Tuesday’s Reviews – Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Tuesday’s Reviews – Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

I really don’t want to write this review. I’ve sat with it open ever since I got home from work and I’ve not managed to come up with anything. If I’m honest, I never actually wanted to watch this fucking film. I mean Man of Steel was just dreadful and proved that Zac Snyder really should have called it quits on comic book movies after Watchmen was only hated by a handful of people. Those of you who were around at the time of my review of the first of Snyder’s Superman films will remember that, aside from it being badly written and really fucking long, it wasn’t exactly complimentary. I just didn’t get Snyder’s vision for the most popular alien in the DCEU. Still, those photos of Ben Affleck looking super buff got me interested and I finally decided it was time to watch it. I was a big fan of the Batffleck before watching this film so it would be just like Snyder to fuck that up for me too. I decided it was right to watch the Ultimate Edition and, after a gruelling day at work, I sat down for a gruelling 3 hours of muted tones, smack you in the face symbolism, and terrible parts for women. Classic Snyds.

So Batman vs Superman was one of the most anticipated films of 2016 because it would show the first movie meeting of DC’s two biggest male superheroes. It promised the fight of comic book geeks’ fantasies and would pit the square jaw of Henry Cavill against the rockhard abs of Ben Affleck. Plus, it would introduce the world to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s The Flash, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. After all, Batman vs Superman was just the warm up to next years Justice League movie. Kind of like Captain America and Thor were just whetting the audiences’ appetites before The Avengers came out… but with added good guy fighting. As long as the two titans both got into some sort of homoerotic penis comparison using their fists. Forget a good narrative or sensible structure, that’s what the fanboys really want.
Aside from giving us something in the way of the fight the title offers, there isn’t that much to celebrate in Batman vs Superman. The little there is in the way of story is all over the fucking place and is stitched together so weirdly is difficult to keep up. After all, pesky things like plot and character development only get in the way of large men fucking shit up. This is the kind of film where the ‘wakes up panting and realising it was a dream” thing isn’t a massive Hollywood cliché but a handy-dandy way to get out of a tricky narrative bind. Really it feels like Snyder filmed the fight scenes and then realised he needed someway to glue them together and hastily put some shit together.
One of my favourite reviews for this film described it as “a grown man whacking two dolls together”, which it essentially is. This is Zac Snyder acting out the games he played with his action figures as a child but with a fucking huge budget, special effects, and some crazily beefed men to help him. It’s action porn for those creepy little fanboys who left this film feeling that Gal Gadot’s outfit just wasn’t revealing enough. There is so much wanton destruction here that it leaves little room for actual film stuff. There is no attempt to create a coherent story or develop characters. Everyone is either dark and brooding, evil and brooding, or happy yet brooding. There are so many needless plot twists here that Snyder quickly loses control of the strands and just ties bits together whenever he regains his grasp. The editing does little to help with the confusion and the endless time jumps, flashbacks/forwards, and dream sequences are handled incredibly badly.
Batman vs Superman doesn’t even have the good sense to have a good sense of humour about itself. It’s entirely humourless and any attempts at comedy fall flat and stick out like a sore thumb. It just feels wrong and completely out-of-place: like making jokes at a funeral. This is perhaps the most serious blockbuster about such a stupid topic that has ever existed. You wouldn’t have thought it possible after the dour Man of Steel but Snyder has upped the darkness. By this, of course, I mean he’s got rid of the lighting and literally made everything darker. There is plenty of shadows to show you that evil shit is going down and more than enough close-ups and shaky cam to try to amp up the excitement. Then there’s the endless fucking lens flares. What is this? A fucking JJ Abrams Star Trek movie? One of the notes I wrote whilst watching this just reads “how can something be both dark and light at the same time?” because there is so much light in such a lightless environment. It’s all just ridiculous. This is a film that is all about the visual that it just feels silly. It’s like people who are too into fashion: they’re so much about style over substance that you just can’t take them seriously anymore.
There are a couple of things to love here: Ben Affleck is as good as I’d hoped as Bruce Wayne and I can’t wait to see his solo effort. I don’t think we really needed ANOTHER origin story but this was essentially Batman’s film. Not the greatest thing in a Superman flick but I’ll never complain about more Batffleck. Joining Ben on my list of good things about Dawn of Justice is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She’s a great addition to the cast even though she really didn’t get any chance to tell her story. Then again, in this environment, maybe that actually helped her. Finally, there’s Jeremy Irons as Alfred. This Alfred isn’t the stuffy, wise butler we’re used to but is a hands on kind of guy. He’ll chop your wood, fix you gadgets, and listen in on your secret conversations. I think this could be a great partnership.
And that’s it. The only good things I can think of about this film. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and, let’s face it, every other woman barely get a look in and exist only to get themselves into a position they need saving from. Lex Luthor is just every other Jesse Eisenberg character we’ve ever seen but with access to a spaceship. The brief glimpses of the other member of the Justice League are just absurd and completely unnecessary from anything but a marketing point of view.  The script is awful: I’m still cringing over Holly Hunter’s peach tea speech. Too much terrible and unsubtle symbolism. Too many failed attempts at religious metaphors. And just too many twists to keep dragging things out. I’m so angry that I ever wasted my time on this shit. It should have been amazing. It could have been fun. I mean imagine what could have happened if these characters were in the MCU. It would have been unbelievable. Yes, it would have ended with something crashing to Earth at the end but it would have been wonderful. Dawn of Justice had so much potential but it just fucked us all. Zac Snyder basically pissed all over our dreams and then probably cut to us waking up panting and sweating.
TBT – Leap Year (2010)

