Friday, June 14, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Dick-Splash Saves the Earth

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody believes a man can fly, among other things.


In 1933, Cleveland, Ohio high school students Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster teamed up to create the character of Superman. Five years later, their character burst into the mainstream in the pages of Action Comics, published by DC, and he's been going strong ever since.

Just in time for Superman's 75th anniversary at DC, director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan, and Nolan's screenwriting collaborator on the Dark Knight trilogy David S. Goyer (also of the Blade trilogy, Death Warrant, Kickboxer 2, etc.) have rebooted the cinematic version of the hero, with Henry Cavill - who was runner-up to Daniel Craig in the search for Casino Royale '06's James Bond - as the Man of Steel himself.

A new telling of Superman's origin, the film begins with the birth of Kal-El, the kid who's destined for great things, on his home planet of Krypton, which is on the verge of destruction. This kicks off a surprisingly long sequence set on Krypton, with Russell Crowe as Supes' father Jor-El getting nearly twenty minutes of action for himself, getting in fights and riding dragon-like creatures while trying to get his baby son blasted off the dying planet concurrent to military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his lackeys attempting to stage a coup. Zod believes he can save Krypton, but unfortunately his plans also include some Hitler-esque ideas about wiping out bloodlines.

As most watching will expect, Zod and his followers are captured and exiled from the planet, Kal-El is sent to Earth, Krypton goes bust.

The origin continues to play out over the course of the film, though thankfully it doesn't follow a linear track of Kal-El/Superman/Clark Kent's life, as that was already done in the 1978 Richard Donner classic. Instead, flashbacks to key moments throughout the character's childhood are interspersed throughout the present day story, which finds the man at age thirty-three, struggling to find his way, to find out where he's from, to decide whether or not humanity is ready to know that someone like him exists in their world, the radiation of Earth's yellow sun affecting his alien biology in such a way that it gives him powers far beyond a normal human's.

Kal/Clark's search for answers leads him to a military excavation of a mysterious spaceship buried in ice thousands of years old (and it's not the ship from The Thing). At the excavation site, he also meets Amy Adams as Lois Lane, an investigative reporter from the Daily Planet newspaper and a person who will become very important in his life. Entering the ship gives Clark the answers he needs, as well as his famous suit around the 50 minute mark, but activating it also sends out a beacon that draws the attention of General Zod.

Zod comes to Earth looking for his fellow Kryptonian and with the intention of setting off a chain of events that will kill everyone on our planet. And so, people who were disappointed by the fact that "Superman didn't punch anything" in 2006's Superman Returns will be glad to know that, with a team of other superbeings to go up against, Superman punches the hell out of some things in this movie. Although my favorite bit of action did not involve the "faster than a speeding bullet" Kryptonians slamming into each other, it was actually something Lois Lane gets to do.

The messianic angle that Returns leaned on does continue a bit here, even with a Superman-in-cross-pose image accompanying a moment of Jor-El sending off his only begotten son down to Earth to "save them all".
Still, this version of Superman is not the clearly infallible and impervious to harm demigod that we're familiar with. This guy has spent thirty-three years trying to keep his powers hidden, so he's just figuring them out now that he has to step up and become a superhero, and he does so by repeatedly pushing himself to new limits.

That's the approach Goyer and Nolan found to make the character more relatable to the audience, and the filmmaking style brings things further down-to-earth. For the most part, this is not extremely stylized like Zack Snyder's previous films 300, Sucker Punch, or Watchmen, it feels like this is our world, our reality, that Superman has been dropped into and these extraordinary events are occurring in. Several times, Snyder shoots otherworldly objects with zooming handheld cameras, making them look like things shot by a regular person getting a glimpse at something amazing.

There are also some nice, relatable, inspirational bits about outsiders who never really fit in working to find their place in the world, feeling like there's something more for them, and the choice of taking a positive or negative path in life.

I liked Man of Steel and I'm up for following this version of Superman wherever he goes from here. One thing he definitely needs to work on before a sequel is how negligent he is during his fight sequences. Smallville and Metropolis both get boned hard during the events of this film. When Supes slugs it out in Metropolis, buildings not only take heavy damage, a ridiculous number of them are sent crumbling to the ground. He needs to learn to take the super baddies out into the middle of nowhere before he beats them down. Here, he flies a villain off a farm to set up a fight right in the middle of the business section of Smallville. That's the wrong direction!


With trouble brewing at the edges of the Korean DMZ, U.S. President Asher invites South Korean representatives to the White House to discuss the situation. The meeting is almost immediately interrupted when Washington D.C. is attacked by an airship that begins shooting down jets and strafing civilians, a precursor to a ground assault on the White House that is quickly and expertly carried out by dozens of North Korean terrorist militants. White House security and Secret Service agents are all soon completely wiped out, leaving the White House under terrorist control, with the President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs all held hostage in a bunker.

That means the Speaker of the House becomes the acting President during this situation, and who better to play such a part than Morgan Freeman?

With the leader of the attack, Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune, who also played a North Korean terrorist in the 2002 Bond film Die Another Day) threatening, torturing, and killing to get his captives to tell him nuclear codes, it's up to one man, former Secret Service agent Mike Banning, to take on the terrorist forces, save the President from Kang's clutches, and in doing so perhaps also save the world.

