Movie Review – Man of Steel

*** WARNING: CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS ***

There’s always pressure on a reboot to perform, especially when its a second attempt, so I was genuinely happy to see the brilliant job done with the new Man of Steel after the 2006 attempt (Superman Returns) failed to live up to the hype.

Right off the bat one has to notice that unlike Superman movies of the past, this one takes a lot less for granted. There is an extensive look at the back story, as opposed to the normal 5 minutes of a spaceship in a barn, a blanket with an ‘S’ on it and then Brando’s “Kal-El, you are my son”. We really get to go into the death of Krypton and the reason for Kal-El’s presence on earth. There is also a significant amount of time given to character development, albeit through the generally hackney tool of flashbacks (though they were blended quite well here). It shows you glimpses into his childhood – dealing with the responsibility of having superpowers and deciding to hide them because the world was not ready for him.

But Supes wasn’t the only one. I was also quite pleased with the treatment of Zod, our main antagonist. Unlike the prior incarnation, where he was simply a egomaniacal baddie, this new vision saw him as a driven soldier, bred and created for the sole purpose of ensuring Krypton’s survival, even at the cost of the human race – which puts him at odds with Kal-El who comes to the decision that “Krypton had its chance”. At the same time though, you can see that this is not a decision made lightly, and his hand is forced by the opposing forces of the surviving Kryptonians and the human armies, neither willing to share, as Jor-El envisioned. The friend that I watched the movie with was rather disappointed with the choice of Zod for the villain, but I beg to differ. I think for the story that they were trying to tell – Superman’s origin and reconciliation of his two identities and final acceptance of Earth as his true home – Zod was the obvious choice.

But character development doesn’t mean they skimped on the action – not at all! The fight scenes are rather brilliant. And thankfully they are quite watchable, as opposed to the Transformers/Iron Man trend of everything moving so fast you can barely tell what’s happening. It’s always cool to see super-beings go up against each other and Zod second in command, Faora-Ul was particularly bad-ass! I wonder though if the next movie will address the issue of collateral damage – its something superhero movies don’t usually touch on – who pays when a fight Superman levels half of Metropolis

Shout out to the brilliant casting for this flic. Russell Crowe kind of stole the show most of the time with his wise yet bad-ass Jor-El. While no one could ever really replace Brando in his iconic portrayal, Crowe has definitely reset the bar high. Similar props for Henry Cavill. Christopher Reeves, the real life Superman, has been a role that no one has been able to touch in decades so its a real testament to Cavill that he absolutely nails it! He’s broody, yet good-old-american boy, with a little angst and turmoil thrown in – perfect Superman recipe. And lets not forget Michael Shannon, the man who done an impeccable job in the role of Zod – I actually felt for the guy – that’s saying something for a super-villain!

While I thought this movie was quite awesome, I will point out that there are some things that purists will probably take issue with.

  • Lois Lane’s hair – While strictly speaking she’s still a brunette (I think – the 3D glasses made the screen really dark!) she doesn’t have the classic jet black, but rather Amy Adams’ almost redhead locks.
  • Perry White, Editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet isn’t white – The role went to Laurence Fishburne, who I think, for the 5 seconds of screen time that he had, did a great job.
  • No Jimmy Olsen?!
  • Jonathan Kent dies! (Rather dramatically too might I add) – In teaching his son yet another lesson, Jonathan Kent sacrifices himself to protect his son’s identity, knowing that the world has not ready for his powers, or perhaps it was his son that was not ready? Disappointing – I really like Kevin Costner
  • The suit – Now in our classic Superman its mama Kent that makes him the suit, using the blanket he was wrapped in as a child (thus the ‘S’/Kryptonian symbol for the house of El) – But here it’s presented to him by Jor-El (more correctly a computer program emulating him) as some form of battle-suit?
  • No spit-curl – Oh but how will Clark Kent’s brilliant disguise work now?

Personally, I don’t think any of these changes affects the movie at all. But you know how we Geeks are, we fill find a reason to complain ; p

All in all, while I’m not going to get in line right away to watch it a second time like I did for Dark Knight, I definitely think its merits a second watch. And a word of advice – watch in 2D if you can – there’s nothing in this movie that makes it a must watch in 3D so enjoy a cheaper ticket and more comfortable watch instead.

