Amy Adams

Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg)

Catch Me If You Can is a spectacular showcase for Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t exactly rise up to meet him, not the filmmaking, not the writing, not his costars. With the exception of co-lead Tom Hanks, who’s a whole other thing, the direction, the writing, the supporting cast, they’re all tied together in a less than impressive knot.

Let’s get the filmmaking out of the way first.

Spielberg’s direction is adequate, at least as far as the composition goes. It’s never too good, it’s never too bad. The film opens with these extremely cute animated opening titles, but they go on way too long and the accompanying John Williams music is some of the film’s least impressive as far as the score goes. And the score’s usually middling so to open on a low point… Not a great start. Then the movie goes into the framing device (getting ahead of myself on the script problems) as FBI agent Hanks is trying to get DiCaprio out of a French prison. There’s something very affected about the style, with Spielberg mimicking late fifties and early sixties style without bringing anything new to it. He and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski don’t show the mid-sixties through rose colored glasses as much as they artificially twinkle the past. Everything shimmers with unreality, which kind of hurts the true story angle as Catch Me rarely shows how DiCaprio is pulling off his cons. Plus the age discrepancies. DiCaprio’s twenty-eight playing seventeen playing twenty-eight. It mostly works, thanks to DiCaprio’s performance but against some of what Spielberg and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson throw at him; there are significant hiccups.

Like Christopher Walken as DiCaprio’s WWII vet dad. Walken’s sixty; he looks pretty good for sixty. But he was supposed to be some kind of forty-year old grunt in WWII? Again, Catch Me’s fast and loose with its hold on reality but given it’s all about the amazing things DiCaprio’s character was actually able to do… not having to constantly suspend and re-suspend disbelief would be nice. Walken’s actually good, even if he’s a stunt cast and his part is so thin he’s just doing a generic Christopher Walken performance. Nathanson doesn’t do character development or texture. Even when the story needs it. Spielberg doesn’t help with it either; it’s DiCaprio’s movie but Spielberg’s more concerned with Hanks’s FBI agent.

Let me just use that to segue into Hanks. Hanks is not good. He does a questionable and pointless accent, presumably to make the character seem less flat, and there’s nothing else to it. First act, it seems like Hanks might go someplace—and the film does try to force him into a paternal relationship with DiCaprio, which doesn’t work—but it’s a nothing part. It’s not even engaging enough to be a caricature. Nathanson’s a shockingly thin writer.

Okay, maybe not shockingly. It’s not like the script’s ever got any more potential than it delivers. But Spielberg really does just go along with it. The female roles are exceptionally thin; they’re all dumb and easy, whether it’s bank teller Elizabeth Banks, flight attendant Ellen Pompeo, working girl Jennifer Garner, or nurse Amy Adams. Worse is when DiCaprio ends up staying longterm with Adams, it’s never clear why; especially since the movie makes fun of her so much. Though, I suppose, even worse is when Adams brings her parents into the film. Martin Sheen—in a stunningly bad bit of stunt-casting—is bad. Nancy Lenehan is mom, with zip to do, which is actually much better for her than, say, Nathalie Baye as DiCaprio’s mom. Baye gets the film’s worst part by far.

Through it all, DiCaprio manages to keep his head up and keep Catch Me working. He contends with some questionable makeup decisions, never getting to followthrough on set pieces, and the astoundingly bad pop culture reference. There’s a truly incompetent James Bond Goldfinger sequence, which ought to be a gimme but instead Spielberg completely fumbles it.

Spielberg never takes Catch Me If You Can seriously enough, from the casting to the writing to Kaminski’s silly photography. DiCaprio takes it seriously, to good effect. Hanks takes it seriously, to… if not bad effect, at least wanting. It’s a glossy, trite trifle. Could’ve been a lot more.

