Brother Review

brother.pngOakland-based filmmaker Alrik Bursell just released his new short film Brother at the Oakland International Film Festival. It’s about a lying cheating boyfriend who gets in trouble when his girlfriend’s brother comes to visit.
 
Genre: Horror
Time: 10 minutes
Parental Guide: Rated “R” for language, sexual images, and gore

 

 

Review:

Undoubtedly one of Brother‘s key strengths is its excellent cast. Each of the three lead actors bring a strong sense of character and personality to their role. David O’Donnell’s Australian loser boyfriend carries the right amount of sleaze and smug egotism. Dezi Soley plays a believable and seemingly innocent woman who thinks she’s found true love. And last but not least, Capone Lee is captivating as Lou, the overly protective brother who harbors dark impulses underneath his rapidly shrinking composure.
 
In one scene O’Donnell lounges on the couch playing video games on an impossibly large TV mounted on the wall. The television fills the center of the frame and remains there, glowing in the background even as things, well, escalate. It’s a simple visual reminder that yes, this character is a lazy moron more interested in playing games who doesn’t see how deeply undeserving he is of his woman.
 
Horror is a punitive genre. We know from the outset that the loser boyfriend can be no match for Lou’s intimidating physical presence. The eventual scene of punishment is brutal and surprising, transporting us from the realm of realism straight over the edge into the stuff of nightmares. Oh yeah, and the special effects aren’t half bad either.
 
The opening shot (which appears to be filmed at the always beautiful Lake Merritt) helps establish this as a distinctly Oakland-based story. This is reinforced by the interiors which convey the unique charm of the East Bay’s cosy older buildings. There is something powerful about watching a film shot in your backyard rather than a generic LA stand in. I’m reminded of the show Parenthood, which takes place in Berkeley yet features huge spacious houses and evokes none of the feel of the actual Bay Area. It’s great to see places you know and recognize up on screen.
 
Congratulations to Alrik and his collaborators for creating another spooky little gem. From all appearances, he’s quite ready to make his feature debut with The Alternate. I can’t wait.
 
Check out other links to his work below:

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The 16 Most Breathtaking Moments from The Battle of the Five Armies Trailer

The new trailer for The Battle of the Five Armies dropped like a hammer today. It’s a brilliant piece of marketing that is definitely going to build lots of excitement for this last installment.

Here is my opinion on the 16 most breathtaking moments from the trailer in roughly chronological order.

Potential spoilers ahead!

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1) Lake-town Burns

We’ve seen Smaug torch Lake-town in the teaser trailer but here we finally see the after-effects. And it’s brutal. The whole city is ablaze with towers of flames and smoke. It definitely brings to mind Bard’s words about remembering the firestorm that destroyed Dale. It’s happening all over again.

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2) The Dwarves Build a Barricade

Or so it appears. We see a few shots of giant statues crumbling before the gates of Erebor. I assume this is Thorin beefing up his kingdom’s defenses to keep out unwanted company looking for gold. His chief concerns at this point are of course Thranduil and the men of the Lake.

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3) Return of the War Elk

Although in the past I’ve incorrectly referred to it as a moose, I’m pretty sure it’s an elk. Anyway I’m happy to see Thranduil back riding his war elk as seen in the prologue to An Unexpected Journey. This is just such a cool and distinctive visual. I really hope he can ride it into battle at some point even though from the two trailers we’ve seen it looks like Thranduil does most of his fighting on foot.

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4) Orc Tunnels

Here is Sauron’s army marching from Dol Guldur to the slopes of Erebor. Gandalf mentions in this trailer that this is the ultimate culmination of Sauron’s plans but I’m still unsure of how the line of Durin and the Lonely Mountain fit into his schemes. We know from Thrain in the extended edition for Desolation that Smaug is in league with Sauron but I’m not sure how or why this requires a giant army to march halfway across Middle Earth to fight a handful of dwarves. Is he planning to use the gold of Erebor to buy up all of Middle Earth and drive up property values?

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5) War Bats

I’m not sure how I feel about the bats. They look cool in the trailer but I’m not super excited for CGI bats actually swooping into battle. Gandalf does specifically mention the bats in the book:

“Behold! the bats are above his army like a sea of locusts. They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train!”

