New Release Movie Reviews - June 28

MAN OF STEEL **** (143 mintues) M

The Superman myth gets a super-serious soup-to-nuts retelling courtesy of director Zack Snyder (300; Watchmen; Sucker Punch) and writers David S Goyer (who co-wrote the Dark Knight films) and Christopher Nolan (who directed them). And it's super-good.

With a taciturn, impressively buffed Henry Cavill as Superman, we start off with him as a baby being sent to Earth by his dad (Russell Crowe) from a doomed Krypton. While the planet is breaking apart, the Kryptonian judicial system still has time to sentence the seditious General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his cronies to eternity in the "phantom zone".

As the legend dictates, the vengeful Zod & Co turn up in Earth orbit with a plan to colonise the place once they've replaced the atmosphere and gotten rid of the pesky humans. This doesn't sit well with Superman, who is having enough trouble dealing with some big issues of his own.

He's troubled about his moral responsibilities to his adoptive planet, which sees him as an enemy. He's also bent on honouring the down-to-earth values of his foster parents (played beautifully by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and working through his feelings for pesky reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

Though fans might miss the levity that made Richard Donner's classic 1978 film Superman: The Movie such a game-changing joy, the thing that really sells this respectful reboot is the dramatic conviction underlying all the mega-scale mayhem that occupies the second half of the movie.

Amidst all the destruction Snyder, to his credit, skilfully hits the story's crucial emotional beats, thus giving just enough dramatic heft to the frenzy of fireballs, somersaulting vehicles and superhero wrestling between Superman and Zod, who quickly learns that, with some concentration, he can match Superman punch for punch.

While impressive for their scale and executed with the jaw-dropping precision and detail that are now standard, the film's action sequences do struggle a tad to look different. The swirl of ear-splitting destruction often resembles a giant washing machine on rinse cycle.

Despite their huge budgets and armies of digital artists - Man of Steel cost a quarter of a billion dollars, give or take - there is, it must be said, a degree of sameness in the visual effect segments of many tentpole movies.

Giant machines, shattering skyscrapers, military hardware and, interestingly, monstrous mechanical tentacles have become common features. And it's always set to an apocalyptic vibe as cities are pounded by one merciless alien force or another. And it's pretty much the same here.

That quibble, however, doesn't really detract from the hugely entertaining qualities of Man of Steel, an honourable reboot that ends where the inevitable sequel will begin.     

(Listen to our interview with Man of Steel director Zack Snyder.)

EPIC **** (102 minutes) PG

Of all the animated features out at the moment, Epic is easily the most beautiful and soulful. With a very carefully handled green theme that thankfully doesn't get in the way of the fun, we're taken into a raging battle for a threatened forest where an evil overlord fights for the triumph of decay over the forces of good.

The combatants are all tiny people, of course. Their existence is suspected by a gloriously kooky, gadget-crazy scientist whose cynical iGen daughter thinks is nuts. That is, of course, until she gets shrunk down to size and sees that her dad was right.

An absolute delight from start to finish, Epic features a lovable, scene-stealing three-legged pug and an award-worthy sequence where giant figures in extreme close-up move in slow motion as the tiny heroes scatter about. There's a freshness and originality to it that we see all-too-rarely.

The film comes courtesy of Blue Sky Studios, the outfit responsible for the Ice Age films, and features a top-shelf voice cast including Beyonce, Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Chris O'Dowd (The Sapphires) and Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths).          

The film also boasts the best, most plot-related use of an iPhone yet. It's such a wily deployment of a modern gadget in a such a fabulously conceived modern fairy tale one can imagine the people at Pixar seeing Epic, then jabbing each other in the ribs saying "Why didn't we make this?"

THE LOOK OF LOVE *** (101 minutes) MA

In this light-hearted period biopic, a cool Steve Coogan brings a cheeky urbane swagger to his portrayal of Paul Raymond, the adult-entertainment entrepreneur who brought nude live shows and softcore pornography to the masses. There is, admittedly, not a lot of depth here as director Michael Winterbottom (who directed Coogan in 24 Hour Party People) goes for class-system humour over drama. That Raymond was once touted as the wealthiest man in Britain perhaps deserved more attention, but Coogan is terrific as Raymond, whose quest to endow strip shows with respectability carried with it a special brand of pride that eluded his personal life. 

IN THE HOUSE ***1/2 (105 minutes; subtitled) MA

Director Francois Ozon again proves himself one of France's liveliest and most engaging storytellers with this brisk, increasingly intriguing tale about telling tales. Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is a listless literature teacher who becomes seduced by the first-person essays hand-written by Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a privacy-violating student who is fascinated with schoolmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) and his sexy mother (Emmanuelle Seigner). Adapted from the Spanish stage play Juan Mayorga The Boy in the Last Row, the film is a cinematic bouquet of surprising left turns and addictive story hooks. Strongly recommended.


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