Sunday, June 23, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Iron Man 3

2013, Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) -- cinema

So, Shane Black came along and resurrected RDJ so it was only right that Downey did in kind.  And boy does it show in how well these two work together. Downey may have been the perfect rendition of Tony Stark with his quick wit and snappy dialogue but add the sly writing of Black and we have perfection. There are soooo many lines in this movie that had me wincing in admiration. And he gives us a Tony who has been affected by the circumstances in the previous movies, Avengers included. Black and Downey acknowledge that Tony is an asshole, a difficult man to like, but by assigning him a measure amount of sympathy they create the most likable Tony of all  the movies.

This movie answers the question of where they can take the superhero after he has saved the world? Well, into personal revenge and defeating domestic terrorism. Superhero groups are not going to regroup to deal with just a dramatic version of Bin Laden when their inaugural event involved the confirmation of extraterrestrial life. So, on his own Tony draws The Mandarin out of the camera's shadow and into the bright spotlight. Along the way he saves the President, defeats a new breed of super soldier and overcomes his dependency on the super power suit and heart-magnet.  Tony can still accomplish quite a lot without a god and a giant green rage monster tagging along. The Mandarin, is an out of left field addition to the Extremis story and the revelation of who this villain is is even further out to field. Ben Kingsley is absolutely brilliant as this odd asian influenced, "american preacher" accented villain with a bit of a ... secret. Such a small role but soooo enjoyable.

The Extremis story comes from the comic series by Warren Ellis, but they give him little credit. Ellis introduced a new breed of supersoldier formula hijacked by a supremist who sought ultra-violent vengeance against the American government.  The raw element of the story is here, some characters and the Extremis drug itself, but little else.  I would be more upset but I think Black did what he needed with the core of the story, if sanitizing it a bit of its ultraviolence. As the movie sets in a large scale battle between supersoldiers and AI controlled power armor, the brilliant note of Black's direction fades into a standard humdrum blockbuster battle but really, this is always the hardest part of any movie. Everything else makes up for it.

Fall TV Preview round 1

I like television, always have... once I graduated from a cartoon and kids show diet to "Must See TV" with the Cosby Show, A Different World, Cheers and beyond I realized how appealing ongoing, serialized storytelling was.  For a long time, though, I, like many, considered it inferior to cinema, but now that television has adopted cinematic production values and often a creator (rather than formula)-driven mentality, it's equaled, if not surpassed the capabilities of cinema.  The only limitation seems to be the financial investment, but the talent is more and more migrating to the long-form storytelling capabilities of the small (and/or on-line screen).

I was a sit-com devourer, and in my teenage years became a steadfast consumer of genre television, absorbing classics like Doctor Who, modern shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Flash, and Bravo's incredible slate of "TV Too Good For TV" like Twin Peaks, The Prisoner, The Avengers, Max Headroom, and, erm, Cop Rock.  I've not always watched the best TV, but as the years have progressed I've developed a taste for quality television, but still with a tendency towards comedy and genre programming still in effect.  It's with this lens that I've approached the fall previews that have recently flooded the youtubes.  Overall, I'm curious about much of the fall season, but expect to find most of it lacking any sustainability or long-term interest.

The 100 It's "After Earth" meets "Lord of the Flies"... it's only lacking the competition element from being Battle Royale/The Hunger Games. It's a CW show so it's going to hit a lot on romantic entanglements, and there seems to be a lot of typical eye-rolling teenage conflict. That said, Paige Turco, Henry Ian Cusick and Isaiah Washington as the adults of the piece, I like, and there seems to be some nice plot twists ingrained in this. I don't have much hope that they can pull it off though

The Tomorrow People It's the X-Men. It's Mutant X. It's Push. It's been done a dozen times, in fact the Tomorrow People was done 40 years ago, and 20 years ago, and 5 years ago on BBC. There's no reason why this can't work again, but tossing in another trite "chosen one" subplot and too much of the usual CW "good looking young people" vibe, but a lot of that could be the grating emo tracks the CW is overdubbing into all their promos.

Star-Crossed CW seems to be banking heavily on the whole "pretty young people in genre settings" scenarios this year. Were I 15 I would be so totally devoted to the CW. As a grown up, this all makes me feel a little... I dunno, bored, by it all. This one is easily the worst of the lot, and just as easily put up on the podium as Twilight fangirl bait. It's Romeo and Juliet meets Alien Nation.

Hostages This one would interest me as a movie but as an ongoing series I just don't see how it's going to run more than a half dozen episodes. Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott make for a surprising cast in a show that can't possibly have a long-term gameplan.

Sleepy Hollow A bit of a surprise for network TV, this seems more in line with a SyFy original than a Fox program. Ichabod Crane awakens in the present day, teaming up with the modern day authorities to do some ghostbusting, as the headless horseman returns as well. Production values look not too shabby and there's a solid chuckle or two in the trailer (more than I can say for most previews), but again, this doesn't look like a series with legs or a long-term gameplan.

Intelligence An update of the Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman thread, but it stars Josh Hollaway, so, you know what, it's cool. It looks pretty bad ass but if it can heavily ingraine the DARPA secret and theoretical tech of the comic book Think Tank then there might be something to it. It took Person of Interest a season for me to really catch on, and to see the bigger picture, so hopefully this has it too, because Josh Hollaway. "A secret agent Disneyland for men, are you kidding me? I love that sh..." - Josh Hollaway.

The Crazy Ones It's "Mad Men" if it were set in the modern day, and the products used in the show were actual product placement, and if Don Draper were played by Robin Williams, and if Sally Draper were Sarah Michelle Geller and Bob Benson was some kind of immortal (and has become bisexual I see). Geller looks pretty great, but the rest of the show, especially Williams at his most annoying Williams-ness, looks unbearable. It'll probably be a hit.

Rake Greg Kinnear is a pretty awful human being, in the trend of shows following pretty awful human beings. But he's awful in the quirky-funny almost-tolerable way. It actually looks entertaining enough, but it's one of those single-character based hour-long comedies that, for me, wear out their welcome quickly (it's a no win situation, either the character stays the same and his antics get tiresome, or he grows and is no longer the character you tuned in to see originally).