Legolas is convinced these oversized bats were bred specifically for war. Still, they are probably not quite big enough to fight eagles. They are easy enough for elves to shoot down I suppose. We’ll have to see how important these bats end up being, hopefully they are more just for atmosphere than posing as a serious threat.

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6) Nazgul Fight

I’ve been wondering who would be left in Dol Guldur for the White Council to fight and it looks like we have found the answer: the Ringwraiths themselves! This wonderful shot has been floating all around the internet today. Galadriel is cradling an injured Gandalf while the nine lieutenants of Sauron close in around them. Each of the Nazgul has a distinct design look, which is visually very interesting.

It’s hard to forget that we have been teased their return for two entire movies. In An Unexpected Journey, Radagast encountered the Witch-King and retrieved his sword. Then in Desolation of Smaug Gandalf and Radagast explored the High Fells and discovered all nine had been resurrected and escaped their tombs. That’s exactly two years of buildup just to get to this one battle. You can bet that Peter Jackson and his crew are going to go all out to make these two years finally pay off, right?

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7) Battle Elrond

We’ve seen Elrond fighting in the prologue to Fellowship of the Ring and glimpse of his battle-ready self in An Unexpected Journey but for the first time we are going to see Elrond whip out his sword and take on some serious bad guys: the Nazgul themselves! He’s such a great character and even though he is not going to make to the Battle of Five Armies, I’m really glad that we get not only to see him again in costume but to go dish it out against Sauron in person in the Dark Lord’s own home base.

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8) Saruman Goes After Sauron

Christopher Lee’s Saruman is an unapologetic scene stealer. After giving Lord of the Rings an unforgettable villain almost as dangerous as the Dark Lord himself and overriding Gandalf’s concerns in An Unexpected Journey, Saruman is back one last time for the White Council assault on Dol Guldur. Honestly this is like a dream come true: Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf, and now Saruman all back for one more movie. And in this scene Saruman reveals his intentions to go after Sauron himself. This opens up so many possibilities:

  • Will the wise and powerful Saruman be able to defeat Sauron in his weakened state?
  • Did Gandalf exhaust some of the Dark Lord’s power so that now Saruman can finish him off?
  • Is this the scene where Saruman becomes convinced of Sauron’s power and decides secretly to align with him?
  • Will Saruman choose to let Sauron go free?

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9) Dwarven Ballistas

That’s clearly a dwarf there operating what looks to be a huge ballista which fires an equally huge projectile. These must be fresh arrivals to Erebor from the Iron Hills. I like the dwarven armor a lot and can’t wait to see more of the dwarf battle designs. The armor used for the Battle of Moria flashbacks was initially supposed to be used for the Battle of Five Armies so it will fun to see what Weta Workshop comes up with this time.

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10) Arrows Fly

The meticulously organized elven arches line up outside Erebor and fire their first volley of arrows at the dwarves. I’m not sure who they are hoping to hit since the walls seem pretty impenetrable but any exposed dwarf is going to be in lots of trouble. It’s sad to think that these same elves that are attacking Erebor could have come to Erebor’s aid when Smaug first arrived and only come now out of enmity towards Thorin. It will be interesting to see how much fighting actually takes place between men, elves, and dwarves before Sauron’s army arrives.

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11) Dwalin Confronts Thorin

Of course Dwalin, more so than any other member of the company, is Thorin’s right hand man. He would follow Thorin to the ends of the earth and he would rather start a good fight any day than engage in diplomacy. He is the least likely of any of the dwarves to disobey his king or run from a fight and yet here we see even the loyal Dwalin questioning Thorin’s motives. There’s probably no better shorthand way to show that Thorin has truly gone mad than this heartfelt line from Dwalin.

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12) War Trolls

These look a bit like upgraded cave trolls, carrying some kind of siege weapon on their backs. It’s nice to see that Sauron’s army will have a diversity of troops much like it did in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Curiously enough we haven’t seen any wargs in this trailer but of course we know there will be many. These trolls don’t look quite as fierce as the trolls outside the Black Gate that Aragorn faced but they are a welcome surprise nonetheless. They will add texture and progression to what will be a very long battle.

