Darren Aronofsky’s old testament odyssey might just be the battiest biblical epic ever committed to screen. Bold, beautiful, yet most definitely preposterous, it somehow manages to succeed as a brilliant examination of one man wrestling with his faith. I kinda loved it, with giant rock monster-sized reservations.
2009 and 2010 were extraordinary years for winemakers in the famous French region of Bordeaux. Not one, but two “once in a century” vintages produced wines of staggering quality along with record prices to match. Notable in the the rush to acquire these great wines was the presence of many buyers from China, a market that until recent, had only a limited interest in wine.
Red Obsession is a documentary that seeks to understand this dynamic. The film’s basic story is; Bordeaux is a rich, old, storied wine producing region, China has a lot of cashed up billionaires, eager to impress with their new found knowledge of wine, this could be a disaster for the wine industry, but then again, maybe not.
Despite some solid cinematography and interviews with well known wine luminaries, from merchants, to auctioneers and buyers along with high profile wine writers and masters like as Jancis Robinson, Oz Clarke, Debra Meiburg and Jeannie Cho Lee this film fails to convince.
It’s not just the distractingly laconic narration by Russell Crowe or the patronising, “you wouldn’t believe how much money the Chinese have” tone; it’s the lack of a logical narrative structure to hold the film together.
After the two spectacular vintages of 2009 and 2010, 2011 was a disappointment, with poor wines, poor yields and poor sales. The filmmakers suggest the lower demand from Chinese buyers in this one year might mean demand from the East for fine wine was tapering off. Oddly, the idea Chinese buyers might be keeping their powder dry for a better vintage, or simple buying in other places doesn’t even register.
Red Obsession is written and directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross, best known for their work on the (truly awful) Yahoo Serious films of 90s (Young Einstein, Reckless Kelly and Mr. Accident). One wonders how this story may have developed in the hands of more experienced documentarians.
The story of fine wine in China and the changing shape of the global wine trade is a fascinating one. Sadly Red Obsession doesn’t manage to do it justice.
Going into Man of Steel I brought a lot of baggage. I’ve never been much of a Zack Snyder fan, and while I can appreciate his fanatically faithful adaptations of 300 and Watchmen (I’ll even go so far as to say that his ending of Watchmen is better than Alan Moore’s), I absolutely hated Sucker Punch. It looked great, but was shallow, vile, juvenile and jaw-droppingly stupid.
Add to that that I was beginning to suffer from Superhero Fatigue, and have never been much of a Superman fan (he’s invincible and an alien, why should I care?), and it’s safe to say that I wasn’t really bothered which way Man of Steel fell. I was lucky enough to see the very first screening here in Hong Kong, a week before its general release, with only a dozen or so exhibitors and Warner execs in an otherwise spectacularly empty IMAX theatre. So it wasn’t hard to get a good seat – I had the entire row to myself.
And the movie hit me hard.
I don’t want to dwell on the film’s overlong, overloud and overly destructive final third. It was an ill-conceived attempt to best The Avengers, which managed to negate Superman’s primary ethos of protecting Mankind in the process. It was pretty spectacular visually, but lacked imagination, intelligence or insight – things that, for its first 90 minutes or so, Man of Steel displayed in fantastic fashion.
When I say Man of Steel hit me hard, I mean emotionally. I cried real wet manly tears on more than one occasion – and almost every time it was during the quiet moments between Clark Kent and his adopted father, Pa Kent. Kevin Costner absolutely kills it in this film and it’s a delight to see him in such a massive project again, after falling so spectacularly from the giddy heights of the early 90s.
I loved watching Kal-el wrestle with his responsibilities. It was incredibly Christ-like, the most overtly so on-screen to-date, and there were definite echoes of The Last Temptation of Christ in the struggle of its all-powerful protagonist. After an insanely-conceived, and admittedly overlong opening on Krypton, the sequences of an adult Clark wandering the Earth, staying off the grid, and refusing to engage with Society are extremely well realised, convincing and often gorgeous to look at.
On opening night I went back to see the film again, and admittedly, its flaws are far more obvious second time around. While I appreciated the logic behind the changes to Clark’s relationship with Lois, their romance is woefully under-developed, which will come as a shock to those who have always enjoyed the contrived love triangle of Superman, Lois and Clark in the past.
Michael Shannon brings his all to a ridiculously underwritten villain, and still manages to project his imposing screen presence despite no doubt feeling this material is drastically beneath him. He has now been exposed to a huge global audience for the first time, and it should give his career and profile a massive boost, should he choose to exploit it.
However, despite its flaws, the reluctance to acknowledge the wider DC universe (outside of a few logos) and the senseless destruction that goes entirely unaddressed, I thoroughly enjoyed the gambles Snyder, Nolan and Co. took with the character. They chose not to simply rehash another tale of the man in the flying pants, but to look deeper, take him to places darker, and really earn that final decision to man-up and become a hero. Henry Cavill is superb as Superman, and for once, Zack Snyder’s vision worked for me. With greater consideration to the consequences of what happens from this point on, both in the story, but also in the film series itself, I believe that the Man of Steel can fly.
Set in a fictionalised contemporary New York, Broken City opens with Mark Walhberg, as police officer Billy Taggart, standing trial for murder. Right from the opening moments, Broken City makes clear this will be one of those dramas where small decisions and minor details become more and more important with every twist and turn in the plot.