EASTER EGG – Let’s see if you can spot this one – during one of the fight scenes Superman gets thrown into a sign at a construction site that says “160 DAYS SINCE LAST ACCIDENT” (or something like that)  and the 1 and 6 get knocked off as he collides with it so that, for a fraction of a second, the sign says 0 days instead – I only barely caught this one. My friend did not, which is why he was wondering why I started chuckling in the middle of a fight scene.

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Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

In the fallout of Iron Man 3 I almost forgot that the sequel to the Star Trek reboot was coming out this week. Don’t you make the same mistake. With all the hullabaloo this year over movies like Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, World War Z and The Wolverine, Star Trek seems to not be too high on people’s “must watch” lists, indeed it wasn’t really on mine. Again, this was my mistake!

Though I am familiar with the show and have seen some of the movies, I was never a “Trekkie” per se, or “Trekker” if you prefer. So maybe that’s why my level of excitement over the Star Trek reboot/relaunch wasn’t as massive as the idea of an Iron Man series or an Avengers franchise. Indeed there are so many superhero movies coming out these days its hard to be a fan of them all. But the new Star Trek has really delivered where many other “big summer blockbusters” have fallen short. J.J. Abrams has done a masterful job of bringing an old and long beloved collection of characters back to life, and even more impressive, he’s done it in a way that hasn’t brought upon him the wrath of hardcore fans worldwide – not an easy task trust me (Geeks can be quite ferocious at the helm of a keyboard).

Abrams’ sequel cements the great job the first new Star Trek did in 2009 – I remember being quite impressed with the job Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine did – not easy considering they were following the legendary and immortal Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as First Officer Spock and Captain James Tiberius Kirk. But the excellent casting isn’t limited to them. Kark Urban as Dr.Bones” McCoy (“Damn it Jim I’m a Doctor not a Mechanic”); Simon Pegg as Scotty; Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov and John Cho as Hikaru Sulu – the combined effort of bringing the original legend to life is simply marvelous. And speaking of excellent casting, one cannot move on before giving a most deserved mention to Benedict Cumberbatch for his truly spine-tingling portrayal of Kirk’s arch nemesis Khan. Cumberbatch’s involvement in the sequel took it to a whole new level of awesome and I truly hope the role is revived in the third installment.

But casting only gets you half way. The other brilliant move by Abrams is to take so many iconic moments/plots from the old series and be true to them while at the same time flipping them around. The prime example being Spock‘s shouting “Khaaaaaaaaaaan!” to the heavens as Kirk breathed his last in front of  a crying Spock after saving his entire ship from certain death – the inverse of the iconic scream by Shatner in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which is well-known and parodied. But it wasn’t done as a joke or an “easter egg”, the moment was truly moving, even moving the lady behind me to tears. And this is one of its greatest achievements – the movie does an amazing job of showing the evolution of the relationship between the “cocky and brash” Captain and his “cold and logical” First Officer – not easy to reproduce in 132 minutes, especially when the first one did it over 3 seasons and 4 movies.

Yes I wasn’t a massive Star Trek fan growing up. So maybe I am able to watch these movies with less expectation, but if you ask me, Abrams and his stellar cast have done an amazing job of being true to the original while at the same time evolving its own personality for the next generation (pun intended!) and I look forward to them making another movie and once again boldly going where no man has gone before… well, at least not since 1998 ; p

Though it remains to be seen whether it will retain its flavor, seeing as Abrams isn’t going to be available to direct the next movie, at least not if its going to be out in time for the 50th Anniversary of the show in 2016. But he’s not leaving altogether – he’s announced that he will still be around as a producer, at the very least (yeah, I saw how that worked out for Iron Man 3 with Jon Favreau!).

 

What Are The 39 Steps?

Based on the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock (which in turn was adapted from a novel by John Buchan) The 39 Steps, playing at the Criterion Theatre, is just simply brilliant, both conceptually and in its execution.

The entire cast comprises of only 4 people playing scores of roles. It is genuinely baffling to see them move with such lightning speed and never once miss a beat. Using fast costume changes and excellent comic timing the players keep the stage in constant movement, giving the play a quick pace that is enjoyable and at the same time creates a sense of action and drama. The script is genuinely witty and it doesn’t have to stretch very far to get a laugh. The combination of comic timing and straight-faced humor had me in fits for most of the 100 minutes of run time. But even though the plot revolves around murder, espionage and mystery, that doesn’t prevent the players from breaking the fourth wall once in a while and including the audience on the joke – a technique that if used minimally and subtlety can be good for quite a few roars.

