Posts Tagged ‘Michael Shannon’

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Man of Steel

March 1, 2014

I am a fan of Superman. I do enjoy watching the many versions of the character in live action and in animated form. So far though, I think the animated version Superman portrays him the best, with the television versions following very closely. I enjoy their takes on the character, making him unique to the series mythos and staying true to the origin story and other key points that make the character.

The films however have received a bad rap. While the actors portraying Clark Kent and his alter ego do not seem miscast, they do encounter terrible storytelling. It is hard to top Christopher Reeve and his portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton in the first two Superman movies. While the sequels to the movies suffered much in the same way as Batman did before Christopher Nolan bought in real worldliness to the films, Superman almost had a new start with “Superman Returns.” However, there were many missteps in the story that made the movie fall flat. While an enjoyable yarn, it rehashes some of the too familiar schemes of Lex Luthor and tried to tie it to the original Christopher Reeve movies.

This time around, Christopher Nolan lent his help with producing another attempt with reinvigorating interest in Superman and his cast of characters. Zach Snyder was chosen to direct, with a resume that has comic book movies “Watchmen” and “300,” he seemed an ideal choice to take on the character. In this version, he takes Superman on a personal odyssey of self discovery and given many of the background characters some depth and more story.

“Man of Steel” is more the story of a god that walks among men and this same god looking for his place in the world. It hints at the growing pains the young Clark spent as his alien physiology adapted to the world around him, and how it alienated him from others. It also gives the classic origin story more levity by giving Superman’s birth parents Jor-El and Lara more than being simple exposition.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with snippets of Clark’s life, past and present intertwining with events unfolding in his present. It can be a little disorienting and seem a little jumbled, but, it is done rather tastefully to match the tones of the scenes. They tell the origin story as if we haven’t seen it before.

The planet of Krypton is a terraformed world that is dying from its own devices. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Antje Traue) plan to save their son using the meager resources he has to create and craft a ship to carry his son to Earth, a scouted planet that may be home to the next Krypton. Shortly after Kal-El’s birth, General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a military coup to overthrow the current government. Jor-El manages to steal and encode into his son the codex of the Kryptonian species, a database of genetic information that someday would be used to revive the Kryptonian race via their process of reproduction through artificial means. General Zod catches up with Jor-El and kills him before he could stop the launch of the capsule with infant Kal-El.

General Zod and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone, where they would be indefinitely incarcerated for their war crimes. Shortly afterwards, the planet Krypton explodes.

The ship crash lands in the town of Smallville, Kansas, near the family farm of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who found the infant Kal-El and adopted him as their son.  His growth in our world was difficult, as his physiology took time to adapt to Earth’s atmosphere.  These changes isolate the young Clark from the rest of his classmates and childhood friends. Concealing his abilities proved difficult, as he saves his friends and classmates from a near fatal bus crash. Clark learns that he is not from the planet Earth, but in fact a survivor from another world that is alien to him.

Fast forward to the present, and you see Clark (Henry Cavill) wandering around doing odd jobs and traveling, helping others as it allows him. He save an oil rig crew from a fiery explosion, but in turn has to move on from his job as a fisherman on a trawler. He is making his way north.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has been granted permission to see a mysterious alien structure that the military is trying to investigate. Clark has also managed to sneak onto the work site as a civilian member of the exploration team. The structure turns out to be a Kryptonian scout ship that had landed on Earth a long time ago, and was one of the scout ships that alerted Jor-El of Earth’s potential for colonization. Clark discovers his history through the avatar of his father Jor-El.

Due to the events at the alien ship, Lois decides to work on finding this mysterious person who has been performing superhuman feats to protect others. Her  investigation leads her back to Smallville, where she encounters him again.

Freed from the Phantom Zone incarceration, General Zod and his followers manage to cannibalize their prison into a ship. They searched for the remaining Kryptonian colonies that were scattered across  the galaxy, finding none that had survived. During this search, he learns of Earth and it being home to the last surviving Kryptonian, the infant son of Jor-El. Upon arriving at Earth, he threatens its citizenry unless Kal-El steps forward.