Though not with the same script, supporting cast, principal crew members, or director.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, based on the book by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; costume designer, Mary Zophres; produced by Spielberg and Walter F. Parkes; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abagnale Jr.), Tom Hanks (Carl Hanratty), Christopher Walken (Frank Abagnale), Nathalie Baye (Paula Abagnale), James Brolin (Jack Barnes), Amy Adams (Brenda Strong), Martin Sheen (Roger Strong), Nancy Lenehan (Carol Strong), Brian Howe (Earl Amdursky), Frank John Hughes (Tom Fox), Ellen Pompeo (Marci), Elizabeth Banks (Lucy), and Jennifer Garner (Cheryl Ann).


Justice League (2017, Zack Snyder)

Justice League exists, whether intentionally or not, outside a certain kind of critical examination. Director Snyder didn’t finish post-production. Or, at least, when the studio demanded lots of reshoots, Snyder wasn’t involved in a creative capacity. The job went to Joss Whedon, who gets a co-writer credit. Are the terrible scenes Whedon’s fault or Snyder’s fault? The generic, impersonal Danny Elfman score? Seems like Whedon’s fault. The terrible part for top-billed Ben Affleck? Probably Snyder’s fault. The crappy CGI?

Well, crappy CGI in DC Comics adaptations is definitely Warner Bros.’s fault. And it gets bad in Justice League. The lack of detail on the giant, personality-free adversary (boringly voiced by Ciarán Hinds) is stunning. Again, it’s not clear if Snyder supervising post would’ve led to better action scenes. The ones in Justice League are all pretty awful. Fabian Wagner’s photography is bland, David Brenner, Richard Pearson, and Martin Walsh’s editing is at best bland. It’s much often much worse. The action sequences lack imagination on every level, whether scale or just the idea of the superheroes working together.

Justice League has no scale. Someone–Snyder, Whedon, the producers, the studio, the twenty-third test audience–decided there shouldn’t be any establishing shots if they don’t have exposition. Justice League cuts from expository scene to expository scene, except Whedon and Chris Terrio’s Frankenstein script doesn’t have any texture to it. Not when it’s the main cast, not when it’s the supporting cast. Especially not when it’s poor Diane Lane and Amy Adams. Jeremy Irons gets terribly mistreated, but it’s nothing compared to Lane and Adams.

Adams is literally reduced to broken woman. While the whole world is ceasing to function because of what happened with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, instead of being a strong character who perceivers in the aftermath, she just breaks down. Not on screen, she just tells everyone about it. Well, she tells Lane and Henry Cavill about it because she has nothing else going on.

But Lane. Poor Lane. It appears Lane’s scenes are entirely, with one exception, Whedon’s. Cavill had a mustache while doing reshoots and there’s some bad (though apparently exceptionally expensive–read rushed) CG to mask out the mustache. The result is his mouth not moving right and his teeth being scrunched. So you can kind of tell. You can kind of tell who to blame.

And it’s Whedon who reduces Lane and Adams to broken women. At least Terrio and Snyder–apparently–made Affleck a broken man. He just can’t get on after what he’s done. Except he’s not haunted about it. He’s just bad, actually. He’s really, really bad. He’s supposed to be the straight man to a team of misfit superheroes, only they’re not misfit superheroes.

Misfits need personality and the Justice League has none. Ezra Miller’s got the most as the Flash and all he does is tell wisecracks. Then there’s Ray Fisher; he gives the film’s best performance in a thankless part. Even though he’s got a lot to do in the script, Fisher gets the least story of anyone. More offensively, it wastes Joe Morton as his dad.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. He’s got no personality, doesn’t really do anything in the action sequences except save people occasionally–by people, I mean the other superheroes. Like all DC Comics movies, no regular people are in danger in Justice League. Well, except one family; but they’re actually trapped in a Russian version of Tremors. Otherwise, no one’s in danger. Ever.

Anyway. Momoa. It’s not his fault. More than anyone else, it’s not his fault. His part’s terribly written and the editing on his introduction scenes is atrocious.

