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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 14, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 24
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Headline to come - Action-heavy Man of Steel fails to soar
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MAN OF STEEL
Opens June 14


I loved Richard Donner's Superman movie as a kid and enjoyed its sequel (Superman II) arguably even more, the two late-'70s adventures capturing my imagination even though I wasn't all that knowledgeable, or even that big of a fan, of the original comic books created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. A quarter-century later, I was just as enraptured by Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, his film one part homage to the Donner original while also a gutsy, not altogether successful attempt to re-imagine the godlike superhero for a new generation.

I mention all of this because, even though I have deep, long-lasting affinity for those three motion pictures, that didn't mean I wasn't intrigued by the possibility of a new take on the iconic hero. At the same time, I'd be lying if I didn't equally admit to a few worries - the idea of The Dark Knight trilogy handlers Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer producing and crafting the script and 300 and Watchmen director Zack Snyder handling the directorial reins not to my mind the best of decisions.

Why? To put it frankly, what worked for Batman - making him gritty, grounding him in a real-world aesthetic, giving him morally complicated demons he would have to face, work through, and overcome - probably would not work for Superman. The genius of the two DC Comics staples is their polar-opposite compositions: they're yin and yang, night and day, light and dark, both becoming heroes via undeniably disparate paths and both taking up their mantel for decidedly differing reasons while not necessarily in agreement what their status as crime fighters ultimately means.

Still, I was more than willing to give Man of Steel every benefit of the doubt. Nolan has proven himself to be a consummate filmmaker of the first degree, while Goyer (Blade: Trinity notwithstanding) has shown an understanding of superhero universes and mythology second to none. As for Snyder, while his remake of Dawn of the Dead is the only film in his oeuvre I've ever grown to love, the man's visual flair, sense of pace, and knack for astonishing action speaks for itself, and while his fanboy flourishes can be his undoing (e.g., Sucker Punch), I imagined his baser tendencies would thankfully be held in check by the producers.

On that latter point I was happy to be proven right. This new take on the Superman origin looks and sounds terrific, Snyder unleashing a series of spectacular images and moments one after the other that deserve to be seen on as large a screen as possible. More than that, his penchant for unabashed drippy melodrama is moderately reined in, the director allowing a few signature moments to breathlessly speak for themselves in a way I honestly didn't think him capable of.

WHAT'S MISSING
At the same time I am extremely conflicted by this new take on the DC legend. Where is the heart? Where is the emotion? Where is the character development? Where are the arcs that would allow this tale to resonate as fully and as complete as it should? All of that has been stripped away, cleaved in two by Goyer's script and his and Nolan's story, the pair going out of their way to give things a stark, morally complex gravitas but forgetting to make such changes matter in the process.

I do like the fact that the actual origin itself, save for the destruction of Krypton, that portion told, more or less, in the same fashion found in Donner's Superman only with more laser-weapon fire, Matrix-inspired bioengineering, giant Heavy Metal-esque creatures and a rabid General Zod (Michael Shannon) barking commands, is told in nonlinear fashion, Snyder and company starting things with Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) at age 33, drifting here to there attempting to discover who he is and why he was sent to Earth. Snippets of his Kansas upbringing with Ma (Diane Lane) and Pa (Kevin Costner) Kent are strewn throughout, and while the beats themselves are familiar how they are delivered is at the very minimum refreshingly novel.

Problem is, by layering things thusly, while only spotlighting Clark's journey culminating in the discovery of a Kryptonian spaceship, where his long-dead father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is able to communicate with him, no real feel for the character or those who influence him most can be fully ascertained. More than that, some of the players, most notably ace reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and to a lesser extent human mom Martha Kent, become nothing more than bits of window dressing, each having the appearance of being active participants in the tale but by the end sadly becoming anything but.

UNINSPIRED VILLAINY
Then there are the villains themselves. Shannon does his best bit of blustering as Zod, shouting from the rooftops as he attempts to get Clark/Kal-El into his clutches. But at a certain point watching him continually stomp around with such vitriol gets more than a little tiresome, and while the actor is admittedly gifted the feeling he's phoning some of this in is nonetheless difficult to shake. If anything, he's overshadowed by his lieutenant, the icily imposing Faora-Ul, the character played with ferociously sinister tenacity by German actress Antje Traue. Yet overall I just didn't find any of the Kryptonians particularly scary, and honestly their ultimate plan to terraform the planet to their own design isn't all that far removed from what Lex Luthor was looking to do in either Superman or Superman Returns.