TBT – Leap Year (2010)

So this Monday was a leap day. That one day a year where people push that outdated and sexist idea that a woman can only propose on the 29th Februrary. It’s an ancient tradition for all those females desperate to get married but too embarrassed to get down on one knee. They have one legitimate chance every four years to propose to their man. What a wild fucking idea. I don’t want to get all ranty in this post but it’s a fucking joke. All of Monday my male colleagues made continuous jokes about the idea of women finally getting the chance to lock down their man. It was embarrassing. Why are we keeping alive a tradition that perpetuates the idea that it is a man who is in control of a woman’s future? That it’s shameful for a woman to propose unless it’s on a date that comes around as frequently as the fucking Olympics. If you want to get married but you’re not getting a proposal then fucking do it. Who gives a shit if it was normally the man’s role? So was being a doctor back in the day. Things change.

Anyway, as you can see I’m a bit sensitive about the whole thing so the idea of a film based on this outdated ritual wasn’t high on my list of films I need to watch. Still, I needed a topic for this week and I do adore Matthew Goode… especially when he’s pretending to be Irish. So I sucked it up and watched Leap Year for the first time. Now, there’s a lot of shit I’d watch if it starred Matthew Goode, and I probably have watched a lot, but it was tough with Leap Year. It’s possibly one of the most cliched romantic-comedy around. Even if it believes it’s subverting the genre by invoking an ancient tradition.

Amy Adams plays Anna, a controlling career woman who has her five year plan in place and will do anything to get what she wants. She’s got the perfect job, will soon have the perfect apartment, and has the dreamy doctor boyfriend, Jeremy (Adam Scott). Everything seems ideal, except for the fact that Jeremy won’t propose. After he fails to pop the question yet again, Anna decides it’s time to do something dramatic. That something is follow him to Dublin and propose on February 29th. If you feel this is an extreme reaction then we’re already on the same wavelength. Had she just been honest with him she could have saved herself the price of a plane ticket.

Still, this is a romantic-comedy and honesty fucks up the chance to mess with out main character. Unsurprisingly Anna doesn’t manage to get to Dublin without a few issues. She finds herself stranded in Cardiff, on a fishing boat in a storm and finally in a distant Irish village in the middle of nowhere. It is there, though, that she meets ruggedly handsome and permanently annoyed pup owner Decalan (Matthew Goode). As he’s the face that joins Adams on the poster, we all know where the plot is going but there are a few things we have to check off first.

Declan promises to drive Anna to Dublin in exchange for some much needed cash. Again, it’s not that simple, They experience a kine of cows in the road, a missed train, the need to pretend to be a married couple and share a bed, and crash a wedding. It’s standard rom-com fair that is just putting off the inevitable for a little longer. By the time the pair get to Dublin it’s painfully obvious to everyone what will happen; well everyone except poor Jeremy.

There is so much to hate about Leap Year that I don’t have time to write it all down. Firstly, the representation of the Irish is almost reaching hate crime levels. It’s such a fucking stereotypical view of rural Irish folks that I’m surprised this film is still allowed to be shown. Secondly, Matthew Goode’s Irish accent is, unfortunately, pretty dodgy. I want to love Irish Goode but it’s hard. Thirdly, there is the overuse of bad green screen. It’s not big or clever. It’s just painfully obvious and distracting. Urgh, enough of this,

To sum things up, Leap Year is boring, recycled, unfunny and offensive romantic-comedy. The only thing that kept me watching until the end? Amy Adams and Matthew Goode are both so fucking adorable and charismatic that I was actually rooting for them. Despite the fact I knew they were destined to be together. I didn’t want it to happen but I actually cared about these stupid fuckers. I wanted to watch their journey even though I knew it off-by-heart. If Leap Year tells us anything it’s that Amy Adams is such an amazing actress that she can make any old garbage seem better than it is. That women deserves an Oscar for that alone. Neither actor overplays their part and have decent chemistry. Had anyone else been cast in the role I doubt this damp squib would have registered with anyone.