Gal Gadot’s supposedly the real straight person on the team, because she can see through Affleck’s guff. Only Affleck wants Gadot to lead the team. Or something. They get some painful scenes together. Again, it’s unclear if it’s Whedon or Snyder, but their scenes are awful. There’s negative chemistry coming from Affleck, even when the script has him mooning over Gadot. Though he does attack her personally when he needs to make a point. Affleck’s writing is so bad. Just. Beyond bad.

Gadot’s fine. She gets the most to do in action scenes, which is either because she’s had the most successful solo movie or just because no one else’s superpowers are good for the fight scenes. Snyder’s direction of the Flash action is terrible, for example.

Amber Heard’s got one scene and makes more impression than practically anyone else.

Cavill’s performance is hard to gauge. Whedon doesn’t write him good scenes. And he’s got a giant unmoving mouth. He and Adams exhibit their usual wondrous chemistry when it’s not a Whedon shot or line. Even still, Elfman’s music ruins even the non-Whedon material. Elfman’s score doesn’t fit. It’s frantic and rushed and usually clashes with the editing.

The only thing saving Justice League from being a disaster is the film disqualifying itself from being serious enough proposition to be a disaster. You open a movie, any movie, with the single worst cover of Everybody Knows–and there have been some terrible Everybody Knows covers–but an offensively bad Everybody Knows cover… well, it’s just too stupid to take seriously enough for it to be a disaster.

Instead, Justice League is intriguingly terrible. Was Snyder’s intention worse? Maybe. I doubt it, because even with all that material’s problems, it doesn’t have Cavill with the silly CG face. But the things Whedon clearly contributed are godawful.

What a mess.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, based on a story by Terrio and Zack Snyder and the comic book by Gardner Fox; director of photography, Fabian Wagner; edited by David Brenner, Richard Pearson, and Martin Walsh; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Patrick Taopoulos; produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg, and Geoff Johns; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Henry Cavill (Superman / Clark Kent), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman / Diana Prince), Ezra Miller (The Flash / Barry Allen), Jason Momoa (Aquaman / Arthur Curry), Ray Fisher (Cyborg / Victor Stone), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Joe Morton (Silas Stone), J.K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Amber Heard (Mera), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), and Ciarán Hinds (Steppenwolf).


Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve)

Stylist for hire. Stylist for hire. Denis Villeneuve is a stylist for hire on Arrival. He assembles a wonderful crew and they all do great work. Joe Walker’s editing is always assured, never flashy. Bradford Young’s photography is phenomenal. Arrival’s got a great color palette. Bored with its beauty or some such aesthetic. Excellent music from Jóhann Jóhannsson, even if it sounds a lot like Michael Nyman’s Wonderland score at times. And great production design from Patrice Vermette.

It’s a shame all this great technical work is on a cheap, manipulative narrative. Eric Heisserer’s got no understanding of narrative pacing, so he needs someone like Villeneuve who can assign tonal shifts to the narrative to move things along. I mean, there’s expository narration in Arrival because it’s got a somewhat lengthy present action for an alien encounter movie and a lot of science the film doesn’t want to make up in detail for the viewer. So, even with expository narration, Heisserer can’t make this thing move. It’s a boulder Villeneuve’s got to get going, then keep going. The style gets it through. The technical skill gets it through.

Until there’s a big reveal and the script gets worse. Arrival isn’t cheap and manipulative in terms of its plotting–actually, if the script worked, the plot would be fine–Heisserer’s cheap and manipulative in the detail, in the contrived events, in the lack of ambition or thoughtfulness. There are big logic wholes and not just because the film’s structured to hide the reveal. And that hide is an exceptionally manipulative–or potentially exceptionally manipulative–device on its own.

Arrival should offer Amy Adams an amazing role. It doesn’t. Worse, Villeneuve doesn’t seem to care. He’s concentrating on the filmmaking, not his actors’ performances. You can’t blame him–the actors have that script dragging them down, all Villeneuve has to do is expertly render it. Adams is fine. She’s good. She’s not great. It’s not a great role. It should be a great role and it isn’t.

