PLENTY OF METTLE
National Man of Steel release (M) ★★★ ✩
The Look of Love (MA15+) ★★★✩✩
Errors of the Human Body (M) ★★★ ✩
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It seems superhero movies are like computers, cameras and other electronic gizmos these days — they become out of date and replaceable with amazing speed. Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was reworked by Christopher Nolan as Batman Begins (2005); Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) was superseded by Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk (2008), while Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) was updated last year as The Amazing Spider-Man.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