Batman v Superman: Battle of Who Could Care Less

Batman v Superman: Battle of Who Could Care Less

So earlier this month nerds from all over the world were flocking to San Diego Comic Con. Amidst all the usual cosplay and fangirling, the world was introduced to a whole host of new trailers to get excited about. A lot of them were exciting, like Suicide Squad which completely turned me around about the whole thing. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn? Fuck yes Jared Leto’s joker? Holy shit! Even Will Smith doesn’t seem like too abysmal. So yeah, it turns out I’m actually excited about what DC has to offer in a world dominated by Marvel films. Which, considering how I felt after Man of Steel really fucking shocked me. Of course, even after the super popular Batman v Superman panel that sent everyone crazy, I’m still not over the bitterness that surrounded my soul after watching Zack Snyder fuck with Superman. However, after I first saw the trailer I was weirdly excited about it. There are parts that look so good but… I hate Zack Snyder. I really don’t know what to think.

As you may recall, I was disappointed by Man of Steel. It amounted to little more than just destruction porn with Snyder’s limited saturation. It wasted it’s major villain without giving him anything to do. Russell Crowe was fucking awful. Whilst depicting one of the comic book world’s power couples, Lois and Clark have no fucking chemistry. And really, due to the fact that Superman’s origin has been done to death at this point, the narrative was just super uninspiring. Plus, Zack Snyder is just a one trick pony. He’s fucked up so many things at this point I don’t understand why he keeps being giving so many second chances.
So, my unwavering annoyance with Man of Steelhas meant that every time my idiot colleague keeps trying to get me excited about Batman v SupermanI just sort of fob him off with a non-committal nod. I wasn’t looking forward to a sequel after I saw it and I wasn’t looking forward to it when the teaser trailer came out. I mean whoever was paid to write “Tell me, do you bleed? You will” is the jammiest shit on the planet. If the script follows that line then we’re all fucking doomed. I’m still cringing now.
So, by April 2015 I was still resolute in my decision to not give a shit about this film. Then Comic Con happened. I didn’t pay much attention to anything that was said during the film’s panel but I had to give the newest trailer a watch. To my absolute horror, I was on the edge of my seat the entire fucking time. I was in a horrible position when I thought I’d have to eat my words and write an open apology to Zack Snyder for ever doubting him.
Then I watched it again… and again… and again. Just to check that it hadn’t been a fluke. I’ll be honest, the initial wave of euphoria had passed but there are some things about this film that genuinely excited me. Above all else, Batfleck is as fucking awesome as I always suspected that he would be. I love Ben Affleck more and more each year and his Batman looks absolutely amazing. Not only is he fucking huge nowadays but he looks more than comfortable in both the Bruce Wayne and Dark Knight role. I just hope Snyder gives him room to work.
So that’s one major plus point. The second: Jeremy Irons. Michael Caine’s Alfred was perhaps the most perfect imagining of Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler you could have asked for. I honestly didn’t think anyone could replace him. However, Jeremy Irons’ Alfred looks different; less passive and much more vocal. I’m always quite excited to see what Jeremy Irons has to offer and, since the trailer, I’m even more excited to see what he can do with such a well-known character. It could be the greatest thing since Michael Caine uttered the words “some men just want to watch the world burn”.
Then it became trickier to find things I was truly excited about. For every shot of Batfleck you are forced to suffer through Amy Adams spouting some awful cliché like “this means something, it’s all some people have, it all that gives them hope.” Urgh. She’s so much better than this shit. However, there are the usual tempting glimpses to distract you from that, of course: Robin’s old suit with the Joker’s scrawled message of doom on it, an underwater Aquaman reference, “You let your family die”, and that shot lifted straight from The Dark Knight Returns‘s cover. I even like the self-aware plot line concerning the consequences of Superman’s fight with Zod. Snyder’s hitting back at the critics of his last film and saying ‘I get it. They’re needs to be consequences.’ It’s just a little bit pointless when Batman and Superman are clearly going to face off in an equally if not more destructive showdown. I’m not saying that isn’t enough there to whet anyone’s appetite but how good is it actually going to be?
The trailer is, more than anything, exhausting. There is so much going on that doesn’t seem to fit naturally into the main narrative strand. We see Wonder Woman in the trailer and we know the other members of the Justice League are going to introduced in some form here. You, therefore, have to ask the question, can Snyder handle that much plot? Looking at Man of Steel, I’d say no. He shrugged off the narrative to make way for more explosions the first time round so giving him more storyline to fit in and more strands to pick up just seems to be asking for trouble. Either the film will be longer than Peter Jackson’s latest outputs or it just won’t make fucking sense.
To be honest, Snyder has always seemed like the wrong choice for these films. I’m not saying he’s awful. 300 was obviously good and Watchmenis the best adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel that we are likely to get. However, he doesn’t have a light enough touch or enough of an interest in the finer details to do the material justice. He’s a blow shit up in front of some green screen kind of guy.
Christopher Nolan has fucking ruined comic book movies for us now. He was a talented director that made comic book movies good films. You can’t just be heavy handed anymore. People give a shit these days. Considering Marvel have had such phenomenal success with their directorial choices lately, you would have thought Warner Bros. could have copied their strategy and gone off the beaten track for this one. But no, Zack Snyder is a bankable director. So he’s the guy we’ve got.