Jeremy Renner practically deserves an “and” credit. He’s present but not active. Heisserer and Villeneuve ignore him. The second half’s pacing is wonky and, even though Renner gets the stop narration updating the ground situation, he doesn’t have much of a place in it. He needs a very big place in it given the twist and the hide. Villeneuve needed to deliver here with his two lead and he doesn’t.

Forest Whitaker’s awesome as the army guy who recruits Renner and Adams to talk to aliens. Oh, right; Arrival is about aliens coming to Earth. Whitaker can chew some scenery. It’s kind of a crap part given he doesn’t get any character development, even though its sort of promised. I can’t even get into how cheap Heisserer gets with the end of the second act events. If it weren’t for Villeneuve, they’d be big enough to jar you out.

Arrival is a big disappointment. Not just because of the talented people working on it, but because it’s a fine plot with a bad script and Villeneuve tries to mundanely stylize away that badness.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on a story by Ted Chiang; director of photography, Bradford Young; edited by Joe Walker; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, David Linde, and Aaron Ryder; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Amy Adams (Louise), Jeremy Renner (Ian), Michael Stuhlbarg (Halpern), Tzi Ma (Shang), and Forest Whitaker (Weber).


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zach Snyder), the ultimate edition

The extended version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t just the extended version of Batman/Superman, it’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition. There’s a second subtitle on the thing. It’s doubling down on the idea the extended cut in the post-DVD era. It’d be desperate if anything added in the “ultimate edition” actually made the film seem more “ultimate,” but it doesn’t. In fact, all the additional scenes and moments are good. And that quality is the problem, because they draw attention to the film’s failings.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition is a worse film for better scenes.

The first part of Dawn of Justice, in this cut, runs just around 107 minutes. Quite frankly, if the remaining seventy-three minutes–which have minimal additions, compared to the rather extended first part–just had Amy Adams narrating it and the first 107 minutes cut in as flashbacks, it might have all worked out. Because that first hour and fifty minutes are about Adams, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck. It’s about Adams and Cavill trying to figure out how to date as Lois Lane and Superman while Affleck’s a bit of a crazy Batman. Thank goodness Jeremy Irons (who excels far more in the ultimate edition) is around to keep Affleck sort of in check. Sort of.

But having this strong opening, with a far better paced investigation from Adams than the theatrical cut–not just because she gets a semi-sidekick in an affable Jena Malone cameo–but also because Cavill gets to be a reporter too. Dawn of Justice, the theatrical version, was already a great example of a disastrously plotted script, but the ultimate edition just shows how bad David Brenner is at editing a motion picture. Or how bad director Snyder is in instructing Brenner how to chop out a half hour. Because the first part, the fleshed out ultimate edition version of it, it works as a movie. There are some problems, sure, because Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script (or Terrio’s rendition of Goyer’s treatment) is still a mess. Affleck is still a very strange edition to the film. He doesn’t feel at all natural in the narrative. Not in the events of Dawn of Justice, but in how Brenner, Snyder, Terrio and Goyer have the character in the film itself. Snyder takes two different styles for Affleck and Cavill’s plots. The one he takes for Affleck is bad.

Only in the extended cut, it gets a bit of a pass. There’s just a better pace all around to help it out. And Irons is delightful. Affleck’s still good, he’s just not delightful. Having something delightful in Dawn of Justice is nice, because it lacks in delight. Though the ultimate edition does have a little bit more fun. And it does help. Snyder’s extremely competent–the stuff he does just for general superhero antics, like Batman beating people up or sneaking around and Superman flying, he has a great approach. I’d watch Zack Snyder’s three hour version of the “Can You Read My Mind?” sequence starring Cavill and Adams in a second. I’d watch it twice in a row. Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong make beautiful superhero moments.

But Snyder wants Dawn of Justice to be more than just a superhero movie. He wants it to be serious. And Terrio and Goyer’s script wants to be serious too. It even sees how it could be serious, it just never wants to take the time. But it gets a pass; the first hour and fifty get a pass. Cavill’s great, Adams is great, Affleck’s good. Larry Fishburne making fun of Cavill is magic; it’s awkward but somehow likable. Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Edition makes Morpheus a dick to Superman. What’s that about? It’s personality. Dawn of Justice needs personality.

