Archive for June, 2013

Popspotting Post: Before Midnight

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Before Midnight

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the heroes and protagonists of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, are roughly the same ages as Ryan and I. We’ve grown up with them, and that may color how we view “Before Midnight” and its predecessors. I fell in love with these characters, and couldn’t wait to experience the next chapter in their lives.

In this latest film, we join Jesse and Celine nine years after the events in “Before Sunset,” and again, many things have changed for the two of them in the intervening time. We drop in toward the end of a vacation in Greece, and the pair are immediately familiar and intimate, and as viewers we feel as if they’re just old friends of ours, catching up.

Without a doubt, “Before Midnight” is best experienced with minimal spoilers, but even the trailers have told us quite a bit. I will say that what we witness is both expected, and a little sad. And for this go ’round, it appears that there is no “deadline” to meet, and thus no innate dramatic tension.

Yet, by the closing moments, everything is at stake, and for those of us in a similar stage in our lives, we can relate to the stakes all too well.

“Before Midnight” is the most honest, most realistic film about a long-term relationship that I’ve seen in a long time. It’s deliberately paced and beautifully shot, invoking the best parts of the New Hollywood films of the ’60s and ’70s. It is its own film, yet it certainly nods in small ways to “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.”

And as far as performances go, Hawke and Delpy are indistinguishable from Jesse and Celine. To me, they are Jesse and Celine, a sense only strengthened with their performances here… if they even are performances. Delpy and Hawke co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater, and there are gems and needles of truth that must certainly come from real life.

In this third outing, we actually meet and get to know a few other characters, and they are just important to this film as Jesse and Celine. They seem to represent the two at different stages of their relationship, past and future. The conversations between these characters are just as honest as the ones this film series is known for.

When the credits roll, there’s a hesitation. And I think eeryone who sees this film will have a different own opinion about what happens next. That, perhaps, is the trademark question that haunts every “Before” film. But for the first time in this trilogy, I’m okay with not knowing what happens next. I think the final scene tells me everything I need to know about these characters. It’s a beautiful wrap-up to a great trilogy.

But if “Before Noon” turns up in 2022, I won’t complain.

Popspotting Post: “Man of Steel”

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Man of Steel

“Superman Returns” (2006) was awful. Brandon Routh as Clark Kent was pretty but bland, Kate Bosworth was boring, and Kevin Spacey chewed more scenery than Al Pacino has in his entire career. The action was forgettable and the plot drove itself into the most mind-boggling places.

If any comic-book character deserves a modern-day reboot, it’s Superman. But that film was not it.

It left such a bad taste in my mouth that when word started to spread about yet another reboot, I was skeptical. I was even more skeptical when Russell Crowe was cast as Jor-El. It could be good, I thought, or it could be an overwrought later-day Marlon Brando-style mess. The trailers looked promising, if not moody and dark.

“Man of Steel” is moody and dark, but in the best way possible. At least for the first half. The look and tone of Man of Steel is gritty and thoughtful. In a darker, more mature reboot, less is more.

Minor spoilers ahead!

Fortunately, no time is wasted in this movie. We spend very little time watching Clark Kent grow up. We are told of his powers in one short flashback. When we meet Clark as an adult (played by Henry Cavill of Stardust)m he is hiding out and probably hasn’t saved any lives in years. This Clark is just as confused as Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight, and he’s compelling.

We are introduced to Amy Adams’ Lois Lane early, and there’s very little meet-cute here. General Zod (the brilliant Michael Shannon from The Runaways, Take Shelter) comes on the scene right away. It’s going so well.

Then it gets sloppy.

It appears as if director Zack Snyder realized how big his budget was halfway through filming and got the urge to spend it all at once. The second half of the film is just a little too much. Too many things blowing up, too many fights, and about a half hour too much movie. While I understand Snyder’s urge to go all-out, I feel his approach was too heavy-handed.

Michael Shannon remains the best part of the movie, but everything else just falls apart. In the middle twenty minutes of the film, a few minor characters drag out some meaningless jargon and start referring to objects that have nothing to do with the plot. We watch a pivotal scene with someone who works with Lois Lane, to whom we have barely been introduced, and we are suddenly expect to believe that her survival is of great importance, despite not really knowing who she was five seconds before.

Ultimately, there’s the expected final battle royale in Smallville, trashing a conspicuously positioned IHOP, and then a Sears. Like the last act of “Star Trek Into Darkness,” untold devastation is wrought with nary a moment’s hesitation. And the culmination of the battle, the leverage that forces Superman to make his final move, is baffling considering the few minutes that came before.

The film’s denouement is an even bigger head-scratcher, but also an interesting twist to the long-established canon of Superman’s civilian life.

The spectacle is distracting and somewhat disappointing, but ultimately not enough to detract from the good parts of the film. The photography is beautiful, starting with how the actors are lit. Everyone looks beautiful, especially Kal-El’s mother Lara, played by Ayelet Zurer. Vancouver is always a great locale for beautiful, bleak scenery, and the American heartland has never looked lovelier than under the hands of director of photography Amir Mokri. And Crowe hasn’t been this charismatic in years.

The most pleasant surprise was Hans Zimmer’s score. I have never enjoyed a Zimmer score until now.

“Man of Steel” is not my favorite blockbuster of the summer so far, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. A little too much, but really, that’s what summer blockbusters are for.

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