Clark surrenders to the US government, hoping that his surrender would help render a truce or as an act of peace between the surviving Kryptonians. Zod has ulterior motives that lead to a knock down drag out fight with the fate of Earth at stake, as Zod activates a terraforming world engine to start work on turning Earth into a new Krypton.

I found this movie to be a bit of fresh air to the Superman series of films and his 75 plus years. It takes many of the elements from the comics, a few bits of lore from the various TV, serials, and animation and mixes them together to make a very modern take of the hero we know and love. It does go over the origin story again, only giving the characters of Jor-El and Lara, not to mention the other Kryptonians, more depth and levity to their characters. This was a utopian society that was suddenly collapsing, giving rise to the military coup led by General Zod. He  did what he thought was best to help wrest control from the seemingly ignorant government.

While Clark’s story continued on Earth, it was less of a happy experience as depicted in comics and animation, rather it was the worst imaginable as his body changed and having little control of it. It is far off from many of his television depictions, as is more closely resembling his growth in the TV series “Smallville.”

His growth into the role of Superman was well conceived, following many plotlines from the recent comics. This gives the character of Superman more human flaws and makes for a much more relatable character.

Henry Cavill fills this role nicely with a nobility that slowly grows from his humble beginnings. Michael Shannon  makes for a good General Zod, making him more of a realistic soldier trying to save what he believes is right and important. His actions don’t necessarily make him a complete villain, more of a man trying to save what he can the best way he knows how. It is a very interesting role for him. Russell Crowe is a scene stealer, giving the very important role of Jor-El much more definition. Amy Adams seemed well cast as a bit world weary yet still curious Lois Lane. She lacks a bit of the fiery charm that makes the character interesting.

Overall I thought this was a nice updated take on the greatest hero created. It modernizes him to fit in with the times, it fits a lot of classic stories into the movie, and delivers a lot of action and character. While it falls flat in some areas, there are some that breathes new life into the characters and makes for a more rounded story.

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Premium Rush

May 3, 2013
"I'm flying!"

“I’m flying!”

I enjoy bicycling. I haven’t ridden in a while and I hope to change that, now that I am settled here in the Bay Area and am getting over my fear of biking in the area. I was looking for a little push to get back in the saddle and help shed the pounds. I remembered seeing a trailer for a Joseph Gordon Levitt movie that I thought might give a little kick.

“Premium Rush” is a thrilling chase movie involving bike messengers. It centers on Wilee and a special delivery. We follow him on a typical day where he gets to help out a friend, and the day goes completely to hell. Parts of this movie are told in flashbacks to key points of each character’s participation in the story. It’s a little jarring and can throw you off.

Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bike messenger for Security Couriers in New York. He was a promising law student who dropped out to pursue his passion in bicycle riding. Once a trick rider and racer, he now rides a fixed or single gear bike. The battered white bike has no brakes. He is one of the fastest bike messengers in the city; earning him the nickname ‘coyote’ as in the Warner Bros. cartoon character.

After making another satisfied delivery, he is outdone by Manny (Wole Parks) a rival messenger, who has his sights on Wilee’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez). They trade calls and insults. Wilee also tries to get a hold of Vanessa but do not talk until they get back to home base.

Raj the dispatcher (Aasif Mandvi) receives a request from one of Wilee’s friends, Nima (Jamie Chueng). She requests that he deliver an envelope to a ‘Sister Chen’ in Chinatown. She is nervous about the delivery. With time to spare, Wilee gets a little food. As he is about to depart, he is confronted by a stranger asking for that envelope. He flatly refuses per his and company policy.

En route to his delivery, he is pursued by the stranger in a car chase while he is on a bike. They are zipping along in New York at a dangerous pace, with Wilee drawing attention to a New York bicycle cop. He escapes his pursuers and decides to report it to the police.