The Goldbergs When I was a kid, The Wonder Years taught me all about what it was like to be a child of the 1960s, all while still being relatable as a child of the '80's/'90's. The Goldbergs is The Wonder Years but set in the 1980s, and instead of Daniel Stern we have Patton Oswalt narrating. The adult cast looks good, but unfortunately the trailer doesn't have a single solid laugh in it, which is kind of sad. The REO Speedwagon bit gets close though and there's some conceptually funny bits which, I hope, actually pay off in a full episode. I'm hopeful for this one, but I'm definitely wary.

Trophy Wife While I could stare at Malin Ackerman's malamute-esque eyes for hours, I can't do so in the form of terrible situation comedy in which she attempts to go toe-to-toe with Marcia Gay Hardin (she's who the show should be about). I assume she'll still be game for more Children's Hospital and the cameo appearances as Tessa's mom in Suburgatory...

The Michael J. Fox Show Who doesn't like Michael J. Fox? This show seems to be set around that very premise, only here he's a retired news anchor with Parkinson's Disease getting a little stir-crazy around the house, so he goes back to work. I laughed quite a few times throughout the trailer, but I'm wary that all of the jokes seem to be about disarming the stigma of the disease. I hope it's something the show writers can overcome and create a genuinely entertaining family/career comedy around a very charismatic lead actor.

The Blacklist The trailer seems to break down the entire first episode of the show, but as a result it leads to the set-up to the larger structure of the series. I wanted to hate it, as it's yet another Clarice/Hannibal-type scenario (so many scenes in the trailer I've seen so many times before), but it does seem to have some very enjoyable twists... and a gameplan, as well as a great set-up for an episodic show.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. A show by Joss Whedon set in the Marvel Universe of the movies, OF COURSE I'm watching this. I'm so fanboy-intrigued that I can't even be impartial or critical about the trailer. I just want to watch it. Now please.

Brooklyn Nine Nine This show only really works if you enjoy Andy Samberg's manchild schtick, which I do, so I'm in. Bounce that off Andre Brougher and I'm in doubly. To me, this could be the next Unusuals. To others, I can feel the eye-rolling from here. Plus Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti and Terry Crews. Created by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (they of Clone High, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, and the 21 Jump Street movie), so in other words, yes.

Enlisted A screwball military comedy, in the vein of... well, EVERY screwball military comedy EVER. See also: Police Academy. Not generally my thing, but the cast looks very solid, and there were some actual laughs in the trailer. It has a total Bill Lawrence vibe (CougarTown, Scrubs)so looks quite promising.

Dads Former child actor showdown between Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi in a Seth McFarlane created 3-camera comedy that looks, well, like the typical 3-camera comedy, complete with a live studio audience. Could be likeable, but the trailer is excruciating.

Almost Human Credit to JJ Abrams for giving genre shows a decidedly huge boost in recent years, from Lost to Fringe to Person of Interest, but his track record is at best 1:2 so I've become wary heading into any of his produced programs. That said, Karl Urban! But was I really looking for a mis-matched buddy cop show where one half of the team is Data from Star Trek? Kinda yawn.

Agents of SHIELD, Brooklyn Nine Nine

Potential Winners:
The Blacklist, The Michael J. Fox Show, Intelligence, Enlisted

There's Potential:
The Goldbergs, Rake

Potential Losers:
Sleepy Hallow, The 100, The Tomorrow People, Hostages, Dads, Almost Human

Star-Crossed, The Crazy Ones, Trophy Wife

Monday, June 17, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Man of Steel

2013, Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) --- cinema

Pretty much, we agree we agree we agree.

Let me begin by saying the trailers really had me sold on a soulful, emotional Superman movie. Costner's Pa Kent and his voice breaking, "You.. are my son."  The monologing by Jor-El about standing in the sun.  As a comic reader who has never primarily been a Superman fan, I was happy to see a story where we explore his separation from humanity, where a man who is not one of us still stands up to the greatest of threats, to protect us as a species. To give an ideal to the rest of people on the planet that adopts him was to be my view of Superman.  Yeah, I have always been about the angst.

And I got that.  The first act of the movie is great, giving us a wonderfully alien Krypton and even an incredible reboot of the General Zod, that I never cared much about from the early movie. We see Clark Kent, pretty much a pariah in his home town for being so very very different, wandering the world (Canada!!) and believing he must stay hidden. But even then, he emerges in times of need to walk through fire and destruction, doing what must be done. Heroic.  Grand.  And massive!  Finally, a Superman actor who actually looks the part, and not a lithe swimmer body.

So what the fuck happened after he put on the suit and cape ?!?!  Seriously, this may be the super-powered goliath others wanted from Superman, punching and smashing things and flying at super speeds but WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SUPER-HEROISM !?!?  I admit, I may be somewhat sensitive about massive collateral casualties these days, but while he is kicking and punching Zod all over the place, could we have seen one scene of heroism? Break off from the fight for one second and catch a falling building in a feat of physics-defying strength? Oh, we can subscribe to the line that he is sacrificing countless numbers of people in order to defeat villains who, given a chance, will destroy the entire planet but then why does he anguish over the death of ONE KRYPTONIAN ?!?! I end up finding the one bright spot of true heroism, as Perry White, seeing he cannot save Jenny (Jimmy Olsen analog?) stands strong and silent, giving her a final look of, "I am here for you, with you, at this end."  A simple human, with no powers, shows greater heroism in his death than invincible Kal-El shows in all his super-punches.  Hrrrmph.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Man of Steel

2013, Zach Snyder - in theatre (good, ol' fashioned 2-D)

(spoilers ahead)

My mind is reeling after an afternoon matinee (if there ever was a character built for the matinee...) ... I have an overwhelming amount of thoughts that I can only hope will coalesce as I attempt to spill them out into words.  The most stripped down summary of my thoughts: a solid -- above-average even -- summer blockbuster, but a largely terrible Superman movie.

Where do I start?

[Part 1] 

Let's go with the solid summer blockbuster part.  Let's start positive.  What Zack Snyder, script writer David S. Goyer and story co-writer Christopher Nolan seemed to be aiming for here is a less fantastical Superman story.  They've approached it with more of the stern self-seriousness and maturity that recent epics like The Dark Knight or Lord of the Rings have ushered into our genre adaptations.  This isn't silly stuff for kids and emotionally stunted fanboys, but a narrowing-of the-eyes focus on a character and his well-trod history with an intent to both make it modern, as well as justifying treading the terrain again.

Man of Steel suggests more a sci-fi epic than Superhero fable, as it, tellingly, opens with a lengthy sequence on Krypton, one that establishes a rich and intriguing society and culture that could have justifiably formed its own epic movie.  Most of the Kryptonian sequence was assembled from other parts present in the comics, cartoons and previous films, but presented on a scale it never had before.

