Saturday, June 29, 2013

White House Down

Hell yeah! This movie was MY SHIT! And director Roland Emmerich is back in his A-game, bringing us the best movie he's made since Independence Day. WOO!

While this isn't the first movie to release this year based around the premise of the White House being taken over, White House Down outdoes Olympus Has Fallen in every single category to be the far superior movie. And also something that both movies shared was a bit of a Die Hard vibe in the way the narrative plays out. But while Olympus Has Fallen only used that layout as a blueprint to support its story, White House Down goes a step further and even manages to capture that same Die Hard charm that made the original such a classic that still holds up today, something the latest Die Hard movie itself wasn't even capable of accomplishing.

But yeah, this film was a blast. The action is fun as hell all throughout, with a satisfying level of explosions and destruction that you'd go in expecting. But it's not all just a spectacle for spectacle's sake, as the movie really does ground these characters and make you truly care for them. Our two leads, President Jamie Foxx and his protector, Channing Tatum, play off each other so well, lightening up the mood and bringing a genuine sense of enjoyment to accompany all the mayhem, keeping the movie from being all gloomy and serious, while still maintaining an appropriate level of tension.

And all of the supporting cast do their part too, so that even when the movie shifts focus away from our leads, we're still very much invested in all that's happening. And even when the movie felt like it was about to enter cheesy territory, particularly near the end, they actually pulled it off in a way that managed to touch me on an emotional level. I was seriously getting choked up on a number of occasions as the movie went along, which is a reaction I never expected to experience going into this thing.

Also, while you do have to go into a movie like this with a certain level of suspension of disbelief, I still feel that the way the actual takeover played out was, again, far more believable than in that other movie, and they actually managed to pull it off without making the President's entire staff look completely incompetent in the process. Not to mention President Foxx himself, who was definitely the kinda guy I could get behind, and one who truly had the country's best interest as a whole in mind, unlike that worthless, selfish, piece of crap coward who called himself a President in that other movie.

That's my President!

Sorry, I didn't intend to just make comparisons to Olympus Has Fallen here, but with such similar premises, it's kinda hard to avoid, and I actually did enjoy that other movie as well, believe it or not! But where that one was merely an enjoyable, throw-away flick, this movie brings with it all the elements that made me love movies in the first place, and left me feeling a similar euphoric sense of enjoyment that I felt way back when I first saw Independence Day almost 17 years ago.

Since then, with the exception of The Patriot, most of Emmerich's movies have generally ranged from bland and mediocre to merely okay, if nothing all that great. But like I said, he's back, and he's finally given us another truly fun and solid action flick that's actually worth going out of your way to check out. So as we hit the halfway point of the year, White House Down is quite possibly the best movie of 2013 I've seen so far.

(And as an aside, the rest of my Top 5 so far would include Iron Man 3, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Warm Bodies, so here's hoping for a better second half to come!)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Christopher Nolan vs. Zack Snyder

So I made a lot of claims of production interference on the part of Christopher Nolan in my Man of Steel review, which I know may well be presumptuous of me. Maybe there was, or perhaps Snyder was purposefully trying his best to imitate a Chris Nolan movie. But whatever the case may be, Nolan's influence was clearly felt throughout that movie, that much can't be denied. It tonally felt very much like Batman Begins, but I personally feel the movie shoulda been closer in tone to Watchmen, which had the perfect balance of seriousness and campiness that would have more appropriately complimented a Superman movie. But the more I think about this movie, the more my disdain for Christopher Nolan grows for nearly ruining this film. And on the contrary, the more my appreciation for Snyder grows as well, for somehow managing to still bring it around, despite its countless setbacks.

Thinking back, I haven't always had these particular feelings towards these directors. It wasn't too long ago that I was among those who claimed that Nolan could do no wrong, and I didn't think much of Snyder outside of feeling that he was a pretty good director, and one to possibly watch out for. And watch out I did, as it took just a single movie to shift my outlook towards these two in full force. The Dark Knight Rises was a monumental disaster of a movie, one that I've ranted about several times here now, and still rant about almost a year later, and one that pretty much instantaneously had me removing my Nolan fanboy hat for good. And on the other end of the spectrum, Sucker Punch was a brilliant, if widely misunderstood, work of art that I've been openly praising and defending since its day of release, Snyder's masterpiece that proved his potential and single-handedly turned him from a director to watch out for, to my absolute favorite working director today.

