Man of Steel is a self-consciously epic re-imagining of the Superman story, first told in print in the 1930s and most recently rebooted on screen by Bryan Singer as Superman Returns just prior to the commencement of my reviewing career in 2006. It’s remarkable both for the scale of the production, the stakes for producers DC and Warner Bros, and for the degree to which I disliked it. Usually, I don’t get too riled up about blockbuster comic book fantasy pictures – they are either more entertaining or less – but this one got under my skin so much I was actually quite angry by the time the closing credits finally rolled.
I don’t have room here (because there are actual good films I’d rather talk about) to tear the Man of Steel apart but I will float a few thoughts that have been bothering me recently about blockbuster movies generally: It seems to me that the huge amounts of computing horsepower that directors have at their fingertips nowadays is being used, for the most part, to destroy.
[pullquote]Man of Steel delights in destruction, reeling off 9/11 trauma-triggering moments with reckless abandon.[/pullquote]I’m getting very tired of watching buildings, streets and even entire cities razed digitally to the ground without a second thought for the (admittedly still digital) people inhabiting them. This is an arms race and somehow directors (like MoS’s Zack Snyder) have decided that every new tentpole needs to use even more imagination to destroy even more stuff and kill even more people who will go unmourned by the heroes supposedly there to protect them.
The New Zealand International Film Festival was launched in Auckland and Dan was there. Back at the multiplex, Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jay Baruchel play themselves at the end of the world in This Is the End. Viggo Mortensen shows off his Spanish in Everybody has a Plan and James Cromwell has a plan for a house in Canadian drama Still Mine.
The most pleasure I have had in a cinema so far this year wasn’t at a film. In 2011, the New York Philharmonic produced a brief concert revival of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece about emotional opportunity cost, Company. For three performances only, they assembled a star-studded cast of well-known television faces including Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, alongside Broadway veterans like Patti LuPone, and the show was filmed in high-definition for distribution to cinemas around the world. Several Wellington picture houses are playing this sort of alternative content these days – the Metropolitan Opera etc – so, eventually, this stunning production was likely to arrive here and, golly, I am so glad it did.
In Company, Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) plays Robert – a 35 year old confirmed New York bachelor surrounded by married and soon-to-be-married friends. Throughout the show they give him some good, bad and indifferent advice about the importance of relationships versus freedom and independence versus – well – company. This is a concert production so the orchestra is on the stage rather than tucked away in a pit, and director Lonny Price does marvels with the shallow area that remains. Transitions are inventive and smooth and the characters somehow manage to relate to each other despite being – as Sondheim would have it – side by side.
So, after trawling through the many thousands of words written about cinema in these pages this year, I suppose you want me to come to some conclusions? Do some “summing up”? Help guide you through the great video store of life? Well, alright then. Here goes.
We don’t do Top Ten lists here at the Capital Times – they are reductive, facile and, frankly, you have to leave too many titles out. I have taken to dividing my year’s viewing up into categories: keepers are films I want to have in my home and watch whenever the mood takes me; renters are the films that I could happily watch again; then there are the films that I enjoyed but am in no hurry to repeat, the films I might have misjudged first time around, the films I can’t get out of my head (for better or worse), the films I am supposed to love but you know, meh, and most important of all – the films you should avoid as if your very life depends upon it.
First, the keepers: a surprise for some will be Fantastic Mr. Fox which was released after my 2009 Year in Review was submitted and the only film in the list that I already own. Animal Kingdom was the film I most recommended this year – a stunning, tense piece of work that gripped me totally.
God is in the house this week. He turns up in the values of a wealthy Tennessee family who adopt a poor black kid and turn him into a champion, He features in a big leather book carried across a post-apocalyptic America by enigmatic Denzel Washington, and He is notable for His absence in a Lars von Trier shocker that is unlike anything you will have seen before or see since.
First, the good version. Based on a best selling book by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side would not have made it New Zealand screens if it wasn’t for Sandra Bullock’s surprise Oscar win earlier this year and it’s easy to see why distributors might have left it on the shelf. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t. My companion had no knowledge of, or affinity for, American Football or the complex and baffling college sports structure and was, therefore, a bit left out of a story that managed to push all my buttons fairly effortlessly.