PLENTY OF MET­TLE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Strat­ton

National Man of Steel re­lease (M) ★★★ ✩

The Look of Love (MA15+) ★★★✩✩

National re­lease

Er­rors of the Hu­man Body (M) ★★★ ✩

Limited re­lease

AMERE seven years ago cin­ema au­di­ences were treated to Bryan Singer’s made-in-Aus­tralia Su­per­man Re­turns, a hugely ex­pen­sive pro­duc­tion that fol­lowed du­ti­fully in the foot­steps of Richard Don­ner’s 1978 Su­per­man, even to the ex­tent of re­cy­cling Mar­lon Brando’s strange ap­pear­ance as Jor-El, Su­per­man’s fa­ther, and cast­ing Christopher Reeve look-alike Bran­don Routh (what­ever hap­pened to him?) in the lead­ing role.

It seems su­per­hero movies are like com­put­ers, cam­eras and other elec­tronic giz­mos th­ese days — they be­come out of date and re­place­able with amaz­ing speed. Tim Bur­ton’s Bat­man (1989) was re­worked by Christopher Nolan as Bat­man Be­gins (2005); Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) was su­per­seded by Louis Leter­rier’s The In­cred­i­ble Hulk (2008), while Sam Raimi’s Spi­der-Man (2002) was up­dated last year as The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man. It’s as though the pres­sure is on to im­prove, re­fine, aug­ment — to top the pre­vi­ous ver­sion with a big­ger bud­get and even greater vis­ual ef­fects.

Man of Steel, the lat­est Su­per­man movie, is co-pro­duced by Christopher Nolan and scripted by David S. Goyer, who also wrote Bat­man Be­gins. No won­der, then, that — like Nolan’s Bat­man re­boot — Man of Steel sets out con­sciously to start afresh, ow­ing lit­tle to its pre­de­ces­sors.

It’s darker than the other Su­per­man films, and more de­struc­tive. I lost count of how many cars were wrecked, planes de­stroyed and build­ings de­mol­ished dur­ing the two-hour 20-minute run­ning time. Di­rec­tor Zack Sny­der made his mark with 300, which he fol­lowed with Watch­men, an im­pres­sive movie adap­ta­tion of a graphic novel that proved he was well suited to the genre.

Man of Steel be­gins on the doomed planet Kryp­ton where, we learn, years of fruit­less de­bates among law­mak­ers over the fu­ture of the planet, whose nat­u­ral re­sources have been ex­hausted, have re­sulted in im­mi­nent de­struc­tion. Gen­eral Zod (Michael Shan­non), a born dic­ta­tor, has one method of solv­ing the cri­sis, while his erst­while friend, god-like sci­en­tist Jor-El (Rus­sell Crowe, com­fort­ably tak­ing over Brando’s role) has other ideas — mainly to send his only be­got­ten son, Kal-El, down to Earth (the Chris­tian ele­ments of the story are more ex­plicit than ever in this ver­sion) to check out whether that planet would be a good place to re­lo­cate sur­viv­ing cit­i­zens of Kryp­ton.

Kal-El, of course, is the fu­ture Clark Kent — and, in the film’s some­what cu­ri­ous struc­ture, is next seen as a strap­ping young man sav­ing the lives of work­men trapped on a blaz­ing oil der­rick in the ocean. Henry Cav­ill plays ClarkSu­per­man, and on the strength of this the Bri­tish-born ac­tor is al­most as bland as Reeve and Routh be­fore him, though he cer­tainly looks the part. (‘‘I think he’s kinda hot,’’ says a fe­male sol­dier, help­fully, at one point.)

The film pro­ceeds in fits and starts, dart­ing back to Clark’s days as a school­boy — in which he saves his fel­low pupils when the school bus

in which they’re trav­el­ling plunges into a river — and then for­ward again to a scene in which he gives a sex­ist trucker at a road­side diner his come­up­pance. In this ver­sion he meets Daily Planet jour­nal­ist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) quite early in the piece, and scenes with his adop­tive par­ents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Cost­ner and Diane Lane), are given added im­pact by the sur­pris­ingly touch­ing per­for­mance of Cost­ner, a re­minder that this charis­matic ac­tor has been ne­glected of late.