In it, it's explained that the planet's culture has essentially become a hive of sorts, with its people conceived, grown and born in a chamber, genetically bred to perform a specific and predefined role in society.  Jor-El (a screen commanding Russel Crowe) was bred to be a scientist, a pre-eminent thinker on his planet, he and his wife, Lara, are the first in hundreds of generations to conceive a child naturally, to give it the gift of independence and hope. Unfortunately, Krypton as a planet has been stripped dry of its resources, the host succumbing to infection, and it's not long before society is doomed.  But in Kal-El, Jor-El see salvation for his race.  General Zod (a surprisingly intimidating Michael Shannon), the planet's pre-eminent military mind also understands the doom Krypton faces and stages a coup, in order to extract the codex, the repository of all the genetic sequences of the planet and take it to another planet to rebirth their society.

The planet suffers in its death throes as battles rage on its surface.  Jor-El, having already absconded with the codex, sends it and his only son on a rocket towards Earth.  In Kal-El, Jor-El sees the hope for his people, the hope for a different life, and the hope for a better life that makes a difference in his new home.  Hope is a very strong theme, at least in conversation.  Zod, for his part, is defeated and sentenced along with his 8 remaining conspirators, to 300 cycles in the Phantom Zone (which, unlike most iterations, requires a space ship and a great machine that rips into the fabric of space to transport them there).  The planet crumbles and dies.

It's a wonderful, epic set-up, filled with great science fiction ideas and a curious culture that would make for a great tale on its own, if only people wouldn't anticipate Superman.  As a result, it's a bit contracted, but it sets the foundation for the main character and for rest for the rest of the action in the film.  The destruction of Krypton leads to a malfunction of the Phantom Zone generator, freeing the prisoners and giving them a ship to travel the cosmos in search of the child of Jor-El and the salvation of the Kryptonian people.

Zod is the villain, but he's a villain of circumstance, a villain of programming, less than a villain of his own design.  As he explains in the climax, he was made this way, every action he makes is for the benefit and preservation of Krypton, no matter how evil it seems.  On Earth he doesn't look down upon humans as inferiors to be conquered as Zod past did, they're a potentially obtrusive species on a planet that could rightly be a new home for Kryptonian life.

The design of things Kryptonian and the pervasiveness of the Kryptonian technology in the film is some of the more intriguing visual elements of the film.  How the "Superman" costume comes into play is much more organic than it has been so often in the past.  They incorporate the "spandex tights" and S-shield and capes into everyday (or is that only elite) Kryptonian society so that when Clark receives his own costume, it's an extension of what he was searching for.

The science fiction part also deals with the alien child raised among humans quite well.  We're presented with Clark Kent in multiple phases of his life, starting with present day, as a 33-year-old wanderer who does good deeds, helping his fellow man with his great power.  We get flashbacks to him as a child, at 10 when his powers start to develop and overwhelm him, when as a teen saves a busload of his class mates, exposing himself in a way that makes his adoptive father uncomfortable.  Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner, managing to chip away most of my longstanding distaste for his acting) has feared for Clark and what he represents since the day he found him.  He's been petrified of the government coming for him since day one, and as his powers have developed he fears what the planet's reaction would be.  We get a bit of that reaction in the microcosmos of Smallville, frightened classmates, or bewildered parents, and while it stays within the community, it's never celebrated.  Jonathan, though, knows he must shape Clark to understand the power he has, the effect it can have on the people and world around him, and to gauge the consequences of his actions, not just in the immediate sense, but in the grander sense.

The scenes between Clark and his parents are the most resonant of the film.  In The Dark Knight Rises, there's an underlying thread to Joseph Gordon Levitt's John Drake about being an orphan and connecting the Bruce Wayne/Batman ties through that shared history.  Clark, meanwhile, has a loving adopted family, and even a loving ghost father, so he's naturally a bit shinier a character, learning he has great tragedy in his past, but largely only knowing an overwhelming love.  The film deals with his adoption in an interesting light, not shying away from the complex emotions that such families might face.

The first and second acts are well connected, though disparate in what they present (think, I dunno, Avatar transitioning into Starman) and once it reaches it's action-oriented and super-science final act, brings it all home in popping fight scenes but overwhelming amounts of destruction (collateral damage seems to keep increasing in films since Independence Day over 15 years past now, more on this shortly).  The climactic fight between Superman and Zod makes sense in the context of the sci-fi foundations the story laid, and the controversial conclusion (more on that shortly, too) is telegraphed as an inevitability.

Were this just generic "alien child grows up on Earth and gains fantastic abilities but then has to face the villainous people of his homeworld when they arrive" it would have been a cracking film, a damn solid movie with a surprising amount of emotion.
But it's not.
It's a Superman movie.
It's a terrible Superman movie.

[Part 2] 

I took my stepson to see the film, having already heard in advance (and just gauging from the advertisements) that this wasn't going to be a bright and flashy Superman movie, I warned him that there would be violence.  Even I wasn't prepared for the level of violence nor the film's intensity.  Even at 11 my stepson spent much of the film with his ears covered (as much a result of the intense, and frankly, kind of uninspiring score as it was the volume of the proceedings) as well as looking away anticipating the film's violence.  My bad, but he clearly pick up early on (even before Jor-El was needlessly murdered by Zod) that this was more severe than Superman: The Animated Series or some of the other animated features he's seen.  There were other kids, younger than he in line at the theatre.  The boy in the well-loved, outgrown Superman tee in front of us was beyond excited, and at 6-years-old I couldn't help but continuously think of how crushing this movie must have been to him, especially having to sit through 50 minutes of feature before we see the character in costume.

Seriously, I understand from a story perspective the importance of the Krypton segment, and from a character perspective delving into Clark's development, but I have to wonder just who is going into this film without already knowing the basics on Superman.  Last Son of Krypton.  Raised in Smallville.  Lives in Metropolis.  Works for Daily Planet.  Loves Lois Lane.  If ever there was a character that you could tell their story in media res, it's this one.    We don't need all the set-up again.  Shorthand it.  Yes it's presented differently, but kids (and frankly adults) want to see the Man of Steel in action, and you can start a film with him in action.