To answer the original quandary of this post, the Batman v Superman trailer didn’t get me excited about that movie. Mostly because the whole film is just a shameless trailer for the Justice League movie. What it did succeed in doing was getting me super pumped up for more Batfleck. Seriously, Warner Bros. just need to admit that Superman has been a no go area after Christopher Reeve’s era. What we want is more Batman, more Affleck and less fucking Snyder. 
American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle (2013)

I’m not entirely sure whether or not I like David O. Russell. The celebrated writer and director has garnered quite a reputation for himself over the past four years thanks to his award-winning films The Fighter(2010) and Silver Lining’s Playbook(2012). Regular readers will know that I wasn’t exactly wowed by Russell’s supposed reinvention of the rom-com but I couldn’t deny it was of a much greater calibre than the usual Nicholas Sparks adaptation. However, with the still questionable talents of Bradley Cooper in the lead role I could never completely get on board with it. Regardless, the cast list and costume department had got me suitably interested in American Hustle for me to get over my apprehension.

The phrase “some of this actually happened” flashes up on a pre-movie title card before David O. Russell’s, mostly fictitious, account of the FBI’s Abscam sting of the 70s and 80s really gets into gear. It is a desperate and fleeting attempt from the director to place his shaggy dog tale into some semblance of reality. Although some of the salient facts are there for us to see behind all of the wigs and cleavage: an FBI agent bringing a conman on board to investigate corrupt politicians using a fake Arab sheik and some dodgy deals.
After that pinch of truth has been sprinkled over the narrative Russell abandons this recipe for something a bit more experimental and goes off-kilter with his hustle movie. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a petty con artist and the owner of a chain of dry cleaners, is forced by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent keen to make a name for himself, to use his skills to assist in entrapping some big names; starting with the Mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito, (a very Elvis looking Jeremy Renner) who gets caught up in the mess whilst trying to reinvigorate New Jersey.
Richie sets up his operation after catching Irving in mid hustle whilst he and his partner, in both business and pleasure, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) attempt to con the undercover agent out of $5000. Sydney, an ex-stripper who has taken on the identity of a British aristocrat with banking connections, helps Irving dupe the desperate out of their money in return for imaginary loans. Irving is left to decide between helping the FBI and leaving his lover to face jail time. The couple must try and overcome this problem as well as the pesky issue of Irving’s unstable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and adopted son. Rosalyn threatens to not only ruin the pair’s happiness but also the careful planning of Richie’s operation.
If this all seems like a lot to take in then it’s because the story is ultimately secondary to Russell’s rag-tag bunch of characters. At a running time of 129 minutes, the film is about half an hour too long. There are entire scenes and plot-lines that add nothing but the opportunity for the actors to really ramp up the drama and emotion. There is a spectacular scene towards the end of the film when Lawrence spends a good few minutes cleaning her house whilst angrily joining in with ‘Live and Let Die’. It is a scene that critics the world over have highlighted, quite correctly, as evidence of her increasing skill but ultimately the whole scene just feels out of place.