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13) Kili Shouts at Thorin

Usually quite good-natured, Kili unleashes his anger at his uncle in what is no less than an absolutely shocking moment. Things must be going to pretty bad for the king’s own nephew to openly defy him like this. Kili’s reference to others fighting their battles perhaps refers to Tauriel whom has sacrificed her livelihood to the protect the innocents caught up in the path of the orcs.

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14) Thranduil Turns Against Tauriel

It literally looks like Thranduil is swinging at Tauriel with his sword while she parries his blow. The scar on Thranduil’s face also appears to be showing slightly. What would cause the king of the wood-elves to attack the captain of his own guard? This seems to be much more than her simply defying his orders. Something big must have happened for this aggression from the king of the wood-elves. Unfortunately it looks like Tauriel will not be getting a break either.

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15) Bolg Throws Tauriel

In a devastating blow, Bolg knocks Tauriel into a wall. This is just cruel. We know Tauriel can handle herself against legions of orcs so the fact that Bolg is able to do this shows both that he is incredibly dangerous and unimaginably strong. I really hope that this scene is not the end ofTauriel. If she does die in this movie, she deserves a much more heroic death than getting slammed into a pile of bricks.

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16) Azog’s Blade

The Defiler had a functional but not-quite-menacing claw hand in An Unexpected Journey and we didn’t see too much of him in Desolation of Smaug. He is clearly going to be back in a big way for this last film. Instead of a claw hand he has a full on curved blade perfect for impaling and perhaps even preparing sushi. It has exactly four sharp pointy ends on it just in case he forgot to poke enough holes in his enemies already. In this scene he seems to fighting Thorin which may prove fatal for at least one of them. Intense stuff.

Those 16 moments took my breath away. What about you?

Contagion’s Thematic Preoccupation With Fear

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Contagion is a brooding atmospheric thriller. Instead of terrorists or supernatural beings, the enemy is an enigmatic virus that can be passed along through an innocuous handshake or a martini glass. Not only does this lethal creation invade and kill our bodies, but it also turns humanity against its very self.

Director Steven Soderbergh tells us about the virus by focusing on a handful of characters who each face the threat head on from their own particular vantage point: patient zero, a grieving loved one, the CDC director, a WHO researcher, and an exploitative blogger. Contagion makes the danger all the more palpable making us watch as the virus destroys, not just cities, but individual victims one by one.

The film’s tagline is “Nothing spreads like fear,” an accurate portrayal of its thematic aspirations. And it does so expertly by painting an aura of fear across each character and setting.

Ultimately the core message of the film is a pessimistic one, the disease is defeated at great personal cost and with no final explanation for the disease itself. Death wins because death always wins. This negative story assessment is given in three main ideas.

Fear Is More Powerful Than Hope

The disease is unknown, a brand new hybrid, no known cure. It is something even our best science is helpless to stop, even as dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, then millions die. They perish because despite our last few centuries of humanist optimism, some things no amount of science can prevent.

As the death toll rises and panic sets in, the fear of death is all around. The President hides in an underground bunker. Chicago is declared a quarantine zone. Fear outweighs hope, fear defeats hope, fear beats hope into dust.

A disease that causes so much death and destruction, spreading so easily and so rapidly, grinds away the human spirit.

Self-Preservation Is More Powerful Than Love

The disease however is just one enemy, just one aspect of the greater terror of Contagion. Our response to the disease is just as fearsome and just as deadly. When death is so near, society cannot sustain itself. Morality is abandoned. Streets erupt in panic and violence.

Ordinary citizens now become looters, home invaders, and profiteers. People dissolve long lines just to get to the front. Muscle over mind, desperate souls push their way ahead of the rest to get what they need. To take what they need.

There is no kindness while the deadly disease rages on. Self-preservation becomes the new mantra in the battle of survival.

Disorder Is More Powerful Than Order

While the virus multiplies and social institutions crumble, society as we know it begins to fall. There is no calling 911, no fire department, no hospital nurses. The threat of imminent death throws us into completely chaos.