I didn't see the Owls of Ga Hool, so I can't assess whether Snyder is capable of making family friendly fare, but his track record has been otherwise solid-R-rated intensity (if not always maturity).  300, Watchmen, Suckerpunch are all steeped in genre, but Snyder is on the darker side of visualization and while he can deliver action I questioned whether he was right for a character like Superman.  This film should be for everyone.  It's a stiff PG-13 picture (there's a half-dozen swears in the film as well).  That's not Superman.  My four-year-old loves Superman.  I should have been able to take her too.

I don't have a problem with more serious interpretations of the character but they're never my favourite and, in the 75 years of publication, they're rarely, if ever, the status quo.  With the Dark Knight trilogy, the variations in Bruce Wayne and cast are less egregious because Batman's always been more versatile (some still see Adam West as "the" Batman).  Superman needs to be the beacon of hope, of good, and this movie preaches that incessantly but it doesn't practice it much, if at all.

When the proverbial "S" hits the fan, we see Superman facing down two or three super-powered adversaries in the middle of hometown Smallville.  He tells the citizens to get inside.  Snyder shows us quick cuts of the people fleeing, locking doors, closing blinds, the audience understanding fully the futility of these gestures.  It would be comical if the tone weren't so dire.  These people are scared, they don't know what's happening, they don't know that death has fallen at their door.   It's bad enough that a superhero throwdown is happening on their doorstep, it's another when the military comes in with fighter jets firing on the combatants, bullets and missiles only damaging the real estate (and the people trapped inside).  Superman, for his part, make no effort to ward off the military, he makes no effort to try and drive the fight outside the city, he makes no effort to try and protect his hometown in any respect.

It's through the flashback scenes between Clark and his adoptive family that we know who the character should be, and we get hints through his travels and in his scenes with Lois and when he first surrenders himself to the military of what his character is.  But when he fights, we don't really know what, or whom he is fighting for.  We don't even really know why, except to say that the bad guys arrive and he must fight them.  But in Smallville it's Zod threatening his mom that sets him off, but the fight as it perpetuates (and gets in a pair of awful product placements for Sears and IHOP), seems to have no focus, beyond just "keep fighting".  That's not Superman.  When it's all over, and the military concedes he's a "friendly", he says "Thanks", but makes no effort to help with any casualties or find people trapped in buildings.  He goes home and checks on Ma.  That's not Superman.  The film preaches his selflessness but in practice it's less than obvious.

Even worse is the climactic sequence, as the Kryptonians begin terraforming the Earth, to turn its atmosphere and gravity into the same as Krypton's and destroy all Earth life in the process.  Clark abandons the heavily populated Metropolis (to be fair, this is not his home yet), for the second machine in the Indian Ocean while he leaves the main ship to the US military and Lois Lane (?).  As the terraforming progresses, Metropolis begins to crumble, buildings start to topple under the pressure of the gravity shifts.  It's horrifying, and we're given the on-the-street perspective via the little used trio of Perry White and other Daily Planet staffers, as if to say these characters who we know will be important to Clark Kent some day are in mortal danger, so their safety is worth caring about.  But the wanton disregard for the remainder of what's happening, to set the safety of Perry White and company as somehow more important than the tens of thousands of lives concurrently affected by all this is total bullshit.  That Superman saves the day, halfway around the world mind you, that also saves Perry and co, and allows the military and Lois to save the day in Metropolis is a very hollow victory for the Man of Steel indeed.  But then, the Military casualties are great in this one, and when Lois falls out of the plane that gets sucked into the Phantom Zone vortex, and Superman saves her, this is supposed to be somehow meaningful and triumphant, but it's one life he saves amidst the thousands trapped in rubble etc.  Just as in Smallville, Superman seems utterly disconnected from the horror around him, that making out with Lois is the right reaction here.  That's not Superman.

Then he engages in a battle to the death with Zod that further digs the knife into Metropolis' wounded heart.  Zod calls the battle from the beginning, that he's a desperate man with nothing left but revenge and murder in his heart, and Superman can only try to contain him, to stop him, but he does so by punching him through buildings, tossing around vehicles, and generally destroying the place.  It looks terribly cool, but the cerebral impact of what's going on, the reality of the situation is that they're creating collateral damage everywhere they go.   The fact that Snyder/Goyer/Nolan try and drive home how meaningful and real and grounded this world really is only serves to heighten how brutal the battle of these titans is on the environment and people around them.  That's not Superman. Superman would take it outside.  That in the end, Superman has Zod beat, but Zod's not done.  Death is the only end and he forces Superman's hand.  That's not Superman (but I'll let it pass).

There's a lot of talk how Superman Does. Not. Kill. But I agree that there were limited options and it plays well with the grey areas that Jonathan Kent told Clark he would face.  Clark, not Superman, melts down immediately afterwards, and the stoic figure of Henry Caville has his finest moment in this reaction.  Lois cradles him.  Cut to, some time later and everything is okay.  Superman's a friend, women think he's hot, and Clark goes and gets a pair of glasses and a job with the Daily Planet.

Remember after 9/11, a couple buildings were destroyed and a few hundred people lost their lives in a terrible act of violence? (One can't help but bring up 9/11 with the imagery recalled here.)  But the destruction is far greater here (though the death toll unclear) and one would think that the resonance of a) alien life being discovered, b) attacking earth, and c) destroying one of their major cities would be creating a whole tonal shift in society (sticking with the Snyder/Goyer/Nolan realism, of course it should).  9/11 still resonates a decade later, the events of this film should, months later, still be monumental.  A scene with Superman becoming Clark Kent, reporter, and meeting his future cast for his more mundane future seems heavily anticlimatic and inauthentic to the experience beforehand.

Equally, Clark should be reeling from the effect of his presence on Earth, the damage he's responsible for, the lives that were lost or laid to ruin in the wake of his people's invasion, and the life he took directly himself.  In the comics when Superman took a life he took off into space for about six months on a soul searching journey.  Here, he seems to let it slide (judging by the early receipts, there will definitely be a sequel, so it better get dealt with there).  So many missteps with Superman as a character and an icon, it's quite upsetting for a lifelong Superman fan.

[Part 3]

Of all the things to think about Man of Steel, the least I've thought about was the production itself.  But in that respect, it is a wonder.  The acting is universally superb.  Caville, like Brandon Routh before him, is almost a background player in the film he's supposed to be leading.  He's handsome and definitely has the physique, and he carries the weight of great power well, but he's not given a lot of moments to showcase himself (his reaction shots are generally excellent).  Amy Adams makes a good Lois Lane, but her soft spoken voice took some time to adjust to.  Crowe, Shannon, and Costner really carry the film's biggest burden and each more than excel at the task.

