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Review – Man of Steel (12a) [2013]

Man of Steel - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Producer:

  • Christopher Nolan – The Prestige, Inception, The Dark Knight I-III, Transcendence

Cast:

Music Composer:

Zack Snyder, who became a major film director following 300, is renowned for making movies that are pleasing on the eye, but have little by way of substance. Watchmen attempted to be profound without much success, and the less said about Sucker Punch the better. But could the input of the exceptional Christopher Nolan give Snyder the tools to change his ways and make the reboot of Superman, Man of Steel, a masterpiece?

Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) working as a blue-collar worker, unsure as to who he really is or where his life is taking him.

Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) working as a blue-collar worker, unsure as to who he really is or where his life is taking him.

  Man of Steel begins with Jor’El (Russell Crowe) sending his baby son, Kal-El to Earth before Krypton implodes. On Earth, Kal-El grows up as Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) in America, aware of his strengths, yet uncertain as to who he is.

However, when General Zod (Michael Shannon) threatens Earth with destruction unless they hand over the ‘alien among the people,’ Clarke learns of his past and that he must confront his father-on-Krypton’s enemy.

Man of Steel begins in an interesting way by briefly showing audiences the politics on Krypton and why the planet foundered. It is accompanied by some stunning special effects to give viewers a true feel for the nature of the planet itself, including how babies are born, which bears a striking resemblance to how people are formed in Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World.

Following the prologue of Krypton’s self-destruction, the film goes back and forth, illustrating Clarke Kent’s confusion throughout his life, in the wake of him becoming Superman. The most interesting aspect of this development is when Clarke’s father-on-Earth, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), asks/advises Clarke on the sort of man he wants to grow up to be. This attempts to give Clarke a third dimension, as well as some much needed depth to Man of Steel.

General Zod (Michael Shannon) declaring his strategy on Krypton.

General Zod (Michael Shannon) declaring his strategy on Krypton.

Alas, the movie otherwise lacks complexity and has the feel of Snyder’s Watchmen and, particular, Sucker Punch. Worse, as Snyder makes his eponymous character to be a God-like superhero, there is no sense of peril when watching Superman fight. Consequently, the half-dozen Matrix-style action scenes go on for far too long they become repetitive and boring quickly.

Length, in general, is a problem for Man of Steel. At 143 minutes, it is tediously long, especially as the plot only really starts when General Zod threatens Earth about an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie.

Furthermore, Man of Steel is not assisted by the characters. Although they’re all derived from the comic books, none of them are particularly interesting. That is not to say that the actors do a bad job with what they’re given, but the material does not allow them to excel. Henry Cavill fits the build and is adequate as Superman. But Superman lacks the charisma of Tony Stark/Iron Man or the multi-faceted personality of Bruce Wayne that Nolan superbly exploited in his Dark Knight Trilogy. Superman, in short, is just a traditional (ordinary) hero. The good, moral hero has been done to death, and viewers are right to demand more from filmmakers on this matter, even if the character is strictly in accordance with the comic books.

Similarly, Michael Shannon does a decent job as General Zod. Yet, Zod is more or less an old school, stereotypical villain, which is not interesting anymore. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe playing as Clarke’s two fathers have the simplest roles in the film, but they are the most interesting characters by a distance (although Crowe’s part for much of the storyline is a deus ex machina, which is very frustrating).

Superman, flying in to save the city and the people from General Zod.

Superman, flying in to save the city and the people from General Zod.

Unusually, however, Amy Adams does not do herself justice as the journalist, Lois Lane. Whenever Lois speaks about Clarke’s supernatural/alien powers, Adams does not look like she believes in what she is saying, even though she attempts sincerity. (Then again, it is hard to criticise Adams on this matter, since the more serious one tries to be when talking about supernatural forces or aliens, the more laughable it appears.) And, strangely, the music by Hans Zimmer sounds average and unmemorable, which is most unusual for him, and that probably sums up Man of Steel.

Over-all, Man of Steel has a few stimulating ideas and some fantastic CGI that is worth seeing alone. However, the ideas are under-employed, and much of the film, including the major fight scenes are monotonous and boring. Thus, Man of Steel lacks what made Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies so engrossing, and it disappointingly bears the hallmarks of Zack Snyder’s films: all gloss and no substance.

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Review – Les Misérables (12a) [2013]

Les Mis - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

At the beginning of 2012, audiences were treated to the silent film, The Artist. It was unexpectedly charming and something different in an age of formulaic, clichéd blockbusters. A year on, and audiences are treated to something different once again in the form of the marvellous Les Misérables.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

The storyline is based upon the 1862 historical-fiction novel by Victor Hugo and the subsequent theatre production. It loosely centres round Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Javier (Russell Crowe). Jean Valjean is a convicted man, who breaks his parole and seemingly vanishes in his bid to start a new life. Javier, the Inspector, upon discovering what Jean Valjean has done, is determined to find Prisoner 24601 and bring him to justice.

The plot for Les Misérables is more detailed and layered than that, especially as it has a large cast all with roles to play before the story ends. Unlike the stage version, the film does a good job of keeping the narrative understandable and easy to follow, despite having to take out chunks from the book. This is no small achievement, considering that more or less the entire movie is sung. Credit should rightly go to Tom Hooper for this, as well as for successfully turning a theatrical play into an Oscar-nominated film. (It should be borne in mind that The Woman In Black was the last time a director attempted to translate a play into a movie, and the less said about that film the better!)