Still, while Snyder can lay the religious iconography on a bit thick (for those who had a problem with Singer doing the same in his outing, wait until you get a look at some of the poses Cavill displays here), and while a battle with a mechanical beastie in the Indian Ocean borders on nonsensical (where did all the anime-like metallic tentacles come from?), much of the action in Man of Steel has a kinetic intensity none of the previous Superman flicks can come close to matching. More, while no single sequences rises to the same majestic heights as the central airliner-saving theatrics in Superman Returns, as far as overall whiz-bang is concerned this movie is frequently an eye-popping blast.

What does all of this add up to? Honesty, I'm not certain. I didn't dislike Man of Steel at all, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I wanted to, either. Nothing about this latest Superman iteration captivated me, none of it connected on an emotional level, and while the action theatrics fly considerably higher than any previous adaptation, the shortcomings found in the human department frustratingly kept the project as a whole from soaring.


Grizzly Sightseers is a satirically twisted gem
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SIGHTSEERS
Opens June 14
Considering the man behind the camera is Down Terrace and Kill List impresario Ben Wheatley, you sort of know going in that Sightseers isn't going to be your typical misbegotten-road-trip romantic comedy. On the surface the clichés are all there - quietly lonely Tina (Alice Lowe) breaking out of her shell, as well as out of the shadow of her domineering mother Carol (Eileen Davies), agreeing to go on a caravan trip with boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). Mishaps ensue on the road, of course, the pair drifting more and more into one another's arms as things systematically fall to pieces.

But the mayhem isn't exactly what you anticipate it to be, Chris something of a maniacal sociopath while Tina is so sheltered and unsure of herself she ends up looking at many of his more murderous acts as dramatic romantic gestures. The movie is like Two for the Road crossed with God Bless America with a serious dose of Serial Mom thrown in for good measure, the resultant motion picture a devilishly sinister observational satiric enterprise that's as sweet and sentimental as it is out for blood.

Originally, stars Lowe and Oram had meant their scenario for television but for obvious reasons they discovered their ideas to be a tough sell. They quickly refashioned them into a screenplay and took them to Wheatley, and truth be told I can't think of a more qualified filmmaker to bring all of this freewheeling bloodily disturbed nonsense to life. With an assist from frequent Wheatley collaborator Amy Jump (who gets an additional material credit), the resultant film is a smartly spirited evisceration of modern mores and attitudes, and even if the tone is decidedly British the universality of what is being stated is impossible to miss.

MURDER JUBILEE
Things begin innocuously enough, the mayhem beginning before the pair have even hit the road. As for the first murder, the way it is presented is so blasé, Chris running the man over with his trailer getting no more than a slap on the wrist from the police for doing so. But things quickly escalate and it begins to take less and less for a potential victim to do something deemed uncouth or improper in the eyes of those passing summary judgment on whether or not they'll go on living. It's fairly horrible and yet most of the time it's hard not to relate to why the road trippers' dander has been raised to such a fevered pitch, making for an uncomforting dichotomy fitting the tone and purpose of the material perfectly.

The movie doesn't have the same visual mystery or ingenuity of Wheatley's stupendous Kill List, and the characters for obvious reasons aren't especially deep. More than that, some of the targets grow increasingly obvious as things progress to their somewhat inevitable conclusion, Lowe, Oram, and Jump not necessarily aiming as high as they potentially could have.

But Sightseers is extremely funny start to finish, producing numerous laugh-out-loud moments that took me by complete surprise. Lowe and Oram are a great pair of understated hams, their outlook on the killing spree entirely unexpected and, in its own dysfunctional way, actually kind of oddly wholesome. This movie shows once again that Wheatley is an inspired talent willing to bend genre to his will come what may, this cult-favorite-in-the-making a sick and twisted gem overflowing with gory inspiration dripping from every single one of its razor-sharp incisors.






Jinkxies! It's Hairspray! - Seattle's drag superstar is Velma in a special 10th anniversary edition of the musical
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Lady Bunny - An exclusive SGN interview on the eve of her new single release
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All hail the kings - Meet the LGBT community's most overlooked performing artists
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Have time for a quickie? - Live Girls! Theater's annual festival of short plays offers many delights
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Her own private Afghanistan - New City's Homebody is an intimate, revealing monologue
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Desert of dysfunction - ACT's latest explores the dynamics of a politically divided family
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Sub Pop and Hotel Max make music together
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Headline to come - Action-heavy Man of Steel fails to soar
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Grizzly Sightseers is a satirically twisted gem
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Come have fun with Cyndi Lauper - Tony Award winner lands in Tacoma this weekend
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Northwest News
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Letters
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