Then we have the clutter of side-characters that have little effect on the plot and distract from the main points. Louis C.K. turns up as Richie’s disapproving boss but, after showing a great deal of promise, is completely wasted and sidelined. There is a moment when, in a fit of anger, Richie attacks his superior with a phone but this, like pretty much every complication that arises, ends up having no real consequences. There is a moment of confrontation but the incident of violence is shrugged off and forgotten about. You get the idea that, once the basic Abscam story was written down, Russel and co-writer Eric Warren Singer just stopped caring too much about what happened.

 American Hustle is a somewhat confused film that can’t quite decide what it’s trying to be. It is part con movie, part mob thriller, and part romantic-comedy, with lashings of Scorsese and hints of Boogie Nights and GoodFellas. Of course, this melting pot of genres would work well if any of the individual elements were well-crafted in their own right. As it happens, the con aspect spreads pretty thin over the whole, the mob threat ends up being fairly underwhelming, and the comedy mainly comes from a focus on crazy hair and even crazier characters.
For Russell, American Hustle is about the ensemble having fun in the era of 70s disco excess. An ensemble fronted, of course by, the larger than life Irving; a character who offers Christian Bale the chance to further remove himself from the role of Batman by digging his teeth into the unappealing conman. Bale embraces the character and does an incredible job slowly getting to the heart of the ruthless conman caught up in a world where appearance is everything. An idea only highlighter by the opening scene when Irving, with an impressive paunch, glues, combs and sprays bits of wig and hair into an incredibly intricate comb-over. We are dealing with a man, and a film, who is concerned not just with professional disguises but personal ones too.
Something his hustling partner turned lover Sydney knows all about. Amy Adams spends the majority of the film keeping up her faux British accent for Sydney’s alter ego Lady Edith. With every film role Adams continues to prove that she is one of the most accomplished and important actresses working at the moment. She brings a vulnerability to the tough exterior of the overwhelmed Sydney and she certainly pulls off the ridiculous costumes and hair of the time of disco. She is by far and away the stand-out character and performer in the entire film and continually outclasses the less accomplished members of the ensemble.
Unfortunately, one of those cast members happens to be the usually faultless Jennifer Lawrence who sort of loses her way as Irving’s unhinged young wife. It’s not that Lawrence is awful here but she has lost a great deal of the subtlety and care that made some of her best performances so great. After winning an academy award for the psychologically scarred Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence amps up the crazy to almost unstoppable proportions. Perhaps, like the characters being portrayed, gets confused by the excesses of 1970s New York. Lawrence gives this her all and gives the same dramatic performance that has littered her fantastic career but there can be no denying that she is fairly far from her greatest performance. Of course, it doesn’t help that she is continually outclasses by the superb Adams.
Still there can be no denying that I am a massive fan of Lawrence no matter what she does and she definitely fared better than her Silver Linings Playbook co-star Bradley Cooper. Cooper isn’t exactly a subtle actor and is it pretty telling that the only two nominations he has received have come from him playing larger than life and mentally unstable characters. He charges into this operation in a desperate attempt to prove his worth and spends his time violently overreacting or suppressing exclamations of glee to be included in such an accomplished cast. He is distracting and horribly sticks out alongside his co-stars. I’m still yet to be convinced that Cooper can add anything to a film other than a face most people seem to enjoy.
American Hustle is hardly a terrible film but it certainly ends up delivering a lot less than it promises. Like its leading man, American Hustle is far too concerned with the outer appearance to really worry about what’s going on underneath. Perhaps a little less time sorting out its toupee and more time working on the narrative and Russell would have had an undeniable example of perfection. This film almost makes up for its flaws thanks to its unfailing energy, dazzling aesthetics and up-for-anything cast but the narrative is too undefined, meandering and fairly repetitive. The script is not as funny as it should be and the plot lacks the detailed focus that is required of a truly great conman film. No matter what I think of Russell as a whole, there can be no denying that this isn’t the high calibre that he is capable of when he is at his best.
Her (2013)

Her (2013)

There is a face that people always make when you bring up Joaquin Phoenix’s name in conversation. Over the years the actor has built up quite a reputation for being wacky and abrasive. This is mainly thanks to his infamous appearance on The Late Show to promote his mockumentary I’m Still Here. Regardless of the way he has behaved in recent years, I still like Phoenix. He is a careful and considered actor who sometimes gets a little carried away with his roles. It takes a certain type of actor to basically front a film on his own and I was looking forward to seeing how Phoenix coped with it for Spike Jonze’s fourth film outing. So despite all of the groans I heard when discussing my excitement for this film, I couldn’t wait. 