The most remarkable thing about the play (apart from the 4 player cast) is the amount they manage to do with as little as they use. There are no set changes to speak of. Each new scene is set with the use of props, which there aren’t that many of. Brilliantly, the actors themselves do the work of generating most of the “special effects” – no wind machines, just sound effects and actors flapping their jackets; no elaborate props, just four chairs and a steering wheel to simulate a car – at times it almost feels like the plays we used to put up in college, with little or no budget. The difference of course is they have an amazing way of playing along with the joke, which makes it all the more easier to appreciate the scene and laugh along.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Hitchcock references, or shall I say homages. Some are quite evident, for example when someone looks straight at you and says “Vertigo!” but others are possibly a little more subtle. Keep and eye and an ear out for them when you go see the show.

And you simply must go see it. To quote the official site “Book Now and avoid incredible disappointment” The 39 Steps

An amusing story to close with – The friend who I went to the show with got herself some ice-cream in the interval, as she always does. The only flavor they had was “Hazelnut and Caramel”, which didn’t sound too appealing to her, but she was coaxed into trying it. After trying it myself I turned to her and said, “that just tastes like Butterscotch”, to which she responded, “Oh my god you’re right. It does… Maybe they don’t have Butterscotch in England, maybe Hazelnut and Caramel IS Butterscotch”. I was so amused I just had to share this brilliant observation!

 

Web Comic Review – Commissioned Comic

Ever find yourself thinking in D&D? Well, Commissioned Comic is pretty good at illustrating just what that might look like. I found myself genuinely intrigued watching the lines between real life and RPGs blend in this web series. I think the reason contemporary geeks might find it particularly appealing is that it envisages the hypothetical hilarity of pitting the contemporary geek – you know what I mean – still slightly socially inept, but not always the clichéd image – massively thick glasses, pale as all hell from a lack of sun, pimpled like we’ve never heard of Clearasil – against real life social “quests” like talking to that hot girl at the bar or confronting a nasty neighbourhood dog. I mean I can’t be the only one who has had day dreams of casting a “knock” spell on a locked door when you can’t find your keys or wished I had a particularly high CHARISMA or DIPLOMACY skill – you know, to get out of sticky situations, or into them if that’s your aim.  If you hadn’t guessed yet by the way, I am particularly partial to the Wizard/Mage classes. I haven’t played the classic D&D myself but have always been a huge fan of the many RPGs that D&D gameplay has inspired such the Baldur’s Gate series or Neverwinter Nights.

Back to the focus of our review though – Commissioned Comic, by artist Obsidian, is a nice concept. There are plenty of web comics that focus on gaming or revolve around the antics of classic characters, but this web comic takes a different perspective – that of an artist who is commissioned by different characters to do their portraits (thus the name) and his party of D&D gamers. As mentioned before though, its novelty lies in the mash-up of the realms of reality and imagination. However, though I love the gameplay dynamics, I didn’t find it particularly hilarious. Interesting yes, but not laugh out loud. I can see myself popping back once in a while, but I don’t see myself following religiously.

Apart from the comic series the site also makes available single sketches by the artist – the Art Barf! series. These could be anything really – dungeons settings, combat scenarios, character portraits, classes/races, monsters. They are stylistically quite different from the comic itself. In fact I would be hard pressed to club them all into the same artistic style – they seem to employ quite a diversity of brush strokes (theoretically speaking – I mean they’re created in Photoshop, not on a real aisle), thematic perspectives and color palettes.

The artwork has evolved since the comic started – going for more realistic detail. I suppose if I had been following for a while I may not have noticed, but since I read through a whole lot of the comic for the purposes of this review, it’s quite apparent, even though it’s not drastically different. This isn’t a feature unique to this particular comic. Many web comics evolve artistically as time progresses, while others choose to maintain an element of continuity. I suppose this is really a choice left to the artist. And yes sometimes more defined artwork can make the comic more appealing and attractive. But I would just mention as a thought that artists should be careful with this choice. It might not seem like a major change, but in my opinion the feel of a comic does depend to some extent on its look and artwork. For example – Cyanide & Happiness has a very distinct art style, and it suits their formula.

Checking out the comic and the Art Barf! art work is of course free, but they offer a host of extras for those who want to join the ranks of their premium members, including invites to Convention after parties, exclusive sketches and desktop backgrounds and high-resolution comics. Check out the comic here – Commissioned Comic