its best.

Despite not bothering to spend a nanosecond on character development, Now You See Me is a fun enough film. Suspend belief for a moment and you might just think it’s better than it is.


Solid throughout, but there’s a good deal of actor-for-hire work going on here.


A 50/50 deal. Shallow, but workable.

Now You See Me is rated PG-13.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

After Earth - A Two-Minute Movie Review

M. Night Shyamalan has not had a good couple of years. In fact, it can be said that his last good movie was 2004’s The Village. The director and writer who brought us The Sixth Sense and Signs also left us with The Last Airbender and The Happening. Would he make amends with his latest effort, After Earth? I’m going to take the minority opinion (according to Rotten Tomatoes) and recommend After Earth, with a caveat or two.

Will Smith is Cypher Raige, a celebrated war hero known for his ability to “ghost,” which, in essence, is the ability to control his fear. The monsters used by an alien species to fight the humans are sightless, but have an ability to track their prey based on the pheromones secreted while frightened. His son Kitai, played by his real-life son Jaden Smith, suffers from the guilt of witnessing his sister’s death at the hands of one of these beasts and not doing anything about it. The elder Raige sees his son as weak and incapable. When the two crash land on a long-abandoned Earth, the badly injured father has no choice but to send the son to recover the ship’s homing beacon. The resulting hour and a half is spent watching Kitai battle the elements, strange creatures, and of course, the beast that haunts his dreams.

After Earth is not typical M. Night Shyamalan fare. There’s no surprise ending or mystery to unravel.  It’s a simple science fiction film suitable for anyone not interested in complication. Other than the father/son struggle, there are no other story lines to cloud issues. After Earth plays out like a video game, where the hero passes various hurdles before eventually facing the boss to win the game. This makes it ideal for younger audiences, but older viewers may be put off by this simplistic approach. I should also note that the movie plays out for most of its duration with the father and son separated, with one in search of the beacon and the other slowly giving in to his injuries at the ship.



The jury is still out on Jaden Smith's ability to carry a film. He's at time engaging and other other times flat. The elder Smith is convincing as the strict, emotionless father.



This is a difficult one. I don't think much could have gone into writing this one, but I do give props to some of the original concepts introduced, like breathing treatments (almost like asthma inhalers)  that make dealing with Earth's diminished atmosphere bearable.


Special Effects

Some reviewers have taken issue with how the various creatures are depicted -- hogs, an eagle-looking bird, a pack of monkeys -- but I thought they looked fine. And the scenes in space were real enough.

After Earth is, at its heart, a teenage coming-of-age story. If that’s your thing, you won’t be disappointed by M. Night's latest. If you’d like to see more Will Smith and less Jaden Smith, check out Independence Day instead.

After Earth is rated PG-13.