Spike Jonze is the kind of director who is known for creating worlds that show an uncanny relationship with reality whilst remaining ever so slightly bizarre and mystifying. (See Being John Malkovich and Adaptation for more proof.) In Her, Jonze goes one step further by tweaking a whole film genre. At its simplest layer, her is a romantic-comedy but following the emotional connection between a man and his computer. Jonze does a fantastic job of creating an unconventional movie romance that is funny yet heartbreaking, terribly sweet but utterly sincere.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly a lonely man struggling after the breakdown of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara). He becomes withdrawn from the world around him and guards himself from more emotional pain. As a technological whizz, Theodore invests in a new artificial intelligence operating system to provide himself with a virtual companion that has the ability to change and grown thanks to its experiences. The OS, calling itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), becomes a huge part of Theodore’s life and she begins to understand him better than any real person he encounters.
Her is Jonze’s first self-penned feature film and is beautifully crafted. It is set in a not-so-distant future version of Los Angeles in a kind of technological Utopia. Whilst dealing with such an odd concept the film manages to provide both a look into the future and remain convincingly contemporary. The future of Jonze’s her isn’t the blindingly bright one of most science-fiction films but offers a beautifully muted palette and equally muted occupants. With much of the exterior shots being filmed in Shanghai, the world around Theodore is a clean and safe urban environment inhabited by the young, beautiful and affluent.
Yet the aesthetic harmony of this setting does not overflow into the people who live in it. Despite this
technologically advanced haven, this is a society plagued by lonliness and Jonze makes it more than clear that Theodore isn’t alone in his emotional abyss. His friend and neighbour (Amy Adams) finds herself going through a divorce and ends up turning to her ex’s OS for friendship and support. This is a time in which technology offers a valid alternative to human contact. This film evaluates society’s dependence on technology and its deepening effect on modern relationships. Samantha may very well be a far-fetched idea but we see some familiar alternatives referenced on screen. In the earlier part of the film Theodore reaches out to the World Wide Web for companionship and partakes in cybersex with a woman who quickly turns out to be highly disturbed.
For further proof we need only look at Theodore’s work for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com which requires him to craft emotional outpourings of other people’s feelings for their family and friends. This is the way that love works in the world that Jonze creates: real love is painful and hard so feelings are outsourced to a stranger instead of coming from the heart. Jonze is suggesting that technology probably isn’t the solution to answering people’s emotional needs. Though Theodore easily falls in love with Samantha during their communication and experiences together there are the inevitable complications with this virtual relationship.
Although despite all of these complications, the greatest success of Jonze’s tale is that the romance between Theodore and Samantha is never played as anything other than serious and pure. Every aspect of the blossoming connection is dealt with carefully so that something that always feels a little bit iffy ultimately comes across as something sweet and rather beautiful. I mean it is highly doubtful that any director other than Jonze would have been able to make a sex scene between a man and his operating system feel anything but uncomfortable and seedy. Of course the decision to fade to black to avoid the awkward Joaquin Phoenix masturbation moment was a shrewd one. It is an odd feeling watching the blossoming relationship between a man and his operating system but there is never a moment when you aren’t drawn in by it. You happily follow the pair on all of their bizarre dates where Theodore, through his phone’s camera, shows Samantha the world around them.
Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson provide incredible performances in order to truly sell the relationship as it was dreamt up by Jonze. Phoenix may not be the name at the top of everybody’s list of actors to almost single-handedly sell a film but in herhe does so with subtlety and depth. He easily inhabits the role of Theodore and his portrayal of a man in such emotional pain that he clings to the inhumane embrace of Samantha is sweet and soulful. The journey that Theodore takes from melancholic withdrawal to an embrace of life is a touching one and without Phoenix in the driving seat this film could easily have derailed.
Of course without the right woman Theodore would never have struggled out of his emotional despair and if there was ever going to be one woman who could mend a broken heart simply with her voice it’s Scarlett Johansson. She gives the role the benefit of her unbeatably husky voice. Samantha is seductive, funny and confident yet still learning and vulnerable: there is no way that anyone in Theodore’s position would fail to fall for her with or without the physical presence of Johansson to back it up.
Although, Samantha proves to be too strong a presence for the vulnerable writer: she pushes Theodore well out of his comfort zone and into a complicated and passionate relationship when you suspect all he really needed was someone to talk to. Samantha’s programming ensures that she evolves with every new experience and she quickly outgrows both Theodore and the initial concept. Towards its denouement, the slick and inventive narrative begins to descend into familiar romantic-comedy territory. The ending feels slightly flat and unsteady when compared to the well-constructed moments that preceded it. Not terrible in its own right but still not up to the standard that the film set about promising us. This isn’t exactly Jonze at the very top of his game but, as a whole, heris a wonderful film. It is sweet, soulful and smart despite the unavoidably questionable nature of the plot. Paddling in the realms of science-fiction, Spike Jonze offers us a funny and touching analysis of modern human relationships. Just as Theodore fell for Samantha, I can confidently say that I love her.
Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)