The production design is inspired.  Krypton is a unique environment, with a distinctive style that carries from costume to environment to technology.  It looks great.  The special effects are top notch throughout, though at times the fast-moving fight sequences look more like the primitive CGI animation of 10-12 years ago (Blade II, notably), though I think it was meant to represent the super-speed at which they move rather than a flaw in execution.

Snyder, for his part, puts in perhaps his best directorial effort yet.  He mercifully dropped his signature slow-motion fight sequence style, which was what most fans were concerned about.  He manages to find moments of great warmth and emotion (primarily from Crowe and Costner in their performances as parents) which is a rare feat for a Snyder film to date, but he still doesn't escape the cold style-first tendency as much as I'm sure he'd like.  Progress is made though.  His storytelling is quite crisp, even with the time hopping.  But there's a decided lack of joy or triumph throughout the picture which is part script, part directorial style, and part score.

But even with all the technical aspects coming together, we get the blockbuster that Superman has been missing since 1980 (though I have little love for the Christopher Reeve pictures) only it's missing the character.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Gangster Squad

2013, Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) -- download

This is one of those bad movies where you are not sure where exactly everything went wrong. You have a great cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick and even a coherent, well acted Nick Nolte. You have great depiction of gangster era LA, the big city that is all suburbs and bright primary colours. You also get a pretty, if by the (noir) books, decent plot of the gathering of an ensemble, no warrant required, squad of unique cops to take down Mickey Cohen. But it all just goes wrong, wrong wrong wrong.

O'Mara (Brolin) is the 3-color comic book cop who is more concerned about protecting citizens than he is following the letter of the law. The city is completely corrupted around him so when Chief Parker (Nolte) recruits him to build an off the books group of like minded crime fighters, he jumps at the chance. And through their own use of thuggery and expertise, they become a thorn in the side of Cohen (Penn). Of course, things go horribly wrong.

This is a movie where other movies did it better. The Untouchables did the ensemble squad better, with Sean Connery playing the better wisdom-filled veteran than Robert Patrick. Kevin Spacey played the better slick, ladies man corrupt cop in LA Confidential than Gosling's young idealistic, if bent cop. Of course, we know that De Niro played the better unhinged gangster. I will give Emma Stone a thumbs-up as the mesmerizing moll but I admit, I may have a Roger Ebert style bias here.  And if you really want to see Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have a relationship, go watch Crazy, Stupid Love again.

So something good can come of this whole affair, here is a lovely fan made poster of the movie.

3 Short Paragraphs: Taken 2

2012, Olivier Megaton (Columbiana) -- download

If I was to trace my use of the phrase small movie I could probably sit it mostly at the doorstep of this movie's predecessor, Taken.  Of course, it would not be the first of such type movie that I enjoyed but it was the first that stood out, for its concise and focused plot, where I first thought about the nature of it. So again here, once again into the fray we go, where Liam Neeson's Brian Mills is put in a difficult situation and has to use his scary knowledge & skill to resolve it.  Again, that's it.

What I love about a well done sequel is a certain amount of pondering of what went on in the first movie, and how it affected the people in it. Mills' daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is recovering from her abduction ordeal but with a certain amount of expected PTSD. Mills himself has become less the doting father and more the over-protective body guard. If this was a different sequel, we might actually have reason to suspect Kim's new BF, but here it is as it should be -- a lens of Mills' justified paranoia. Meanwhile, the ex-wife has broken up with her wealthy husband, most likely related to the circumstances the year before. Mills offers a trip to Turkey to relieve some tension.  They accept.

Again only in good sequels, we see where the mooks in the first movie came from; the Albanian slaver traders had family and friends who mourned their deaths. Mourned and are now seeking revenge. This is the not the cliche "you killed my brother, now prepare to die" (forgive the mis-quote) of other action movies but more a reflection on exactly how many bodies Mills dropped.  And how they were connected -- basically most of the young men of a single village. So, Bad Guys take the time to study Mills and are quite thrilled when he brings his family into Turkey, so their misguided revenge plot can be fulfilled. But yeah, we know it doesn't work out for this branch of the family either.  Along the way the questions of back and forth revenge are asked as well as the age old question, "You knew your mooks were committing evil acts don't you? What else could happen to them?" But frustratingly, Bad Guys cannot see any path before them but the evil one.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Arrested Development Season 4

2013, Netflix

When Arrested Development first aired 10 years ago, it was met with resounding critical acclaim but no amount of acclaim could affect the poor numbers the show received.  If you were to jump into a random episode unprepared you would likely find a few laughs, but otherwise an impenetrable story with a cast of characters who weren't easily defined by archetypes.  What's more, you would be missing most of the funny since Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz created a densely structured comedy juggernaut, one that only becomes apparent when you watch frequently, and actually doesn't fully reveal its awesomeness until you've watched from start to finish and looped back for a second (or third) cycle of its three seasons.  Hurwitz seeds jokes in early in the first season that don't fully pay off until the third season, and beyond that he's able to build upon existing jokes with such ingenuity, one can't really tell what was planned and what wasn't.  Ultimately this meant that Arrested Development did not find its true fan base until the show was already cancelled, when fans of the show could loan their friends the three seasons and share the true experience of the Bluth Family.

All of this needs to be kept in mind when approaching the resurrected series' fourth season on Netflix, all of this and more.  For starters, the format of the show is no longer meant for network television, which means that all 15 episodes of the series launched at once, and that the episode length is not set in stone at 22 minutes with commercial breaks.  This changes both the way the show is paced as well as how we view it.

It may have been seven years since the last original AD episode, but the rumour mill of an AD movie has been churning since the end of the show, and the fourth season became a part of the cultural conversation for much of the past two years.  AD may have ended but it never truly left, the excitement and anticipation for more (with countless message boards and comments sections devolving into little but AD meme fests) creating a fevered and likely unrealistic expectation of what a fourth season of the show should be.