However, in spite of Hooper cutting out sections of the book, the film still seems too long and somehow bloated at 158 minutes. The Artist, it should be noted, is only 100 minutes and, consequently, does not feel over-stuffed. Part of the reason for why Les Misérables feels this way is due to the numerous sub-plots taking place throughout the story, many of which have only questionable importance to its outcome.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Yet, more significantly, does the story actually matter? When one watches Les Misérables in the theatre, one is more likely to be awed by the music and the mechanics of the stage, than taken in by the (slightly contrived) narrative. But the movie does not have an innovatively-devised podium. Additionally, it suffers from a cast that, while stellar in name, generally lack the powerful vocals of their stage counterparts.

Russell ‘wannabe-Napoleon Bonaparte’ Crowe and Hugh Jackman, the two leading men, are particularly guilty of this. It is not that their performances are bad, it is just painfully obvious that they are actors first and singers a distant second. One might argue that this is what Hooper desired as he claimed to want the vocals ‘raw’ and conversational, rather than melodramatic. (Then again, he could have been saying this as a defence of his cast, in hindsight, after realising that he should have used stage actors instead of Crowe and Jackman.)

Also, the more one sees and hears the supporting cast, the more Crowe and Jackman are shown up; in particular, against Anne Hathaway. Hathaway, as Fantine, might look pale and terribly thin with her skin, bone and flesh emaciated a la Natalie Portman in Black Swan, but she most certainly can sing. In Rio I, Hathaway showed that she can sing well and nicely. But in Les Misérables she takes her talents to a new level, acquiring immense vigour in her voice, despite clearly lacking in nourishment.

No-one else looks starved like her, but Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks, as the rebel Marius and Éponine, respectively, have very good voices; Amanda Seyfried, as Cosette, illustrates that she’s a better singer than actor (and that she can exist without her incongruous pink lip-gloss, unlike in the medieval-themed Red Riding Hood); while Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, respectively, show us that they may not have noteworthy vocals, but that they can still make us laugh whilst in tune.

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Yet, if one is truly bothered about the singing not being up to scratch with the stage performers, one can still admire the sceneries and the visuals. Cinema, as opposed to theatre, is not limited by the area of a stage (however impressive the mechanics of it may be), and Hooper uses this to his advantage to give viewers a true feel for the (miserable) neighbourhoods that our characters come from in a way that the theatre perhaps can’t convey as deeply.

All-in-all, Les Misérables is very impressive theatrical production-cum-film. The cast’s vocals may not be as strong as those actors on the stage, and the movie lacks some of the charms of the theatre. Nevertheless, like The Artist, Les Misérables is something different, and it should be celebrated that an operatic-style film can be delivered in such a superb and entertaining manner.

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Review – The Next Three Days (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

I’ve heard that some men will die (or kill) for their woman (metaphorically, at least). However, I’ve never heard anyone say that they’ll study every weakness in the government’s prison system in order to get their lover out of jail. There is probably a reason for it and The Next Three Days illustrates why this might be the case.

John, being a good husband, visits his wife in prison.

Early on in the film, Lara (Elizabeth Banks – Zack and Miri make a Porno, Spiderman IIII), is arrested by the police and sentenced to jail for life for murdering her boss. This leaves John (Russell Crowe – Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Les Misérables), her husband and philosophy teacher/lecturer, to look after their son, Luke. Convinced that his wife is innocent, John seeks the advice of Damon (Liam Neeson – Schindler’s List, Star Wars I, Unknown), a man who has escaped from prison a staggering seven times, to find out a way of getting Lara out illegally. John learns from Damon what he must do to free her and how difficult it will be to beat the counter-measures the state-police have in place to stop escapees from running beyond their reach. For three years, John plans every step and waits for the right moment to strike.

Whilst perhaps a little far-fetched for it to be realistic, the plot makes for The Next Three Days to be full of pulsating tension. Yet, it fails to deliver on this for much of the movie. Part of this is because the fast-beating music is inadequate and, mostly, incorrectly timed. Additionally, the film is too long. There is no need for it to last two hours and twenty minutes. If it would have been half an hour shorter, it would have made for a much better film as only the last forty-five minutes is particularly interesting.

The plans are complete and John, loading up his James Bond-like pistol, is ready to put them into effect to save his wife from a life-time behind bars.

The storyline has its exciting moments; but there are many holes in it. One cannot help but ask oneself why John’s work as a teacher is not affected by his excessive (or, rather, obsessive) workings at day and night? Or why no-one notices his plans to free his wife from prison which are on a wall in a room in his house? Or why John never questions his own sanity? Also, escaping is not an end in of itself. One still has to go with mundane, daily chores after escaping. But, unfortunately, the director, Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale, The Quantum of Solace), does not deal with these issues.

Despite the gaps in the plot, the actors do not do their credentials harm. Indeed, the acting is consistently average throughout the movie: neither especially bad nor great. Nor are they ever tested, which is a bit of a shame because it could have added another dimension (and possibly a realistic element) to the storyline. Instead, we have to watch Russell Crowe kill the dregs of society to give the film some (cheesy) action in a vain attempt for entertainment.

Thus, all in all, The Next Three Days is a disappointment. Whilst, at first glance, the film may look thrilling, if unoriginal (after-all, how many times have we seen a movie about a prison breakout?); it is not as fascinating as it should have been. It might also explain why there is no colloquial expression for someone to free another person from jail. It is far simpler just to say you’ll die (or kill) for them.

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