I work with a guy who is a fairly huge fan of Superman so I have had to contend with his excitement concerning Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel since its production was announced. With the release of every new trailer I was met with a gushing report of how it was set to be the best film ever made and, in the past few weeks, have been continually asked when the inevitable Blu-Ray release is. This is all very well and good but I found it difficult to match his excitement. As a child I loved the Christopher Reeve films and was a fan of the ‘I’m sure it was cool in the 90s’ Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. However, as a superhero, I never really responded to Kal-El in the same way I did with other forces of good. The reason for this is simple: his parents. Clark, as an alien who receives strength from the Sun, has an immense advantage over other heroes. He isn’t making the same kind of sacrifice as people like Batman, Iron Man or Spider-Man. He also never seemed as easy to engage with as a character. He’s a bit too cheesy (yes I realise talking about cheesiness in terms of any superhero is somewhat ridiculous) in an All-American hero kind of way. It’s grating and, when he’s riding around on his insanely high horse, it’s difficult to see him let alone connect with him as a character. If I had to pick an almost indestructible, God-like alien for a friend it’d be Thor no question. He seems fun in a Nordic way, has a nifty hammer and is all beardy. Plus, his human form is a doctor whilst Clark Kent runs around playing a famous journalist. It’s all a bit too narcissistic for me. So by the time I finally got round to watching this supposed masterpiece I had my expectations set to ‘not stunned’.


There was a definite sense that Superman needed a revival that would breathe new life into the man in red and blue. There was room to bring Kal-El in line with the current trend for comic-book movies and have him grow up that little bit. If that meant roughening up the edges then director Zack Snyder and producer (and script contributor) Christopher Nolan weren’t going to take the softly softly approach. Nolan and Snyder aren’t exactly your typical film partnership and there is a sense that this film is battling with its two different attitudes. On the one hand it is the dark and moody tale of a man who must fight against his Kryptonian nature and his human sensibilities: who must pick between the destiny set-out for him by his dead biological father and the careful path his adoptive human father would have him follow. On the other, it is a fast, loud and brash tale of destruction and violence that would have even Michael Bay wondering “is this a bit much?”: in other words hard-core explosion porn. It is Nolan’s style that ends up suffering and the last hour or so ends up being mainly about Kal and his Kryptonian buddies destroying everything they come across.