It also needs a better reason to have Batman and Superman fight. At least in the theatrical version, the film ramps up to it. There’s no real narrative to concern oneself with. In the ultimate version, even Holly Hunter gets a better role. Not perfect, no, but better. Only there’s not room in a movie with such a narratively and somewhat stylistically inert finish to have better roles. The MacGuffin to Batman v Superman should be Batman and Superman fighting, but it isn’t because Snyder and Terrio and Goyer can’t come up with a reason to make them fight.

The fight scene between Cavill and Affleck resonates better in the ultimate edition. It doesn’t work–Snyder (and the script) can’t handle passing the film off from Cavill to Affleck in this moment. It needed to be when there was a real flashback to the Batman origin, not the opening credits. How Warner Bros. didn’t bring in someone to at least fix this thing up in post is beyond me. There’s so much material and it could be cut so much better.

And Gal Gadot suffers a little in the ultimate edition. She disappears for too long and when she comes back as Wonder Woman, she’s got very little to do. She and Affleck needed another scene together, not a creepy email from a forty-something man to a much younger woman. The ultimate edition amplifies the theatrical. Everything bad, it makes worse, everything good, it makes better.

Jesse Eisenberg is good. Scoot McNairy is good. Callan Mulvey isn’t. I don’t even remember Mulvey having enough to do in the theatrical version for him to not be good. Everything bad, worse. Everything good, better.

It would be nice if that first 107 minutes were enough better to make up for the worse, but they aren’t. The big problem with Dawn of Justice is the resolution and conclusion, the two big fight scenes. They’re narrative disasters, just like they were in the theatrical version. They just weren’t as noticeably weaker in the shorter version. The ultimate edition shows real quality, real potential. Dawn of Justice could’ve weathered its pretense. But Snyder and Brenner–not to mention Terrio and Goyer–messed it up. And it’s actually too bad, because it’s not about the franchise deserving better and it sure isn’t about the audience deserving better, it’s about the actors. Adams, Cavill, Affleck, Irons, Hunter, Eisenberg. They all do some really good work in this film. Their performances deserve a better film.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Holly Hunter (Senator Finch), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Harry Lennix (Swanwick), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev) and Jena Malone (Jenet Klyburn).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zack Snyder)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, as a film, just as unwieldy as that title. Director Snyder, through a strange, comforting overconfidence, gets the film through its two and a half hour run time. By the end, when Snyder teases a cliffhanger, teases various comic book references, it’s a deceleration process. The viewer has made it to the finish line, here’s promise of a future reward (the setup of further movies).

Snyder brings no style to Dawn of Justice. He has a feel for the material–his dark and dreary take on Ben Affleck’s Batman, a lonely drunk surrounded by faceless women and haunted by Jeremy Irons (who might as well be a ghost, he has zero interaction with anyone else), is a big success, but it’s more. Most of Dawn of Justice is divinely fluid. David Brenner’s editing, Larry Fong’s photography, even Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score–there’s a visual flow to the film. Snyder can get to all the various stories going on (at two and a half hours, the film’s about an hour too short and an hour too long), even if Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay cannot.

I can’t even list all the stories. Basically, every character has a story going on with every other character (except Jeremy Irons, of course, and Holly Hunter to some degree). All of the actors are pretty darn good at it, even if Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay is exceptionally lazy, but these stories don’t really go anywhere. They all get resolutions, usually lame ones, but the “big story” gets introduced halfway into the film. More than halfway into the film and it gets no more weight than numerous other plot points, so it taking over is a bit of a surprise.

