Diane Lane

Man of Steel

man-of-steel-logo

 

2013

Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures/DC Entertainment

Directed by Zack Snyder

Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas & Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Based on “Superman” created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Sooner or later it always comes down to real estate in a Superman movie, doesn’t it? I mean, in three of the previous Superman movies the plot revolved around extraordinary real estate schemes. And in MAN OF STEEL General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) plan for world conquest could be considered the ultimate form of gentrification. He intends to terraform Earth and make it uninhabitable for humans. But first he’s got to extract The Codex from the cells of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and resurrect the Kryptonian race. And it’s not that it’s a bad plan at all. I just wish it wasn’t such a slog to get to it.

MAN OF STEEL is yet another retelling of the origin of Superman, which we didn’t need. So I guess that’s why Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer threw in such unnecessary details such as: a Kryptonian civil war. Making Kal-El the literal savior of the Kryptonian race by having his cellular structure infused with The Codex which if I understand it correctly pretty much means that Kal-El’s cells contains billions of DNA sequences. Making General Zod and Kal-El’s dad Jor-El (Russell Crowe) best buds who have a falling out over this pesky civil war as Jor-El insists they don’t have time for this rubbish as Krypton is going to blow up any day now. The Krypton sequence is one of the best things about the movie. And not only because we see that Jor-El knows how to rumble, young man, rumble. The architecture, technology and costuming had me wishing that we could get a “World of Krypton” movie. This is the first Superman movie that actually made Krypton look like it would be a really cool place to live. If it wasn’t for the blowing up part that is.

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Okay, so you know the drill after that: Krypton blows up, Kal-El gets rocketed to Earth, found by kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent  (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. But then that’s when the plot goes into a whole other realm as we get scenes of Clark going walkabout, roaming the world, taking odd jobs and using his powers in secret to help out where he can. In between we have Lois Lane (Amy Adams) Colonel Hardy (Christopher Meloni) and Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff) investigating an alien craft found in the Arctic that has a connection with Clark and ultimately leads her to Kansas.

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But here comes General Zod and his posse again, having been freed from The Phantom Zone when Krypton blew up. They’ve been wandering around the universe all this time and thanks to Clark’s fooling around, they come to Earth. Zod looks around and likes the property. He’ll take it. Clark has to convince Lt. General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) that he’s here for Truth, Justice and The American Way and they have to work together if they’re going to stop Zod.

I realize I’m being a little more flippant in this review than I usually am but that’s only because I wish MAN OF STEEL had been a little more flippant itself. This is a movie that takes itself way too seriously and moves ponderously from one drama drenched scene to another groaning under the weight of its own solemnity. It’s not a fun movie and there’s not a single moment where I felt like standing up and cheering when Superman flies in to save the day. Which is what I want to see when I go to a Superman movie.

There’s going to be plenty of Superman fans who are going to like this movie because they want their superhero movies to be stonefaced serious. Me, I think you can be serious and have some fun. Maybe I want too much, I dunno. I know that Superman fans desperately wanted to see a Superman movie with some action and him hitting things. Well, with a bunch of Kryptonian villains all with superpowers, there’s plenty of that. And the final throwdown between Superman and Zod will satisfy in the amount of sheer destructiveness. I myself don’t believe there’s a building left standing in Metropolis after the day the Kryptonians came to town.

I have no complaint with the acting at all. Especially Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon. Bravo, Mr. Shannon. I believe he’s one the best and most underrated actors working today. The guy’s Brando level good, trust me. And if you’re not familiar with his work then you need to be.

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As to what I didn’t like: so much added to the Superman origin story that I thought wasn’t needed was put in there simply so that audiences wouldn’t feel they were watching the same old same old. The fate of Jonathan Kent. The wonky direction by Zack Snyder in the fight sequences which really surprised me. In his past movies Snyder’s fight scene were really crisp, clean and well-choreographed, leaving no doubt as to who was getting hit and by whom. Here in MAN OF STEEL most of the fight scenes are just blurs going from one side of the screen to the other.  The ghost of Jor-El showing up just when he’s needed in places he has no business being. Superman’s resolution to the General Zod problem. I mean, I realize full well Zod left Superman with no choice but the Superman I know would have found another way.

And at the end of the day I suppose that’s really all it is. This isn’t a Superman I felt was my Superman. That’s not to say that he’s a bad Superman. He’s pretty good, in fact. Henry Cavill is a new Superman for a new generation and he does the character proud. But I’ll still stick with the 1978 model if that’s okay with you.

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143 minutes

PG-13

The Cotton Club

1984

Zoetrope Studios

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Produced by Robert Evans

Story And Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, William Kennedy and Mario Puzo

It seems as if anytime movie fans get together and talk about great gangster/crime movies they’ll mention “The Godfather Trilogy” “Scarface” “Bonnie & Clyde” ”The Untouchables” “Once Upon A Time In America” “Goodfellas” or “Miller’s Crossing” just to name some of my own favorites off the top of my head but nobody ever seems to mention THE COTTON CLUB  which is kinda surprising considering that it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola who directed “The Godfather Trilogy” and shouldn’t be looked down upon as a lesser work of that great director.  I’m not for a moment suggesting that THE COTTON CLUB is equal to “The Godfather Trilogy” but what I am saying is that THE COTTON CLUB seems to get overlooked whenever gangster/crime movie favorites are mentioned and it shouldn’t.  It’s an incredibly entertaining movie on a lot of levels and explores an era of American history I’ve always been fascinated with and it’s packed full of terrific actors who all turn in outstanding performances.