To be quite honest, excessive lens flare aside, I have no real problem with the visuals. I love Snyder’s muted tones and can even get behind the weirdly mechanical and very Star Trekian landscape of Krypton. Then we have the spectacular action sequences which, had there not been so many needless examples, would have got my inner twelve year old boy jumping for joy. Cinematographer Amir Mokri does of good job of ensuring that, no matter how crazy things get, it is still fairly easy to keep track of what’s going on. It’s just a shame that throughout the 2.5 hour running time there is an underlying sense that the destruction on screen is just senseless and self-indulgent. Man of Steel was intended to make an impact and, whether or not it aids the plot, it definitely introduces itself in a way you can’t ignore. It also provides a good foundation for the future as the final twenty minutes or so gives us a glimpse at a fully-fledged Superman film and suggests that, provided more depth is given to the main characters, any sequels will only boost this franchise. 
Despite the reboot, the narrative isn’t too ‘out there’ and all of the key points to Superman’s origin are present and correct. The all too familiar tale begins on Krypton where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is helping his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) give birth to their first child Kal-El. Their planet is unstable and beyond redemption so Jor-El convinces his wife to send their newborn to a distant planet in the hope that he can help build a new and better Krypton. We quickly skip 33 years to find Clark taking on a series of false identities and moving on whenever he feels the need to expose his powers (whether that’s to save innocent people or just teach a bully a lesson). Through a series of flashbacks we see some of his childhood with his loving and protective Earth parents Jonathan (a sensitive and considered performance from Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane bringing as much emotion as possible to a limited role). Jonathan nervously awaits the day that the world finds out about his son and the terrible consequences that would have on his life. This has shaped the way Clark has grown up and has, as a result, shied away from making any kind of connections and resenting being unable to help people or dole out justice.
Thankfully he soon gets the chance to work out this deep-seated resentment when a worthwhile opponent enters his new life. General Zod, who we first meet attempting to stop baby Kal making his escape, has followed him to Earth in the attempt to create a new Krypton on top of the ashes of humanity. Whilst finally making his presence known to the wary Americans, Clark must decide whether his loyalties lie with his old life or his new. Although, even this conflict is fairly short-lived as, thanks to the ghostly appearances by the Hamlet Snr-esque, British Jor-El (seriously why is he British yet General Zod and co. are American?), it is very obvious that Kal isn’t going to let his new home world be destroyed before his very eyes. Even the potential fear he has about humanity’s reaction to him comes to nothing when he intimidates members of the government and the army simply by breaking apart his handcuffs. Unfortunately for Henry Cavill, all that is needed to play our hero is dashing good looks and a dimple in the middle of his square jaw. I can’t even tell is Cavill is a good actor or not because the role required him to do nothing but wear a tight-fitting, leather onsie.
With the removal of the Clark Kent/Superman divide in this reboot, there is even less of a human side to everyone’s favourite Kryptonian. With the Christopher Reeves films the Clark Kent side of his personality gave Kal-El a humble, infallible nature. It was Clark Kent who was the likeable one whilst Superman was just too good to be true. Getting rid of the split means that Kal-El is simply your better and that creates an inevitable gulf between you. Cavill is all business here and remains stiff and pretty unemotional throughout. In fact the only thing in this film that takes itself more seriously than Clark is the film itself. As is happens I counted one joke in the entire thing (where Zod throw Clark into a ‘no accidents in 106 days’ sign only for the 1 and 6 to fall off). Yes this brief visual gag made me chuckle but as statistics go it’s pretty bleak.
This wouldn’t matter so much if there was a distraction from the bleakness and suffering within the romance between Clark and confident journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The pair first meet in the arctic and somehow fall in love. I say somehow as I genuinely don’t know how the relationship developed: one minute Lane is tracking down Kent to expose him as the mysterious alien to them being in love. I get it on her part (he is beautiful) but I can only assume that Clark responds because Lois is the only human besides his parents that he spends more than a few minutes talking to. God knows there is no real chemistry between Cavill and Adams. Let’s face it, they’re no Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Although, ignoring this massive oversight, I was a fan of the new independent Lois Lane. She’s become more than the easily deceived and swooning Lois to an investigative reporter who easily works out Kal’s identity. Also, this gets rid of the annoying ‘do I love Clark or do I love Superman’ conflict that Lois is always finding herself in. Gone is the sassiness we are used to but instead of smart and cynical modern interpretation. It’s exactly what the original super-wife needed and deserved to be in this modern age.
I have seen a great deal of praise for Michael Shannon’s General Zod and it is simply perplexing.  I found Zod to be a rather flaccid and bland for a super villain. He doesn’t even manage to be more interesting than his second-in-command Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who, as it turns out, is both terrifying, physically intimidating, and offered much better dialogue than her superior officer. I don’t blame Shannon for this because his part as the character of Zod is pretty much relegated to two-dimensional bad guy status. Aside from a few hints that his heart is in the right place, the General is only ever called upon to yell clichéd extracts from the super-villain handbook or reel off ridiculously archaic speeches about revenge. Although he does get more chance to create a name for himself than the rest of the supporting cast. Take Lois’ boss at the Daily Planet Perry White (played by the reliable and earring-ed Laurence Fishburne). White exists only to occasionally warn Lois about her honesty before he and two of his colleagues become trapped as Zod’s magical destruction machine starts tearing shit up. This is obviously supposed to create an emotionally tense situation but we know so little of these characters (in the context of this film at least) to give a damn whether they live or die. There is a real sense that a lot of Man of Steel relies on the pre-existing knowledge of this universe to avoid any pesky explanations littering up the narrative.  That would mean less time to blow shit up after all.
Had Man of Steelcome out pre-Nolan then I have no doubt that I could perhaps understand those hailing is as the best comic book movie of all time. It’s not the worst film of its kind. Hell as a sci-fi film it has a fair few things for it: it’s huge, melodramatic and visually impressive. However, we have all come to expect a bit more from out superheroes. There isn’t the great characterisation witnessed in Iron Man, the wit and humour of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers or the gritty realism and intelligence of Nolan’s Batman-trilogy. Certainly Snyder’s film has super to spare. However, after the promises laid down by the title, I would have preferred to see a bit more of the man.