With season 4, Hurwitz has changed the face of what a serialized sit-com (we can't really call it "television" anymore, can we?) actually can look like.  Partly as an obvious writer's curiosity and partly as a concession to the now higher profile cast's schedules, this season is intriguingly structured, with each episode centering on one character (the title sequence announcing "It's George Michael's Arrested Development" or "It's Tobias' Arrested Development").  It frequently creates a sort of mini-movie feel, however the time jumping events in each episode combine to form the larger story, filling in the gaps or expanding upon the information that was already revealed.  Hurwitz is a master of perception, providing you information from one characters perspective and then revealing it to be something totally otherwise from another's (the George Michael "Fakeblock" saga is absolutely brilliant in its revelation).  At the same time, Hurwitz also is a master of convergence, bringing seemingly disparate story threads together, or at the very least having them cross paths in curious and entertaining ways.

Five minutes into the first episode, I could tell that, as with the first three seasons, it was almost essential to come back to the beginning once you've reached the end.  The heavy task of the first episode, a Michael Bluth centered one (naturally a Jason Bateman-focussed one, since he was the de facto lead of the original series), requires it to jump between different time frames as it must set up this season's moving-forward arc, while also establishing a filling-in-the-past-seven-years arc, while also reintroducing all the characters.  In it Hurwitz seeds a lot of jokes to pay off later, builds upon past jokes (sometimes they're barely more than callbacks, but unlike, say Season 4 of Community or Season 9/10 of the Simpsons, he's not relying upon the comedy of the past to still make it funny) and delivers some in-the-now funny stuff that is both the expected sharp wordplay the show is revered for, and character-based.

It would please me nothing more than to say that season 4 is a flawless continuation of the show its fans loved, but it's not the case.  The show's key problem is the liberty Netflix provides it.  Where the average episode of the original run was 22 typically tight minutes, the Netflix episodes run between 28 and 37 minutes.  For a situation comedy that's pretty long, and at times the episodes do chug along, particularly early on.  On DVD Arrested Development episodes featured sometimes 10 minutes of deleted scenes, many of which were very funny, but ultimately unnecessary.  With Netflix Hurwitz doesn't have to edit anything out, and it does hinder the rapid-fire-comedy pacing expected of the show.  But by the latter third of the season, the final 5-or-6 episodes, now familiar with the stories in play, and more comfortable with the spans of time the story arcs are covering, the long episodes feel less of a chore, and in particular the George Michael, Maeby, Buster and Gob episodes are all engrossing and feel little, if any of the slough of the early episodes (in part it's because we don't see much of these characters earlier on, and in part because of the grander reveals they present).

In terms of the stories at play, they don't have quite the same tight focus as season 1 through 3, primarily because of the one-character-focus per episode nature, as well as the time-jumping structure, but once they come into focus in the latter half, they become more and more entertaining.  The advantage the fourth season is afforded over the first three seasons, is the ability to give each character their own distinct arc.  The huge cast in the original run meant that character arcs were often trivial or sidelined for a while in service of the bigger picture, but the entire family here gets their own journey, and if anything unites them, it's not the various convergences they experience, but rather the ongoing revelation of how much alike they are.  Michael's parenting of George Michael begins to resemble, more and more, Lucille's parenting of Buster, but starts to degrade more into the same antagonistic relationship he shares with his own father.  George Michael, the innocent one, meanwhile, starts to adopt the family traits of skilled duplicity.  Buster has Lucille's drinking problem, only with juice.  Gob finally starts to have an awareness of himself which seems to parallel George's awareness of self, while Lindsay, Tobias, Lucille and Buster all struggle with their own sense of independence and identity.  Contrary to the title, this season is all about the character development and at least a perceived sense of growth.

Where the show suffers the most is with Michael's story, which has it's good moments (whenever he's dealing with his family) and it's not so good moments (the whole Ron Howard/Imagine Entertainment arc was a bit of a series low, with episode 5 being the roughest to get through).  It's unfortunate that Michael, who was the voice of reason for the audience to connect with, has started to adopt more and more of his family's traits, but in the show's defense, it was in distancing himself from them he's lost the constant reminder of how not to behave.  As well, Michael's story is often injected, for minutes at a time, in other character's episodes, thus failing somewhat at the show's structural conceit.

But does any of the story or character development really matter if the show is not funny?  It is after all the comedy for which we come to Arrested Development.  It's hard to really say with one viewing of season 4 just how funny it is... just as it would be hard to say with watching only season 1 just how funny the series is.  Our perspective of Arrested Development is shaped by the rather monumental achievement of its original 50-ish episodes, taken as a whole, as a comedy ouroboros.  It was a show that launched a hundred or more memes, and even on fourth or fifth viewing still reveals new comedy nuggets.  Season 4 hasn't had the time or perspective to truly judge this, we can only go by what we've seen, and it's an impressive but flawed run.  The comedy is there, but it's not as overt as I'm sure fans would have hoped.  But memes don't build overnight, and any disappointment that may be felt initially could quite possibly dissipate over repeated viewings.

It should be noted that this isn't a self contained season.  While talk was of a fourth season followed by a movie, given all the loose threads, I could easily see a fifth season in the offing.  So even with repeated watchings of season 4, the picture still isn't complete.  It's not necessary to run through seasons 1-4 as a whole, this season is a new beginning.  While the initial critical reaction was mixed (and this mixed critical response notably caused a dip in Netflix's share price), I feel it was an inauthentic reaction to the season as a whole.  (I don`t think anyone can fairly assess something after consuming all 8 hours in less than three days, particularly when you feel you *have* to watch it all so rapidly.  As well, it`s the critics job to be critical, and given the hype, it`s natural to focus on the flaws.)

By the end of this season, I was both hungry for more (particularly because of the really surprising final moment, which was as juicy a dramatic moment as it was a shockingly comedic one) as well as eager to go back to the start and watch again.  I think a second run will be kinder, both in knowing what to expect and in discovering all the things I didn`t catch the first time around (which I`m certain was a lot).

Friday, June 7, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Argo

2012, Ben Affleck -- download

You are Canadian so why aren't you more pissed off about this movie?  The premise basically rips a heroic era of our history from our hands and taints it with CIA spy biz "reality". Many of us grew up with the TV images, or at least saw retrospectives on TV later on. Then the US came along and "opened files", revealing that while the Canadian ambassador had indeed harbored the Americans in his house, to great danger to himself and family, the plan to get the staff out was CIA born, not his. Is this true? Canada never really argued the point.  It took a movie to really make us grumpy about it.

