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Entries in michael shannon (2)

Friday
Jun142013

Man of Steel

In the world of superhero cinema, there’s no question Marvel dominates. With the success of movies like the “Iron Man” trilogy, “Thor,” and of course “The Avengers,” Marvel has taken the cinema world by storm, igniting a superhero revolution and wowing millions of people in the process. All of this has been happening while competitor DC Comics has struggled in the background for success. Aside from the Batman movies, DC hasn’t reinvigorated one of their heroes at the movies in a long time, despite a solid and underrated effort by Bryan Singer with 2006’s “Superman Returns.” This week’s “Man of Steel” is exactly what DC needs. While it is by no means perfect, it reinvigorates Superman with some much needed style and defies the expectations of what most people expect from him.

The movie begins on Krypton, the alien home world of a baby named Kal-El, who will eventually become Superman. The planet is dying, so Kal-El’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), sends him off to Earth to save his life, but not before stashing the planet’s codex with him. That codex has the information required to begin life anew for his people, so General Zod (Michael Shannon), a disgraced general that was banished from Krypton and ended up watching his world implode, decides to track it down, along with the now all grown up Kal-El. Now known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), he has been hiding his true identity to the world out of uncertainty about how the people would react.

Superman has its detractors for a number of reasons. Some of those people have valid criticisms while others miss the point of the character altogether. Superman exists as a Christ-like figure, one that is willing to put himself in danger to protect the people of the world, even the ones he doesn’t personally connect with. Just as the story of Jesus shows his selflessness, the personality of Superman is one that values others above anything else. To attack Superman is mostly frivolous given his lack of weaknesses (which is where the detractors’ issue of kryptonite being his only flaw comes into play), but it’s not attacking him that causes him pain. To really hurt him, you have to attack his humanity and put others in danger. This is why the character is so interesting. He’s not fighting back to try to bring lawfulness to a corrupt city like Batman and his motivation doesn’t stem from vengeance like Spider-man after he loses Uncle Ben. It comes from a simple desire to do good, to take his abilities and use them to help others, working as a savior to humanity.

Perhaps more than any other Superman movie, “Man of Steel” understands this. Although there is plenty of action, much of it occurs in the vicinity of the Metropolis population, all of them put in danger due to the actions of General Zod. When the army shows up to kill the aliens in one scene, their attempt quickly proves futile and Superman has to jump to action, despite the fact that the government doesn’t yet trust him and sees him as an enemy. Their perception of him doesn’t matter and although it would surely be easier to side with Zod, he instead fights for the greater good. Sometimes the Biblical allegory is a bit too on-the-nose, particularly when he floats outside of a crashing spaceship with his arms stretched out in the shape of a crucifix to save a falling Lois Lane (Amy Adams), but it makes it no less interesting.

“Man of Steel” clearly embraces the very idea of the character as this Christ-like figure, but the movie nevertheless goes in its own direction. Some may be surprised to hear that kryptonite is not featured in the movie at all. In fact, it’s not even mentioned and wouldn’t make sense to have given that General Zod is of the same origin as Superman. Although the movie creates a new narratively legitimate physical weakness for him, his real weakness in this movie is his doubt and uncertainty about a world of people he wants to save, but who fear him. In keeping with the Biblical allegory, he comes as a savior, but the people shun him. After saving a bus full of students from drowning in a lake as a child, it’s not gratitude he receives from the parents of the children, but rather suspicion. His parents, played by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, teach him to control his powers, explaining to him that one day his powers will come in handy and he will need to make a decision regarding how to use them.

Of course, his ultimate decision is obvious, but director Zack Snyder, the man behind the visually wondrous “Watchmen” and “300,” makes it feel fresh. The fights, though largely CGI, are a thrill to watch and the camerawork behind them is absolutely fantastic, including one tracking shot moving at what seems like supersonic speed as Superman catches up with Zod as they fly through the air in battle. Similar to the way he took a much beloved movie and made it new with 2004’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” he makes Superman once again appealing for a new generation of moviegoers.