At the station, he learns that the man pursuing him is a detective. Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) is pursing Wilee in order to clear a debt with a Chinese loan shark. Wilee sees him at the station and hides in the bathroom and later sneaks out of the station, only to be pursued by the same bike cop from earlier. In another flashback, we learn more about Monday’s money troubles with a large gambling debt. He is given an opportunity to clear the debt by getting a ticket stub from a young woman later to be identified as Nima. This stub is a marker that is redeemable with Mr. Leung (Henry O) who is holding Nima’s money for a specific purpose.

Angered by the unwanted attention by the police, he returns the ticket to Nima’s office and cancels the job. Meanwhile, Raj had arranged Manny to deliver the package. Nima did not receive the package and was not informed of the sudden change in delivery address. In another series of flashbacks on Nima, we learn that she had been squirreling away money and took it to Mr. Huang. The ticket stub she received was a marker that allowed someone else to claim the money that she leaves with Mr. Huang. She decides to call her friend Wilee for delivery of this stub.

It turns out Detective Monday had the delivery address changed. Manny was delivering the message unknowingly into the hands of a corrupt cop. Wilee races to catch up with Manny to retrieve the stub. They race through Central Park. Meanwhile, Vanessa is also in pursuit of the two rivals. She was roommates with Nima, who was asked to leave her apartment for personal reasons. She learns of why she did and what the ticket stub is for.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dania Ramirez evade their pursuers.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dania Ramirez evade their pursuers.

Manny is intercepted by the Bike cop, with Detective Monday holding off Willee. Vanessa swoops in and snags Manny’s bag with the important ticket stub. Racing off, Wilee and Vanessa try to elude the cops. A brief interlude has Wilee remove the ticket stub and stuffs it into the handlebar of the bike. Their escape is short-lived as Wilee is hit by a cab.

Detective Monday presses a heavily injured Wilee for the whereabouts of the ticket stub, while Vanessa follows the impounded bike back to the police’s impound lot to retrieve the stub. Wilee convinces Detective Monday to bring him to the impound lot to retrieve his bike and has Manny brought over as well. Manny is used as a distraction while Wilee and Vanessa plan their escape with the ticket stub. Time is running out as the ticket stub needs to be delivered to Sister Chen in order to complete Nima’s request.

I found this movie to be a thrill, even though the plot is a bit weak and uses some Chinese as stereotypes in movies. Still it grabbed my attention with the amazing chase scenes and some good acting. Director David Koepp (screenwriter for Spider-man, Mission Impossible) stitches together a compelling movie that has some good characters with a kind of ‘slice of life’ in New York.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is easily the star of the movie, but really lets his costars shine in this work. He effortlessly becomes Wilee the thrill seeking cyclist who risks his butt on riding as a messenger day to day. According to the DVD, there were four other riders used to double for Gordon-Levitt, each one specializing in trick or race riding. The main one, Austin Horse, is the real world Wilee and is one of the fastest bike messengers in New York.

Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Detective Monday was also a highlight. I found him to be rather sleazy and annoying. He reminded me of a young Michael Keaton. I found his voice to be a bit grating, but it added flavor to his character. His Detective Monday, while not completely intimidating, is threatening and dogged enough to want him to stop following you. Like Wilee, you want him off your back.

Another highlight that it sheds light on is the camaraderie bike messengers have. It is a thankless, high risk job. They do look out for each other and other bicyclists who often get the short end of the stick even biking around town. It is a fine representation of this. I am reminded of a time when I encountered a bike messenger who thought I was one. He liked the then rare racing handlebars on my bike, even though I was simply on my way to work in Seattle’s Chinatown. He was really polite and fast, zooming off up a hill that I would easily struggle with.

This movie reminds me of both the thrills and dangers of riding a bike in the city and how to be alert. You do have to be cautious out there, even though there are bike lanes and such. Drivers do not necessarily see you. I have smacked into a few cars and pavement in my time to know what to do and to watch out for.

“Premium Rush” is not a bad yarn of a movie. It is quite the chase movie with a rather stereotypical plot device/crime in the middle tying all the pieces together. I found it to be a thrill despite of that. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a rising star that keeps getting better in the movies I see him in. Now to hop back in the bicycle…