Argo introduces Tony Mendez to the Canadian Caper, an exfiltration specialist with the CIA. I cannot actually believe there is such a job -- that the Americans need to extract people from dangerous situations so often. But anywayz, they are struggling to figure out how to rescue the 6 embassy staff members before they are identified as missing and hunted down. The American government has issues coming up with a not-completely-silly plan to extract them, until Mendez suggests the whole "pretend to be a movie crew" plan, complete with scripts and posters and real Hollywood press conferences.  And it works.

So, we acknowledge this is a Hollywood adaptation of history, and those are always more dramatic and rarely accurate. I accept that. Its a movie. But what gets me are the tropes the movie makes so much use of in order to instill drama. We know the people escaped so why do a "they ALMOST get caught" scene involving unfortunate timing and cars chasing airplanes? The rest is deflated drama that means nothing. Affleck does do a lovely job building the look of the movie but its all about him, and little about the people actually involved. But the movie is so light on actual emotional connection, I am not sure where the critical acclaim came from.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


2013, Joseph Kosinski

Oblivion is just one of many science-fiction "desolate earth"/"dystopian future" subgenre films hitting the theatres this year, a busy crowd that includes, most notably, M. Night Shyamalan's Smith family vehicle After Earth and Neill Blomcamp's Elysium starring Matt Damon and (a now retired?) Jody Foster.  What's surprising about each of the major entries in this new wave of genre filmmaking is how the concepts seem to be placed more in the center, acting less as a template for action setpieces and franchise building, and more a vehicle for storytelling.  It seems to be in this age of sequels and comic book adaptations, original and somewhat heady SF still has a place.  While I haven't seen any of the other films (yet), Oblivion seems to step backwards to a pre-Star Wars era of science fiction storytelling, one that wouldn't be out of place were it starring Charlton Heston 40 years ago.

Joseph Kosinski's first feature, Tron Legacy, was a visual feast, but one steeped in a 30-year-old mythos that the public-at-large couldn't be bothered to invest into.  Here he's directing a script that strips down the audience requirements, giving a very basic set-up of an Earth that was invaded, then abandoned, and now all that's left are resource harvesting machines and a two-person repair crew.  Tom Cruise plays Jack, the repairman, who frequently ventures down to the planet from his sleek glass lookout perched high above the ground, even if there's no repairs required or incidents to investigate.  He does this to the chagrin of his partner, Vicka (Andrea Riseborough), who monitors his actions and communicates with the Tet, a monolithic space station orbiting the earth that serves as headquarters for humanity's salvation efforts.  Vicka and Jack are romantically involved, but it's evident that their partnership is largely one of convenience, since Jack, despite a mind wipe, he still has fuzzy memories of what Earth was like before it was invaded and a fondness for exploring its fractured terrain, while Vicka wants little more than to finish their 5-year tour-of-duty and go to New Earth as promised.

Down in the ruins of New York, however, Jack encounters Scavs, leftover invaders who seem to want to interfere with any remaining human operations on the planet. But naturally very little is as it seems, and Jack begins to learn the truth about the Earth, the Tet, the Scavs and himself as the film progresses.  A lot of this is familiar ground for SF veterans, but it's still presented largely in a visually appealing, and elegantly paced manner that makes the journey more than work the investment.

There are some flaws though, like a perfunctory flying chase sequence (which get more and more tired the more I see them... compare the chase sequence here with the one against the Klingons in Star Trek Into Darkness or any others that have cropped up in genre films since the Empire Strikes Back did it best in an asteroid belt, and there's little exciting or new to them) or a gun battle with some renegade drones, which seem out of place in this otherwise quasi-meditative film.  There's also some dishonest filmmaking and storytelling, particularly film's duplicity surrounding the Scavs, used in order to make some of the turns a bigger surprise, when I don't think they were necessary deceptions at all (especially since some were already spoiled by the trailer). 

Kosinksi's work in Tron Legacy had him exploring a unreal, somewhat contained digital landscape, striving to make it at once foreign yet relatable, believable but fantastical, and largely succeeded, through his palette of deep black with neon highlights.  With Oblivion, Kosinski works in a polar contrast, bright, airy, seemingly without limitations, and yet boundaries are set which constantly reign Jack's Earth-based adventures in.  The designs are sleek, edgeless, somewhat organic, the single-person plane Jack flies is modeled after a dragonfly, while the station, Tower 49, is almost like a flower growing on a long stem reaching for the sun.  It's contrasted with the Scavs, trim-yet-clunky, living in a hollowed out mountain side, full of jagged rusty metal platforms and support beams.  Kosinski frequently captures imagery that could, in still frame, be novel cover by Michael Whelan or Kelly Freas.

The editing is economical, allowing scenes to breathe, and Kosinski's eye opens up his shot frequently to the broadest possible perspective of landscapes and scenery.  One of the most inspired images is that of the moon in the sky, a quarter of it having exploded outwards, looking like an upside-down-Pac Man trying to eat a trail of debris.  This wonderful imagery is enveloped by a modernistic soundtrack by french electronica artist M83 with instrumentation from Joseph Trapanese.  It's a sweeping, epic, affecting score, at times bristling with intensity, other's swelling to a grandiose apex.  There's a lot of similar cues as Daft Punk's Tron Legacy score (likely the influence of Trapanese) but some strong delineations as well.

Oblivion, with it's self-contained nature, and it's minimalistic scope, won't be remembered as a major event picture, or even a major picture in Tom Cruise's extensive resume, but it's appealing enough to have an endearing longevity, it the same respect as the Omega Man or Silent Running, genre films otherwise overshadowed by the likes of 2001, Star Wars and Alien.

[David's Review]

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

2013, JJ Abrams - in theatre

Star Trek and its off-shoots both as television programs and films were largely centered around diplomacy and character, rather than action and adventure.  That's not to say they were boring, but they were differently engaging.  Science Fiction back before Star Wars made it spectacle, was largely concerned with the more cerebral ideas of what would happen in the future, or if certain technologies were invented, or if different species or civilizations were discovered.  Ruthless fighting and visceral chase sequences were an afterthought, if thought of at all.

JJ Abrams' Star Trek features have come under criticism, largely from Trek purists who see his films as a tainting of world Gene Roddenberry built.  The dichotomy is rather stark within the latest film itself as there is much discussion about what the Federation is all about and how the tactics and attitudes certain characters are presenting are well outside the code of conduct, particularly when they turn to violence as the solution.  And yet, when emotions run high, violence seems to be the agreed upon answer from nearly everyone involved, even the calm, cool, collected Spock.

