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New films: Man of Steel, This is the End, and other film news

Man of Steel
Directed by Zack Snyder

This latest retelling of the Superman saga is solid but uninspiring. It’s like a concert performance by a musician without passion playing a piece of music that’s expected of him but which isn’t a favorite of his. The elements are there, for the most part, but there’s no pizazz – even the romance with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) feels flat and lacking in chemistry.

This time around, Lois Lane is the Christiane Amanpour of reporters, the one person bound to track down the biggest stories, and mild mannered Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is a drifter of sorts, seeking out anonymous work in anonymous locations and generally trying not to be noticed. This is, of course, difficult given his impressive physique and feats of strength and his tendency to save people in harm – although I suppose people might accidentally mistake him for Wolverine in an origins story.

That physique itself is an interesting plot point. Superman is strong because of his origins, not because he’s buff. He could, presumably, be fat and out of shape and still be the strongest dude around – although he might not be quite as aerodynamic in flight. It would be cool to see a spoof film in which a lazy, out of shape Superman continues to save people form harm but who has to whip himself back into shape to tackle a renegade character from his own planet who’s actually lean and mean. The workout sessions as Superman tries to shed some pounds could be hilarious – after all, what would he have to lift in order to actually stress his Kryptonian muscles – curling with elephants or bench pressing an ocean liner?

Instead, we get a super ripped Superman battling a similarly defined General Zod (Michael Shannon) – who has a somewhat checkered past with Supes’ biological parents and a serious grudge to address. Which is neither especially thrilling to watch, as they fight at great length to the detriment of everything around them, nor very interesting as a plot point with respect to a potential series of films. It makes one wonder how one can up the ante in the future.

The film also attempts to avoid a linear approach by giving us glimpses of the past and Clark’s childhood only as those memories are triggered in adult Clark. But those snippets hint at a more interesting story than the one primarily onscreen – and it’s neat to see Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as his adoptive parents, the Kents.

It’s not a bad film and most fans of the source material and genre will want to see this and will likely be glad they did, if for no other reason than for comparison purposes and completism. But it seems unlikely to generate an overwhelming rush of repeat viewings and rave reviews. On the upside, it could be one of those rare series where the second film is better than the first.


This is the End
Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

The more interesting film this week is “This is the End,” not just for its unlikely premise but also for its successful execution. Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and assorted others (and there are many of them) play variations of themselves at a party at James Franco’s new (think “Architectural Digest”) house. Meanwhile, outside and without most of the party-goers noticing, the world is coming to an end, true believers are experiencing the “rapture,” and all hell is literally being let loose.

This is both a funny film and, at times, a remarkably raunchy one – it’s certainly not one for young eyes or those who can’t face a long, drawn out, and graphic masturbation joke (or three). The filmmakers have made the claim that they expected to be given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA and that they included content they could trade away in favor of other scenes they preferred in order to achieve an R rating. However, much to their alleged surprise, they received an R rating to begin with and kept the film intact. Which, if nothing else, is a reminder of how seemingly arbitrary the MPAA process can sometimes seem.

The story becomes a post-apocalyptic challenge for the core group of friends as they try to survive in Franco’s house as the world around them falls apart. It’s never especially pretty but it does have a twisted air of authenticity as they seem far less prepared than characters often do in these kinds of stories – which of course is largely why it’s so funny as it doesn’t just enter the genre but spoofs it at the same time.

Highlights include the performance by Jay Baruchel, who can make almost anything better, an out of the ordinary appearance by Emma Watson (in a part that was apparently first written for her “Harry Potter” co-star Daniel Radcliffe), and a fabulously self-deprecating Michael Cera as the most obnoxious guest at the party. It’s not one for the easily offended but it should appeal to the “Shawn of the Dead,” “Dogma,” and cheesy horror crowds.


Other film news

I had the opportunity last night (Thursday) to moderate a question and answer session with Academy Award winning screenwriters (“The Descendents”) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, following a screening of their upcoming film “The Way, Way Back” which they co-wrote, co-directed, and both act in (in supporting roles). The film was well-received by a full audience and the pair are in town today for multiple press interviews. We’ll be discussing the film and other topics later today – so keep an eye out for content from the interview next month when the film officially opens in Sacramento (July 29).

Nat Faxon, the author, and Jim Rash sitting way, way back in the promo wagon after the screening and Q&A.

As I mentioned last week, it’s almost time for this year’s Sacramento French Film Festival – which runs at the Crest Theatre June 21-23 and also June 28-30. The full program and ticket information can be found at sacramentofrenchfilmfestival.org.

Sacramentan Greta Gerwig’s latest film “Frances Ha” is still playing at the Tower. And, in a neat twist, when Greta’s character Frances visits family and friends in Sacramento, they’re played by Greta’s own family and friends. Most of the film is set in New York but check it out for a delightful character study and some neat shots from our own fair city.

In the same week that no lesser filmmakers than Steven Spielberg and George Lucas lamented the changing face of the film industry and the likelihood of future high ticket prices for the biggest releases, Paramount announced plans for the first “mega tickets” for “World War Z.” In five sneak preview cities (not including Sacramento), fans can buy a $50 ticket bundle that includes a 3D screening, popcorn, custom 3D glasses, a poster, and most interestingly a future HD copy of the film when it’s released. Whether or not we see more of this will depend on the success of this experiment but it’s clear that the industry is looking into new business models.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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