But as I said, these two coming together to bring us Man of Steel only further strengthens these newer outlooks for me, and leaves me wanting to go back and compare the two even further. They're two men who both have very distinct styles and approaches to filmmaking, but where Snyder is still rising up and improving upon his previous work, Nolan appears to have possibly reached his peak and is currently on free fall, and I just hope that he doesn't drag Snyder down with him should the two continue to work together. But where there's no telling what lies ahead in the future, we can still look back to the past and put these two guys' work up against each other to see what worked and what didn't quite click.

Batman Begins vs. Man of Steel

Since we're talking about Man of Steel so much already, it feels right to go ahead and start things off with these two origin stories. While I made the comment above that Man of Steel should have taken a different approach from Batman Begins, that's not to say that I don't like Batman Begins itself. On the contrary, I think the film is great, and this dark and serious approach totally works for this particular movie. Where it seems like nowadays just about everything's trying to be all dark and gritty, Batman Begins was actually something new and fresh when it released, and is the movie that we can all blame for the "dark and gritty" trend that followed.

But what worked for Batman doesn't necessarily work for everything, and that includes Superman. This approach greatly limits Man of Steel, and gives it a disjointed feel when it suddenly decides to shift gears from somber and serious to over-the-top once the action begins near the end. An appropriate level of camp throughout to match the tone of the action would have gone a long way to improve the film and make it stand out on its own, rather than feeling like just another trendy Batman Begins clone.

Winner: Batman Begins

The Dark Knight Rises vs. 300

Up next is the movie that put Snyder's name on the map against the movie that made me second guess Nolan as a director. The two share themes of rising up against impossible odds to fight an overwhelming force in the name of justice. And with the big fight in the streets near the end, The Dark Knight Rises even appears to clumsily attempt a modernized approach of the sort of ancient Greek style warfare that comes naturally in a film like 300. Of course, as we should all know by now, The Dark Knight Rises ultimately copped out on those "impossible odds" in the end, but really, that's not even amongst the bigger issues with that movie.

On the other hand, while 300 isn't what I would consider a great movie, it's certainly a good one, known for the awesome battle scenes and classic one-liners that continue to be quoted to this day, and really established the slick style and tone that Snyder would go on to perfect in his later films. But even though there's nothing particularly special about 300 outside of it being a really fun movie, that alone makes it no competition at all when pit against Nolan's travesty. So, to even things up a bit, how about we switch things around a little and go with a slightly more flawed movie from Snyder's repertoire, but one that still fits enough of the mold to appropriately match up against The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises vs. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Now here's a slightly more even match-up. Nolan's dumbed down comic book finale to his otherwise grounded in reality trilogy, against what sort of feels like Snyder's attempt at making a toned down and kid friendly version of 300, just with owls instead of Spartans. But despite being a children's animated movie, it still feels like a Snyder flick through and through, even if it's probably his least memorable effort to date. But, like I said, it isn't without its flaws, which mainly comes down to the somewhat rushed pacing and at times sloppy writing. But the issues were overall very minor in the grand scheme of things, where as The Dark Knight Rises' are impossible to ignore. Otherwise, The Owls of Ga'Hoole maintains a fun, heroic tone, while Batman commits the ultimate superhero crime of being a boring chore. So, even against this more flawed flick, this is still an easy victory in favor of Snyder.

Winner: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

The Dark Knight vs. Watchmen

The two darkest, most epic, and most mature movies in these guys' libraries are also amongst their very best. Yet despite both traveling down such dark paths, the two movies also take very different approaches down those paths. The Dark Knight continues the very grounded in reality method that Nolan established with Batman Begins, while Snyder adds to Watchmen a bit of the comic book look and feel that helped make 300 such a memorable hit. And despite going such vastly different routs, both of these approaches work so well with their respective properties. Watchmen may quite possibly be the most faithful adaptation of a comic book ever, and it shows in the work, which truly feels like the images on the page come to life. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that Snyder improved upon the source material, as I feel his changed ending actually wraps things up much more tightly than the story originally did in the book.

But as much better as Snyder made Watchmen, Nolan one-upped him on this occasion. The Dark Knight is not only the best superhero movie around, but unlike all others, it truly transcends the genre as a legitimately great piece of cinema in general. This is Nolan at his absolute best, and this is the movie where I was sold on him as a director. This was where that "Nolan can do no wrong" outlook truly began for me. And great as both of these movies are, while I'd only be able to rate Watchmen as one of the better superhero movies I've ever seen, The Dark Knight is one of the best movies period that I've ever seen. So, point goes to Nolan on this one.