Do you like Die Hard? The makers of Olympus Has Fallen sure do. I don't say that just because this whole set-up could be described and sold as "Die Hard in the White House", but because it's jawdropping to watch this movie and see the elements that were clearly just xeroxed from the 1988 action classic. You have the hero taunting the villain through radio communication, a "Bill Clay" type of scene, a disastrous helicopter crash that nearly takes the hero out, the hero with marriage problems taking a break from the action to reconcile his issues with his wife. You can draw less intentional comparisons to some of the Die Hard sequels as well - trouble in D.C. and an Asian female with computer skills (Live Free or Die Hard), a short-lived character played by Cole Hauser (A Good Day to Die Hard)...

Still, they're working from a good template by lifting from one of the best, so while this is no Die Hard and Gerard Butler's Mike Banning (the Scottish actor puts on an American accent for the role) is no John McClane - though he's a better hero than McClane was in the latest Die Hard sequel - this was still a fun action flick with machismo, explosions, and well-shot fistfights and shoot 'em up sequences.

And an honorable mention has to be given to the super talented Melissa Leo, who plays the Secretary of Defense and gives such an intense and convincingly horrified performance that she makes some of her moments uncomfortable to watch.

RED HILL (2010)

Young police officer Shane Cooper has moved with his pregnant wife to the remote Outback town of Red Hill, population in the low hundreds, to start their new family in a quiet, safe environment. Cooper was looking to escape the sort of violence he faced working as a cop elsewhere, but on his first day working in Red Hill he finds that he has picked the worst possible town for that.

News comes that former local Jimmy Conway, sentenced to be locked up for life in 1995 for the murder of his wife and the attempted murder of a Red Hill police officer, has made an explosive escape from prison, and the Red Hill police force immediately assumes that Jimmy will be riding back to town, seeking revenge on the people who put him away.

Their assumption is correct, as Jimmy soon arrives. Shane is one of the first people to encounter him, and is briefly taken out of commission far out in the countryside. As a heavily armed Jimmy roams the streets of Red Hill, gunning down police officers and members of the civilian posse who confront him, Cooper struggles to get back into town to help put an end to his rampage.

Red Hill is very much a modern day Western, at one point the trenchcoat and hat-wearing Jimmy even rides down the town streets on horseback. There's also a touch of horror in the tone and atmosphere of some scenes, as well as in the character of Jimmy. With his appearance (half of his face is covered with burn scars), the fact that he doesn't speak, his calmness, and the deliberate pace at which he moves, he's almost like a slasher. Except with guns. There are moments where you might even wonder if he's a supernatural force, as some characters who have him dead to rights turn out to be such unbelievably bad shots (while he, of course, is an expert marksman) that it recalls the "divine intervention" moment in Pulp Fiction.

Writer/director Patrick Hughes showed a good amount of talent and style with this film, his feature debut. After watching it, I'm very glad that Sylvester Stallone has chosen to give him the job of directing The Expendables 3. I look forward to seeing what he does on a larger scale with a cast of badasses. In the meantime, I recommend checking out Red Hill.


This comedy/mystery from Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge begins with a high school teacher dropping dead in his classroom with a knife in his back. When 24-year-old police officer Nick Dunbar's teenage brother is wrongly jailed for the crime, Dunbar goes outside the law to get to the bottom of things and find the real killer. To do so, he himself enrolls in the high school under the alias Nick Springsteen, with an older fellow officer posing as his father.

The basic concept is similar to the previous year's Hiding Out, and like that movie Plain Clothes is one that I watched several times on cable movie channels during my childhood. While Jon Cryer was playing a bit older than himself as the 28-year-old who pretends to be a high school student in Hiding Out, here Arliss Howard was actually almost ten years older than his character. He can barely pass as Nick's 24, let alone make for a plausible teen when he goes undercover at the school, but just go with it. Like Cryer's character, Nick attracts the attention of a female student, in this case the very cute Alexandra Powers, but wisely given the actor's real age, Nick's true love interest is a teacher in her mid-twenties, played by Suzy Amis.

The film has a good sense of humor and the mystery takes some interesting turns. Things get a bit dark and tense as the end nears, but it still mixes in the laughs. Much fun is provided by the supporting cast, which includes Diane Ladd, Robert Stack, Reginald VelJohnson (Die Hard) as the typically angry police chief, Seymour Cassel (of Minnie and Moskowitz, and is it a coincidence that the name Moscowitz is on a sign in this movie?), Max Perlich (Beautiful Girls), Abe Vigoda (introduced with a sign on his back that says "Still Alive" rather than "Kick Me", likely a joke about the repeated premature reports of the actor's death), and George Wendt, who was in the midst of his eleven season run as Norm on Cheers when he took this role, and while he's still playing a hapless schlub, this character is no Norm.

I usually get nostalgic for the era when I watch '80s movies and shows, particularly comedies, but this is one that did not make me want to live in it. The way cinematographer Daniel Hainey presents the high school, the place looks like a depressing hellhole. Which is what they often feel like to students.

Plain Clothes also gets the stamp of approval from Jay Burleson, who meant to mention it himself after watching it for the first time a while back but got too wrapped up in his filmmaking and videography endeavors to get to writing about it in a timely manner. Give it a view if you get a chance. It's not on TV like it used to be.

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