But, there’s no nice way to put this, Broken City is a broken film. Nothing really works. Wahlberg, Crowe, Wright, Chandler and Zeta-Jones do the best with what they have, the visual look is coherant (Ben Seresin is director of photography) and score is a solid, if unremarkable pastiche of the action-thriller hooks (composers Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne).
The problem really comes down to the poorly crafted story, that tries to keep you guessing long after you’ve given up caring. Film-making craft can’t make up for a hoary and predictable story, which either neatly ties up every end or simply ignores the loose threads. All we are left with, if the pieces of what could have been a good film.
Mark Wahlberg …
Russell Crowe …
Catherine Zeta-Jones …
Jeffrey Wright …
Barry Pepper …
Alona Tal …
Natalie Martinez …
Michael Beach …
Writer: Brian Tucker
Original Music by
Ben Seresin (director of photography)
Comic book adaptations and reboots of classic pop culture fare are coming so thick and fast, a new Superman film seemed like a mundane and wholly unremarkable proposition. With Zack Synder, a director known for his riveting visuals and insubstantial story-lines directing, expectations were muted.
But, hope lay within the fine print. Christopher Nolan was executive producer and his Dark Knight collaborator David S. Goyer would be responsible for the script. Moreover,the cast looked reassuringly strong. Perhaps Man Of Steel might not be a leaden disappointment after all?
The action begins, light years away from earth, on the dying planet Krypton. Russell Crowe plays Jor-El (Superman’s father) and Michael Shannon is his nemesis General Zod. They both propose vastly different solutions to Krypton’s impending ecological apocalypse.
Zod and Jor-El are really philosopher kings, the rational outworking of two different ideas for saving their race; the warrior versus the scientist. And, they soon engage each other in a battle over a fractured skull into which the genetic code of their people has been imprinted.
It’s a powerful piece of iconography – technology in the form of an ancient religious relic.
When the action shifts from Krypton to earth, things jump forward in time and we meet Henry Cavill as a bearded loner, whom we soon realise is Superman in the human form of Clark Kent. Rather than tell the story in chronological form, we meet Kent as he is today, including his first meeting with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and find out more about him through a series of flashbacks, intercut with his current adventures.
This opening sequence is replete with moments of hope, yearning and alienation. Most of all in the exchanges between Kent at different ages (Cooper Timberline when he is 9 and Dylan Sprayberry when aged 13 and later Cavill himself) and Kent’s adoptive father, Jonathan, played by Kevin Costner.
Clark Kent comes to understand his ancestry as we see, in flashback, his first childhood realisations of his true identity. While Snyder’s familiar visual look, strong contrasts, rich golden colours and handheld cinematography does much to evoke emotion, it’s really the acting that holds the film together.
Truth, Justice and the American way, once Superman’s mantra is far less the focus of Man of Steel. It’s not just the tone of the film that has shifted, accommodating the uncertainties of a post-9/11 world. The underlying philosophy has changed as well.
Superman is not so much Aristotle’s man of virtue as a shadow on the wall of Plato’s cave. At one point this philosophical connection is made clear as we see a teenage Clark Kent reading Plato just before his character (and self-control) is tested by the torments of some local bullies.
In a surprising way, Man of Steel is a film about ideas, not just what it means to be good, but what it takes to save a dying civilisation. Jonathan Kent believes, in a fully tragic way, in the greater good, that needs of the many outweigh the needs of one. General Zod’s right hand warrior Faora-Ul believes in the unmitigated power of evolution. While Zod himself, rather than being the Jungian dark-side of Superman, as in the comics, is a fully realised version of a Nietzschean kind kind of uber-human.
Apparently, the familiar S on Superman’s costume doesn’t actually mean Superman, but is a symbol of hope on the lost planet of Krypton. One is tempted to suggest it could also stand for soteriology, because the symbolism of the caped crusader as a saviour of humanity is so strong throughout the film. At one point Superman even hovers over the earth, arms outstretched, like Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross.
As long as Superman is on his humanistic quest, to discover exactly how super and heroic the super-hero really is, the film feels very solid and well constructed. Cinema-goers may well, however, judge Man of Steel based on the way it pivots once the conflict really begins and Superman is tested in a battle to the death against unrelenting foes.
At this point the acting and dialogue, which had been so engaging and powerful, takes a step back and Sci-Fi and CGI takes over. Snyder’s style is good at giving us a sense of both the vastness of the conflict and the focus of the fight itself.
But, sadly, the restraint and depth that had marked the opening acts is sorely lacking in the climactic moments. By the time we reach the final battle we feel like overfed guests at a banquet, looking for the exits when the host brings out one more surprise dessert.
Are we are guilty of expecting too much from these comic book adaptations? They have become such a cultural mainstay, harnessing so much popular and critical attention that we have, perhaps lost our sense of perspective. Man of Steel is an able and thoughtful adaptation of a well known story, clearly Snyder’s best work, and a powerful vehicle for some great actors to thrill and entertain us. Cavill is brilliant as Superman, full of gravitas and stern resolve and Shannon is a menacing delight as Zod, bristling with righteous rage. Can we really expect anything more?