Winner: The Dark Knight

Inception vs. Sucker Punch

Where the last fight had both of its movies traveling down darker paths, this one sees both movies going all cerebral on us. But while they both might deal with the ideas of getting lost in your head, they, again, take vastly different approaches. Inception is far more clinical, and breaks the idea of infiltrating people's dreams down to a science for you. The film holds your hand the whole way through, explaining everything that's happening as it's happening. And even then, people still walked away confused by the movie. Meanwhile, Sucker Punch doesn't explain a damn thing, and so, needless the say, this movie flew right over the heads of just about every single person who saw it. But believe it or not, Sucker Punch actually deals with similar ideas as Inception, even if it's not nearly as literal about the whole thing.

Another thing the two have in common is their standout uses of music. Inception incorporates its score as a key component that actually effects the action on screen, a move that I found to be simply brilliant. And Sucker Punch, on the other hand, goes with using remixed classic tunes to accompany the action, like watching a music video play out in our characters' heads. And speaking on the action, this is both Nolan and Snyder at their absolute best in this particular regard. The spinning hallway scene in Inception is just stunning, and is probably the cleanest action sequence Nolan's filmed to date. But Snyder's never had that problem of clarity, and he builds on what he's been doing up until now and perfects his style of long takes that zoom in and out with slick slow-mo and speed-up combinations to their fullest effect.

So honestly, for me at least, this is probably the closest match of any of these. However, when it comes down to it, while they're both brilliant takes on a similar subject matter, I do feel that Snyder's fun and more over-the-top approach more fully embraces its concept, and the fact that Snyder doesn't spell it all out to you makes it a far more intriguing spectacle to watch. Inception is great, no doubt about it, but its colder approach doesn't quite capture the dream-like state of imagination as vividly as Sucker Punch was able to accomplish.

Winner: Sucker Punch

Obviously I'm missing some movies here, as I haven't seen Snyder's Dawn of the Dead yet, nor Nolan's Following or Insomnia, and there really aren't any Snyder movies that make a good comparison against Memento or The Prestige. So I suppose we'll end this frivolous bout here with the tie, for whatever it's worth. But looking at these two directors side by side like this, it's actually not hard to see why they went with Zack Snyder to direct Christopher Nolan's Man of Steel. The two have played with similar themes in their previous work, and Snyder has proven himself a competent director, particularly as it concerns bringing faithful and respectable adaptations to the big screen. But where the two share similar ideas, their approaches to those ideas have been very different up until now, which is an aspect that I feel went overlooked during the production of the latest Superman.

But anyways, I'm not even sure that I actually have a point to make with this post, but I just thought it'd be an interesting idea to take a look back and compare these two directors that I've come to hold in such high regard, particularly now after their different paths have finally come together. But what do you all think about these two? Who's the better director? Is it Christopher Nolan? Or perhaps you're a Zack Snyder fan like me. And how would you compare their work up until now? Do you agree with my assessments, or am I completely wrong on all accounts? (I'm wrong, aren't I?) But let me know what you think, 'cause I'd be very interested to hear!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Man of Steel

Man of Steel feels like the product of two minds at work that aren't quite in sync. It was early on that I began to have concerns regarding this film, particularly when the early action scenes were filmed in shaky close-ups and quick cuts more akin to a Christopher Nolan film than anything we've seen from Zack Snyder. And for the majority of the movie, this very much feels like a Nolan film that just happens to utilize a more Snyder-ish color palette. However, later on, once Snyder's finally allowed to actually unleash his slick trademark style on us is when this film begins to excel, but by that point it almost feels like it's too little too late.

The movie wastes no time getting right down to business, as the planet Krypton is about to be destroyed, and the newborn Kal-El is sent off to Earth. We then join Clark Kent in adulthood as he kinda wanders about in life, trying to find his place in this world, all the while constantly reflecting on his life growing up as someone clearly not of this world, which we witness in the form of flashbacks. However, once Lois Lane joins the scene and attempts to uncover the truth behind Clark Kent is when the story finally begins to move forward, as the ghosts from Kal's past catch up with him in the form of General Zod.