Unfortunately, all of these stories tend to be to tie in to the characters’ other stories. The result is nothing for most of the actors to do. Terrio, Goyer and Snyder wuss out on Cavill, robbing him of various great possible scenes. They don’t even shortchange him for Affleck, they shortchange him as Superman. He gets more to do as Clark Kent, which is fine (and comparing how Affleck approaches his role with how Cavill’s approach is interesting), but it’s not called Batman v Clark Kent.

As a result of shortchanging Cavill’s Superman antics for most of the run time (the super antics get told in summary montages), he doesn’t feel like much of a character. He still is a character because of the Clark Kent stuff–and Cavill and Adams, failed by the screenplay, are wonderful together–but he’s also not. And neither is Affleck, because–again–there’s a lot of misdirection from the script.

So is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor a large enough character? No. Eisenberg’s performance is great (for most of the film) but it all falls apart in the second half, when the film races to tie everything up and it becomes One Bad Night. In the end, Dawn of Justice’s action-packed finale has nothing to do with the film anyone had been building toward.

The script’s kind of bad, kind of mediocre. It gives Affleck and Gal Gadot (oh, yeah, she’s Wonder Woman–you’re supposed to get excited for her movie; you do) the opportunity to show off chemistry. They also get some boring moments playing on their computers to further the plot.

Snyder’s timing is good until the big finish. He hits a lot of good marks, but he’s in a rush. That overconfidence makes it seem like it’s okay to be rushed, but eventually it’s not okay anymore. Eventually, there’s a vacuum. Snyder can’t even find a tone for the film. It’s like he realized he was going to cop out of all the first act’s narrative expectations. He tries to distract the viewer from reaching the same conclusion with a lot of fanfare, a lot of nonsense. He’s got a strong cast, they get the movie through.

Dawn of Justice doesn’t succeed, it has enough trouble just surviving.

Wait, can’t forget–Holly Hunter is so good with nothing to work with. She’s real good.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Tao Okamoto (Mercy Graves), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev) and Holly Hunter (Senator Finch).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Man of Steel (2013, Zack Snyder)

Man of Steel is good. It’s really good. Not only is it really good, I like it enough for a 500 word special.

There’s always a moment in a good action movie when it eventually runs out of steam and one has to give it some thought. There’s a breather scene, in other words. For Man of Steel, director Snyder uses flashbacks to Kevin Costner (as Superman’s dad) for the breather scenes and they aren’t breathers. They’re these intensely emotional scenes in between the action, which often have intense emotions too.

The present action of the film takes place over a few days, maybe a week. David S. Goyer’s script never gets exact–he’s dealing with alien spacecraft and a man who can fly so speeding between two locations isn’t a problem–but it never feels rushed. Snyder gets in a few nice little human moments for Superman Henry Cavill, who’s usually busy flying around the planet.

Snyder and Goyer take a moderately realistic approach to a super-powered alien suddenly flying around the globe. They seem to err on the side of excess–why would anyone get so excited about a guy in a red cape when there are alien spaceships too–but they know how to manage it. Snyder’s not original in his approach (he acknowledges his sources in a cute way) but he applies them well.

Snyder’s assured direction would be the star of Man of Steel if he weren’t consciously putting Cavill front and center. Michael Shannon gets a lot to do and he’s great; he and Cavill play wonderfully off each other. There’s a lot of nice subtext in their scenes. Shannon always gives the impression he’s holding back a little, making a well-timed outburst all the more effective.

As Lois Lane, Amy Adams does fine. She has surprisingly little to do, even though she’s undeniably integral. She’s not the star and Snyder and Goyer’s economy doesn’t allow for her to have much to herself.

Costner and Diane Lane are both excellent as Cavill’s adoptive parents. Snyder gets away with implying a lot about their relationship; the music from Hans Zimmer, Amir Mokri’s photography and David Brenner’s editing are essential to those implications. Snyder doesn’t exactly require a lot from his audience, but he’s definitely setting certain bars higher than others. The fight scenes, while technically magnificent, are still rather simple. The character stuff… he veers towards the sublime.

And there’s an even mix of character and action, even for the supporting cast (so when they forget someone, it’s unfortunately noticeable).