It all builds up to a se­ries of bat­tles be­tween Su­per­man and Zod that are un­de­ni­ably spec­tac­u­lar. Af­ter a small town is de­mol­ished in the first set-piece, the ac­tion moves to Metropolis where, as gi­ant sky­scrapers fall to the ground and the ter­ri­fied cit­i­zens are cov­ered in ash, mem­o­ries of 9/11 are evoked.

Su­per­man fans will have a great time as this hugely ex­pen­sive, deaf­en­ingly loud ad­ven­ture leaps out of the screen in 3-D. For bet­ter or worse, this is con­tem­po­rary Hol­ly­wood: a tried and true for­mula pre­sented in a form that’s big­ger, if not ex­actly bet­ter, than ever. EX­CESS also fea­tures promi­nently in The Look

of Love, Michael Win­ter­bot­tom’s biopic of Lon­don’s King of Sleaze, Paul Ray­mond. Ray­mond, very well played by Steve Coogan, was a mi­nor en­ter­tainer from the north of Eng­land who was the first to flaunt the Lord Cham­ber­lain’s ar­chaic dic­tum that nude

women could ap­pear on stage as long as they didn’t move. With the rapidly chang­ing morals and mores brought about by easy ac­cess to birth con­trol and the gen­er­ally he­do­nis­tic at­mos­phere of the 1960s, Ray­mond went from run­ning Soho sex clubs to stag­ing elab­o­rate — and of­ten very pop­u­lar — plays; he also made a for­tune in the prop­erty mar­ket and be­came, for a while, Bri­tain’s rich­est man.

Ac­cord­ing to Matt Green­halgh’s screen­play, based on Paul Willetts’s bi­og­ra­phy, Mem­bers

Only: The Life and Times of Paul Ray­mond, the en­tre­pre­neur lived a cheer­fully amoral ex­is­tence in an open mar­riage with first wife Jean (Anna Friel), a model and mother of his chil­dren, un­til she could no longer stand his re­la­tion­ship with Am­ber (Tam­sin Eger­ton), a stat­uesque beauty of sur­pass­ing am­bi­tion. Am­ber later rein­vented her­self as Fiona Rich­mond and be­came a sig­nif­i­cant national sex sym­bol.

But the core of the film is Ray­mond’s re­la­tion­ship with his daugh­ter Deb­bie (Imo­gen Poots), a lik­able girl of limited tal­ent who was un­able to cope with her fa­ther’s clumsy ef­forts to in­dulge her show-busi­ness am­bi­tions.

Win­ter­bot­tom is hav­ing a bet each ways here, de­pict­ing Ray­mond’s reck­less life­style — drugs and co­pi­ous sex with dozens if not hun­dreds of beau­ti­ful, and fre­quently naked, women — but at the same time sug­gest­ing that, in the end, he was a ba­si­cally sad and un­ful­filled man. Coogan is con­vinc­ing as Ray­mond and is sup­ported by a ster­ling cast, but ul­ti­mately nei­ther di­rec­tor nor ac­tor is able to make what ba­si­cally is a piti­fully ba­nal story more in­ter­est­ing. I was more in­ter­ested in the char­ac­ter of a cler­gy­man, played by David Wal­liams, who spends a great deal of time back­stage with the un­clad girls and who, an end ti­tle in­forms us, wrote an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy ti­tled There’s No Fun Like Work. Now he might make a good sub­ject for a film! KEEN film buffs should keep an eye open for

Er­rors of the Hu­man Body, a creepy, in­trigu­ing Ger­man-Aus­tralian co-pro­duc­tion that is slink­ing into a piti­fully small hand­ful of cinemas around the coun­try.

Di­rected by Ger­many’s Eron Sheean and writ­ten by him in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Aus­tralian writer (and for­mer Ed­in­burgh film fes­ti­val di­rec­tor) Shane Danielsen, this Dres­den­lo­cated thriller in­volves a ge­neti­cist (Michael Ek­lund), whose son died of a mys­te­ri­ous virus. He’s teamed with a for­mer stu­dent and girl­friend (Karo­line Her­furth) in re­search that, as is of­ten the case in this kind of movie, goes badly wrong. The film is richly at­mo­spheric, con­sis­tently in­trigu­ing but, in the end, it has dif­fi­culty in de­liv­er­ing on the prom­ise of its dark and clas­sic cau­tion­ary tale.

Amy Adams and Henry Cav­ill in Man of Steel, main pic­ture; and Steve Coogan (right) in The

Look of Love, left

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