In many respects, this movie feels like two films spliced together, and they don't initially appear to compliment each other all too well. As mentioned, the majority of this film tonally feels very Nolan-ish, and it's these parts that nearly cripple it. I knew going in that the movie was going to take itself a bit seriously, but it's almost overbearing at times. And while a self-serious and clinical approach definitely works for a character like Batman, I'm not entirely sure that that's the case here, and I actually feel that a little more of Snyder's more usual camp would have gone a long way to improve the film, particularly given how over-the-top this thing eventually gets near the end. The movie is also ridden with tons of exposition, which is, again, very much a Nolan trait. However, while Nolan has been able to seamlessly interweave his exposition overload into movies such as The Dark Knight and Inception, Snyder clearly has trouble implementing it without making the movie feel bogged down by it. There were a number of times where I wished they'd just stop explaining stuff to us and let the visuals speak for themselves.

Some of the technical aspects of the movie also felt a bit off. For instance, there are several scenes where the camera is very fidgety, to the point that it actually becomes distracting. And I'm not talking about action scenes here, I mean, in a scene with just two people sitting on the back of a truck talking to each other, it'll be hard to pay attention to what they're actually saying because they somehow couldn't manage to just keep the damn camera steady at all. I really don't even know what was up with that, but it was obnoxious. But generally speaking, the film does look great even if it's not always shot great, and the film's score was also quite impressive, as the drums really beat a motivating sense of life into the movie.

Some of the editing felt really choppy at times as well, but though none of these issues prevailed throughout the entirety of the movie at least, they were prevalent enough to where they did become very noticeable. In fact, that's kind of my biggest gripe with this movie is just how inconsistent it felt. Because, while these issues certainly drag the movie down, there are also moments of sheer brilliance on display here as well, and I can't help but wonder just how good this movie could have been had Zack Snyder been allowed to really let loose and direct this thing his way more often than is evident.

While early action scenes had me worried that Snyder was gonna be working on a leash this whole film, they gladly let him do what he does best with the bigger action sequences later on in the movie. These scenes are as slick and smooth as ever, and the action is crystal clear on the screen. It's also really big and loud, and at times almost more resembles something you'd expect from an Incredible Hulk movie. The level of destruction is astronomical, as entire towns and cities are pretty much left in absolute ruins as a result of the high impact fights that Supes puts up with Zod and his cohorts. But where destruction of this magnitude always kinda bothered me in a movie like, say, Batman Begins, it actually kinda works here, and really gives the fights a truly big and otherworldly feel.

I was also impressed with the acting pretty much all around. Michael Shannon played a great villain in General Zod, and brought a sincere level of depth to this man who is knowingly in conflict with what's morally right, yet still feels that his way is in their best interest. And his battle of ethics with Kal's father, Jor-El, played by Russel Crowe, was actually somewhat fascinating to watch, as Crowe brought a calm sternness to his role that counteracted Zod quite well. And when speaking of action scenes, Antje Traue steals most of the scenes in this movie as Zod's cocky, badass ally.

There were times when it felt like there was a bit too much of Lois Lane, as she always happened to either show up or be called upon, even in scenes where her presence didn't feel entirely all that necessary. However, Amy Adams did a good enough job in the role where her constant presence wasn't always a deterrence, so there's that. And Henry Cavill also did a decent enough job in the red cape, considering what he was working with. There are certainly issues with the character, who feels, as mentioned, a bit too serious and reflective at times, and is probably a bit too much of a tortured soul, but these are issues that lie in the writing, and Cavill did the best that we could probably ask of him, all things considered.

So this movie was kind of a mixed bag, though in the end, the more it sinks in, the more the positives tend to outweigh the negatives. And while it's still a problematic movie in the moment, it's not until you have a chance to reflect upon the film as a whole after the fact that it really starts to come together, which is actually sort of fitting. And I think a lot of that comes with pre-conceived expectations, as I went in really wanting this to be another great Snyder outing, yet it's clear as day that Nolan had his hands all over this thing, and that Snyder was brought on board mainly just to direct a Nolan film rather than bring his own touch to the table. So in that sense, I suppose it's also somewhat fitting that so much of the promotional material features Superman in handcuffs, as the movie very much has a restrained feel to it as a result. But where I'd be really interested in a sequel where Snyder's not clearly being held back throughout most of it, I do feel that this first attempt will only improve upon subsequent viewings.