Russell Crowe’s good in the Brando role, surprisingly so, even if he’s around a little much. Not around enough is Ayelet Zurer as Cavill’s birth mother. She’s fantastic in her scenes. Antje Traue doesn’t have enough to do, but Goyer still takes the time to give her a whole arc with Christopher Meloni’s military guy.

Man of Steel can’t be much better. Goyer, Snyder and Cavill (and Zimmer) hit all the right notes.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and Christopher Nolan and characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by David Brenner; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Alex McDowell; produced by Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder and Emma Thomas; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Henry Cavill (Clark Kent), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Ayelet Zurer (Lara Lor-Van), Antje Traue (Faora-Ul), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Nathan Hardy), Harry Lennix (General Swanwick), Richard Schiff (Dr. Emil Hamilton), Michael Kelly (Steve Lombard) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson)

It would be wrong to call The Master a self-indulgent masterpiece, as it’s not a masterpiece (except maybe for Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s photography and Mark Bridges’s costumes… oh, and the sound design) but it’s also not self-indulgent. Anderson shows no personality until the end credits, when he sends shouts out to family members. Well, I guess that inclusion does qualify as self-indulgent (or worse).

The Master actually isn’t easy to talk about. There’s a purple elephant in the room as far as a twist and I don’t want to give it away. Not to say I want anyone else to suffer through the film–and especially not the end credits–but it’d just be mean. I will say Anderson does blatantly rip off a rather famous line from Midnight Run. It’s for one of Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s scenes. Their scenes are usually pretty good. Hoffman’s absolutely wonderful in the film. His performance doesn’t make up for the rest of it, but he does distract from it.

As for Phoenix, it’s hard to say. Anderson’s got him limping, got him walking around with a distinctive hands-on-his-hips look, got him talking with a jaw injury… And I haven’t even mentioned Phoenix looking forty-five but playing a guy in his mid-to-late twenties.

Amy Adams has the next biggest part. She’s so affected, Phoenix looks like he’s giving a natural performance.

The Master‘s a bloated mess of self-important, faux profundity.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; director of photography, Mihai Malaimare Jr.; edited by Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty; music by Jonny Greenwood; production designers, David Crank and Jack Fisk; produced by Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi and JoAnne Sellar; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Lancaster Dodd), Amy Adams (Peggy Dodd), Laura Dern (Helen Sullivan), Ambyr Childers (Elizabeth Dodd), Jesse Plemons (Val Dodd), Rami Malek (Clark), Lena Endre (Mrs. Solstad), Madisen Beaty (Doris Solstad) and Kevin J. O’Connor (Bill William).


The Muppets (2011, James Bobin)

The Muppets is confused.

The screenplay from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller oscillates between being this lame story about Segel and his brother, a Muppet named Walter (indistinctly performed by Peter Linz), and his girlfriend (Amy Adams) and a better story of the Muppets reuniting.

The better story is, unfortunately, not exactly good. There are some good moments, but Segel and Stoller take a very serious approach to the Muppets. Kermit is a, well, hermit. Gonzo and Piggy have sold out. Fozzie’s working in Reno. Rowlf doesn’t even get a backstory; it’s hard not to read into that slight, since Rowlf was previously the symbol of Jim Henson’s legacy.

But the good stuff in The Muppets can’t outweigh the bad. Segel gives a weak performance, but he’s still leagues ahead of Adams. Adams is shockingly bad and creepily artificial. Neither character matters to the film and much of The Muppets is Segel and Stoller forcing their story into the picture.

Most of the human performances are bad. Chris Cooper is awful, maybe even worse than Adams.

Only Rashida Jones is good and she’s barely in it.

Watching The Muppets, I tried to imagine watching it again and could not. Segel and Stoller have some really stupid details and, until Kermit shows up, the film is pretty dreadful. Bobin is a bad director.

As for the Muppets… Without the original performers, Muppets feels even more like a corporate construction.