It does ultimately make for an entertaining movie, particularly for those of us that don't care that much about the characters, even if it is one that feels slightly familiar.  The script from Abrams regulars Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindleof pays extensive homage to signature Trek moments of the past, only to play them out in a tweaked manner.  This leads to the most exciting and appealing moment as a noticeably angry Spock chases down the big bad in an extended foot chase through the streets of a futuristic Vancouv... sorry, San Francisco.  Leonard Nemoy's Spock was naturally the template for Zachary Quinto's iteration of the character but he's given much more opportunity to play into the human side of the character, and to truly show the conflict of a being from an emotionless society struggling with his emotions.  Quinto makes a badass Spock when the moment comes to it, he gets the best punchlines, and shines far more brightly as a character than Chris Pine's Kirk.  Kirk here is a little too hot-headed, a little too selfish, and he's prone to terrible decision making.  It's truly hard to believe he's Captain material (which I guess is why he gets demoted).

While a quasi-ensemble piece, the center of the film is Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan (which was for some reason supposed to be a surprise, but I seemed to know months ago this was the case), who gets to chew up the scenery like it was his first meal after fasting on a deserted island for a week.  He's as delightful to watch as a cunning, calculating, manipulative villain as he is as a cunning, calculating, manipulative super-sleuth on Sherlock.  He's a natural choice for the role.  As all the new Trek cast must play in the shadows of the iconic performers whose parts they're stepping into, Cumberbatch has the easiest time of removing Khan from Ricardo Montalban.  There are moments where he feels authentically the same man, but he's given a different background and a greater air of danger.

More than building characters, Star Trek Into Darkness builds rapport between the characters, establishing what they mean to each other, instead of who they are.  Simon Pegg's Scotty and Zoe Saldana get bigger parts, while, unfortunately Karl Urban's Bones and John Cho's Sulu get sidelined a bit too much (as they stood out a bit more in the first film as highlights), largely as a result of having to build the rivalry between Kirk and Khan (which then gleefully turns out to be more of a Spock/Khan rivalry).      

By paying even a modicum of attention the film telegraphs its plot twists rather brazenly, so little of what resulted was surprising, particularly the entirety of the third act.  But it's no less entertaining to watch.  Abrams is a maker of widescreen movies, and he knows how to populate that big picture with appealing images, and what's more I like how Abrams doesn't muddy up his imagery or try to hide it in shadows... he presents a clear, understandable sequence of events (which is a nice antidote to quick-cutting action movies) that hearkens back to Spielberg and Lucas.  Abrams reintroduces the Klingons, in a brief and very intimidating manner, as well he punishes the USS Enterprise like its never been punished before.  He toys with warp speed and gravity and it all adds up to an enticing ride.  There's an episodic nature to this series already, which I'm sure means we're in for much more Trek in the future, but even with Abrams' grandiosity, it still feels like it should be leading to television.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Last Night

2010, Massy Tadjedin -- download

Infidelity is an uncomfortable subject to talk about for many. As people have different ideas of what can be considered as "cheating" it quickly becomes a contentious conversation. Is watching porn cheating? Is a close friendship with the sexually compatible cheating? Does it require sex? Does it require intimacy? What is worse, meaningless sex or incredible intimacy lacking sex?  These are basic questions that come into play in this movie, but as a good movie should, it does not answer any questions for you, just presents the story and lets you make up your mind. Or rather, remain conflicted.

Joanna (Keira Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthington) are the beautiful people in beautiful lives. They live in a massive apartment in Manhattan, live rewarding lives (he in real estate, her a writer "of articles") and wanting for nothing. So, complication comes in the form of a chance noticing at a party, where Michael's new coworker attends. Joanna notices that the coworker Laura (Eva Mendes) is beautiful and suspects that Michael is interested in her. The noticing quickly degrades into infidelity suspicions and an argument. The next day Michael leaves for a business weekend in Phily, where Laura will attend. And as (bad) luck will have it, Joanna runs into an old lover and they reconnect.

I spent as much time watching these people live their wealthy lives as I did listening to their conversations about their connections to each other. They are also intelligent, well educated people who actually discuss their feelings, whether with honesty or masqueraded attempts at such. I am very very aware of money these days so I wanted to yell at them about how good they have it. They also had a very good marriage, so that is what I should have been yelling at the screen about. For both, for different reasons, really betray any forms of fidelity they believed in.  And both were left with little despite sex or no-sex. No liberating answers to the difficult questions in their lives. Just hurt.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: A Good Day to Die Hard

2013, John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Max Payne) -- download

Migawd that was a pretty waste of time.  Seriously, that was the visually best looking action movie I have seen in some time, at least in the use of baysplosions and giant scenes of unbridled destruction [truly the best looking action movie I have seen in quite some time was actually Dredd. -ed.]. But the funny thing is that even now, less than 12 hours since I watched it, I cannot really remember what it was about.  Sure, I may have had some of the "plot" pared down due to that annoying sub-titles / no sub-titles aspect of downloaded movies, which eliminated much of the dialogue between bad guys, but I really doubt I was missing much.  I like small plots, but there has to be one there.

OK, we all know who John McLane is, right?  He is the over confident NYC cop who keeps ending up in the strangest plots (plot, as in Evil Plan by Bad Guy) and through the use of numerous bullets and a torn, bloody tshirt he defeats the bad guys. Oh yes, a liberal use of quips and surprised swearing is required. But the trouble is, this time he seems more like a caricature of his own character.  He heads to the former Soviet Union because he gets wind his son has been arrested for a capital crime. But he has no clue that his son is now a CIA operative and doesn't need to be rescued. So he blows things up, shoots people and destroys a small country's GNR in collateral damage, all under the premise of reconciling with his boy.  And along the way he also accidentally saves the world.

I don't get movies like these where we forgive the hero his collateral damage.  Oh, we can drive under the illusion that nobody is actually hurt in his car crunching, machine gun rattling and exploding helicopter escapades. But we all know in real life, that when twenty or thirty cars are crushed, flipped, knocked aside or exploded in a chase along a busy freeway (highway in Canada so what in Russia? -ed.) that someone has to be hurt if not killed. But no, McLane doesn't give a shit as long as he can give the bad guys there come-uppance and show off to his son. We are supposed to forgive the hero because of the bigger picture, but in this very obvious case, there is no big picture yet. In fact, there is no big picture (bad guy wants to blow up the world) until very very late in the movie. Of course, I could have missed it all because it was all in Russian.