If any flaws can be directed at the movie, it’s that the end of the final battle is a bit anti-climactic and there is a ton of expositional dialogue, perhaps more than any other movie in recent memory, but that dialogue is written so well and delivered so strongly that it’s more palatable than one might be accustomed to. “Man of Steel” is more of a character study than an action movie, which may not appeal to some. Tack on a slow beginning (despite the most glorious and beautiful destruction of Krypton ever put to screen) and a nearly two and a half hour runtime and divisiveness is to be expected. But in my eyes, “Man of Steel” is a sight to behold and it isn’t until you think about it later that its true wonder shines through.

Man of Steel receives 4.5/5

Friday
Sep302011

Machine Gun Preacher

If you’re anything like me, the title Machine Gun Preacher gets you excited. It’s a great name that forced visions of a good, old fashioned exploitative Grindhouse movie to rush through my head in excited anticipation. I could see the poster all too clear: a man of the cloth holding a giant gun front and center with the tagline in dripping red, “Jesus died for your sins. He’ll kill you for them.” I assumed the title was an all-you-need-to-know type, like Snakes on a Plane or Cowboys & Aliens, but perhaps I let my excitement get the best of me because Machine Gun Preacher is not what I pictured. It’s a true story with religious significance that thinks its artistic endeavors are reaching something profound when, really, it isn’t.

The story begins in Southern Sudan where we get to witness the brutality of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a vicious military group that abducts and murders the people in surrounding villages. Flash forward to “Pennsylvania, USA, a few years earlier” (a title card that is, oddly, both specific and unspecific at the same time) and Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is being released from prison. He is a violent, abusive junkie who treats his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), like a lesser individual. After a night of drug use with an unnamed pal (Michael Shannon), he attacks and stabs a man, placing him in critical condition in the hospital. Thankfully, he seeks help and begins going to church with Lynn, where he finds God and considers it his calling to help others. He begins by building a church across the street from his home, but soon winds up in Africa, rescuing orphaned children and fighting back against the LRA.

Machine Gun Preacher strikes me as a movie that only a select few will enjoy. Despite its Christian themed story and values, it features explicit sex, graphic violence, atrocities of war and offensive language, including racial slurs. It will undoubtedly turn off the more conservative viewers who would not normally watch this sort of thing. On the other side of the coin are the non-believers who, if they even venture into the theater at all, will see everything through cynical eyes. At one point, Sam is distraught and thinking about giving up after the LRA burns down the church and orphanage. Lynn tells him it was merely a test from God, but if He truly sent them to destroy, then surely He must have condoned the killing of the innocent too, a conundrum that goes against the very basis of religious indoctrination. It’s moments like these where the more skeptical among us will roll their eyes.

Still, at least Sam has that thought. As any normal human being would, he begins to question his own faith after witnessing the murder and destruction around him, wondering how a just and loving god could allow these terrible events to occur. It’s a natural progression that is, unfortunately, impeded by a screenplay that doesn’t take the time to develop it. His character goes through the motions without ever truly experiencing them. His loss of faith is barely touched upon (perhaps so as not to alienate the Christians in the audience) and his journey into it is rushed past the point of credulity. For the first 20 minutes, you watch him attack, steal from and abuse those around him, but after attending one, only one, church service, he finds himself a changed man. Before you know it, the racist you just watched shove a gun in a black man’s face is sharing a Coke with an African. This is a moment that should be heartwarming, but it instead feels forced, cheesy and manipulative because the necessary work to get us there had not been done.

Machine Gun Preacher has a rough start. The performances and character actions are so wildly over-the-top, they’re hard to take seriously, the heavy-handedness gets grating—the filmmakers try far too hard to make Sam an outrageously sinful man, so as to make his eventual redemption that much sweeter— and the churchgoers are stereotypes, waving their arms around in the air like they’re swatting bugs. Eventually, as the title suggests, Sam goes Rambo on the rebels, emerging from clouds of smoke with rocket launcher in hand, and it begins to pick up. Regardless of what one may think of his violent approach to helping, it can’t be argued he doesn’t make a difference.

So many people use religion wrong, but Sam Childers is a guy who uses it right. He was a lowlife, drug using criminal who turned his life around and dedicated it to helping others. He’s still going strong today. One can’t help but admire him, but his biopic is decidedly lackluster. Machine Gun Preacher feels like a made-for-television movie and is missing the gravitas it needs to tell its story.

Machine Gun Preacher receives 2.5/5