It’s not a complete failure, but it’s too close to being one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Bobin; screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, based on characters created by Jim Henson; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by James M. Thomas; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Steve Saklad; produced by David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Peter Linz (Walter) and Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman and Matt Vogel as the Muppets.

Starring Jason Segel (Gary), Amy Adams (Mary), Chris Cooper (Tex Richman), Rashida Jones (Veronica) and Jack Black (himself).


Doubt (2008, John Patrick Shanley)

There’s a good movie somewhere in the idea of Doubt (a nun suspects a priest of molesting a child, but it’s 1964 and the patriarchy of the Church isn’t going to listen to her). The film’s full of almost detective moments (and faux-auteur Shanley pulls out some Hitchcock angles after the big reveal), but the film never embraces that nature. As a character study masquerading as a detective story, Doubt would have been fantastic. As an awkward conversation drama–Shanley opens the film in the church’s neighborhood, then never returns to this neighborhood, it’s all malarky to make a theater adaptation seem opened up for the screen–it’s a failure.

The fault lies, obviously, with Shanley. There are two major problems with his script here. First, either Philip Seymour Hoffman is a good guy priest unduly hunted by Streep or he’s a child molester. I’m sure Shanley feels the movie–ultimately–lets the viewer decide, but that position isn’t just a cop-out (Doubt is in no way a piece about the way people talk to each other so it doesn’t get any leeway for being wishy-washy), it’s also a load. The entire movie, Shanley makes ever action Hoffman takes suspicious. It’s like watching, well, Suspicion. Presumably, the viewer is supposed to wait for proof, for the climatic showdown between Streep and Hoffman where all is revealed. Here’s the problem–if Hoffman’s a pederast, if there’s even a possibility of it, why not just judge him right out. It’s not like Shanley’s just making a movie about a guy killing his wife or robbing a bank, Doubt‘s an argument to–against all the weighted evidence Shanley presents–give the pederast the benefit of the (sorry) doubt. It’s kind of an icky feeling.

The second problem is the lack of character depth. Again, I’m sure Shanley thinks it’s all about the way things play out objectively, but the characters all have hints of depth, but it’s just matte paintings. Streep could have one of her most interesting characters in this part of her career, but instead, she’s playing a mix of the Emperor from Star Wars, the Wicked Witch, Grampa Simpson and the bad lady from Sleeping Beauty. It’s amazing she turns in such a good performance, especially since Shanley wrote most of her dialogue and reactions to get laughs. Her funniest line, the one where Doubt becomes a hilariously turgid melodramatic turd, is actually not for laughs, which goes to show how aware Shanley is of his work.

Sadly, Hoffman isn’t good. His performance shows off his ability–Shanley’s even got him making voices–but the role’s faulty.

Amy Adams is actually pretty darn good, but watching her act opposite Streep and Hoffman… it’s watching a personality (Amy Adams as a naive nun) against actual craftspersons. A trailer for one of Adams’s upcoming pictures played before Doubt and the biggest difference were the vows and the outfit.

Viola Davis has one major scene and is fantastic. Streep’s quiet for most of the scene too, which allows for comparison between the two–Davis wins.

Until that absurdist, goofy last moment, Doubt isn’t terrible. Streep and Adams pull it through–and Hoffman’s fine for the first half, until he’s all of a sudden got to play a real person (something Shanley apparently refuses to write). Alice Drummond’s got a thanklessly small role and she’s awesome. Howard Shore’s music and Roger Deakins’s photography are both excellent.

So where does it go wrong? With Shanley. I’ve never seen someone more ignorant of his or her own work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Patrick Shanley; screenplay by Shanley, based on his play; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Howard Shore; production designer, David Gropman; produced by Scott Rudin and Mark Roybal; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn), Amy Adams (Sister James), Viola Davis (Mrs. Miller), Joseph Foster (Donald Miller), Alice Drummond (Sister Veronica), Audrie Neenan (Sister Raymond), Susan Blommaert (Mrs. Carson), Carrie Preston (Christine Hurley) and John Costelloe (Warren Hurley).


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