The movie begins in 1928; the height of the jazz era and The Cotton Club is the hottest nightclub in New York City.  Bootleggers and gangsters rub elbows with the big rich and movie stars as they are entertained by the top black entertainers of the day such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.  It’s not unusual to see Fanny Brice and Jimmy Cagney sitting at the same table with Lucky Luciano and Owney Madden, so intertwined are the worlds of organized crime and entertainment.  Everybody’s a celebrity whether they deal in box office or bullets.

We’re introduced to Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere), a cornet player who has the misfortune to save the life of the infamous Dutch Schultz (James Remar) from a thrown bomb one night.  It’s misfortunate because The Dutchman takes a liking to Dixie and being on the good side of a bloodthirsty psychopath like Dutch is almost as dangerous as being on his bad side.  The situation gets complicated when Dixie falls in love with Dutch’s mistress Vera Cicero (Diane Lane) and Vera falls in love right back.   Dixie gets even more involved with Dutch’s criminal organization due to his brother Vincent (Nicholas Cage) going to work for Dutch when The Dutchman incites a vicious and bloody war as he sets out to take over the Harlem numbers rackets.  Intertwined is the story of Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines), a tap dancer who is in love with Lila Oliver (Lonette McKee), a torch singer who can pass for white and does so as a way of escaping the intolerable racism of The Cotton Club where black audiences can’t get in to see black performers and Sandman is beaten up by the stage manager just for wanting to talk to her in private.

While the love story of these two couples is played out there’s other stories swirling around them: Vincent becomes increasingly unhappy with getting shot up doing The Dutchman’s dirty work and plans to make his own move and get a bigger slice of the lucrative Harlem rackets.  Sandman and his brother Clay have a falling out and they break up their act.  Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins) realizes that the Italian/Sicilian mobs are making a big push into New York, squeezing out the Irish and Jewish gangsters and he thinks that maybe retirement isn’t looking so bad.  Dutch is getting increasingly crazier and crazier and the streets of Harlem are running red as he refuses to back down in his psychotic desire to take it from the control the black gangsters.  Dixie realizes that between his growing love for Vera and his disgust for Dutch his chances of staying healthy aren’t very good.  There are a lot of different stories going on but the movie never seems like its rushing or skimping on the characters and their fates.  The movie is a little over two hours long and none of the running time is wasted.  There’s never a slow point in the movie.  There are so many characters and so much story that Coppola can’t afford to waste any time.

Part of the reason the movie is so entertaining is the excellent casting.  Richard Gere and Gregory Hines are both good looking leading men and they’re wonderful here.  Richard Gere is billed as doing his own cornet solos and I dunno if that’s true or not but he certainly looks as if he knows what he’s doing.  And Gregory Hines is simply brilliant when he’s tap dancing and that’s his real life brother who plays his brother in the movie.  Supposedly the story of the Williams brothers is based on a lot of what happened to the Hines brothers in their own career.  Diane Lane and Lonette McKee are appropriately gorgeous leading women and it doesn’t hurt that they both know how to act very well.

But my favorite actors in the movie are Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne, who plays Frenchie, the bodyguard/confidant/partner of Owney Madden.  They’re based on real life gangsters of the era and I have no idea if they were as interesting in real life as they are in this movie but they shoulda been.  They make an odd pair, Madden squat and solid as a fireplug, possessing a culture and charm that masks his dangerous soul and Frenchie, a towering giant with a graveyard voice and deep set eyes.  The two of them are fiercely loyal and protective of each other and it’s demonstrated in a scene where Frenchie is kidnapped and Madden gladly pays the ransom.  Frenchie turns up alive and well and Madden is almost hysterical with worry as Frenchie calmly explains how he passed the time with his kidnappers.  Hoskins and Gwynne effortlessly steal the movie with that scene which ends up as something real and honestly touching.

What else is good in the movie?  Well, there’s Gwen Verdon who plays Dixie’s mother and Mario Van Peebles is one of The Cotton Club dancers.  Laurence Fishburne plays a character based on the great black gangster Bumpy Johnson, a character he would play again in “Hoodlum”.  The period costumes and sets look wonderful and the music and dancing work to give you an excellent idea of what that era must have been like.  And despite a couple of grisly deaths somehow Coppola manages to pull a happy ending out of all the bloody misery that doesn’t seem forced but has the same feeling of inevitability that his “Godfather” films do.

So should you see THE COTTON CLUB?  I have no idea why you wouldn’t want to.  It’s an excellent gangster movie made by a director who knows this material like a monkey knows coconuts and it’s an extremely well made period piece with plenty of great music and not a bad performance from any of the actors and how many movies have you ever heard me say that about?

Rated R

127 min