Even as valiant attempts to curb the pandemic are implemented in the form of a powerful vaccine, it too is governed by the randomness of the lottery. There are no guarantees in the chaotic world of the virus. Your salvation is determined by chance, order yields to the vacuum of disorder.

While the dead lie in mass graves, no reason is given for this vicious plague upon humanity. It is all by chance. A bat and a pig meeting under the tiniest most trivial of circumstances. It has no purpose, no reason, no justification for being. It simply is.

In a word, we are powerless.

Points of Thematic Disagreement

It is unfair to the filmmakers to reduce Contagion’s themes to this simple set of three, but I do so for the sake of time and because these three I find the most unrealistic and untrue. Yes, the film occasionally takes time to venerate the courageous ethical choices of the main cast in spite of the gloom and despair. We get a host of scientists who work tirelessly and sacrificially to find a cure and one parent who tries to protect his daughter in a hostile environment. Yes, a cure is discovered. But curiously none of these examples fit the tagline or emotional tenor of the movie.

This is a thriller, designed to thrill with the terror and discomfort of an invisible unstoppable killer. A contagion finds you, infects you, and then ends you for no rational or understandable purpose. It is the fear of the unknown, it tears through the social and moral fabric of world because it can. All the while this virus manages to expose the thin artificial nature of basic human decency, constantly reminding us how uncertain and tenuous our mortal existence really is.

Contagion fails to show that outside a few brave scientists in laboratories there is a greater innate hope beyond mere survival. But this is wrong. If the police never arrive, justice does not die. If the nurses never show up, healing does not cease.

I must agree with Contagion’s premise that fear exists and death may strike any one of us at any moment. I agree that uncertainty can cause humans to reveal the worst aspects of our nature: cowardice, rage, violence, greed, brutality. Those things are true. But as a spiritual person and confessing Christian, I sense that no one is truly powerless. Fear is not as contagious as the film would have us believe.

I’ve never been through a global catastrophe or natural disaster, but in such times many things spread other than fear . When earthquakes rip apart Haiti, there may be corruption but there is also a tremendous outpouring of relief workers and foreign aide. When tsunamis sweep innocent victims into the ocean, there is tragedy but there is also supplies and medical assistance donated almost immediately.

Fear is contagious, but hope is even more contagious.
Selfishness is contagious, but love is doubly so.
Chaos is contagious, but structure and purpose far outstrip it.

Humans may not naturally incline toward love and hope and purpose, but once given an example to follow they eventually learn to be better humans. If such a deadly contagion befell our race, a loving God would sustain us in love and help us continue to press on as we have always done. We would forge new societies, new bonds, and new purpose out of the ashes. A disease which kills the body does not necessarily kill the soul. That is the infectious nature of hope.

The Terrible Film That Is Jack the Giant Slayer (And How To Fix It)

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A few months ago my wife and I went to see Jack the Giant Slayer in theaters but tickets were sold out that night so we ended up doing something else. Tonight we finally made up for that missed opportunity by renting it at home.

It seems like every time a big expensive action/sci-fi/fantasy/comic book movie comes out I am excited to see it. I don’t care if it’s a big silly spectacle, usually I can find a way to enjoy it.

Often times I find myself reading scathing reviews after the movie (to be explained soon in a blog post) wondering how the reviewer can see so differently than I do.

Well now I know what it’s like to be on the other side.

I loathed the movie. Despite very much liking the actors Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, and Nicholas Hoult, the movie managed to swallow them up in unconvincing CGI, lackluster dialogue, and sorry under-characterization.

I actually went in with high hopes believing that despite it’s status as a box office flop (think the shiny but little seen goodness of Pacific Rim… ok maybe not quite that good) that it was somehow still a decent movie. I was wrong.

Now usually I don’t like to be negative about movies. In an upcoming blog post I will talk about how much I dislike negative reviews and see them contributing little to the overall enjoyment of films and very much find them annoying. So instead I’m going to try something a little different.

See, I actually wanted Jack the Giant Slayer to be a good movie. Not a perfect movie, not a masterpiece, not an Oscar contender. Just a fun silly adventure that pulls out a few story punches along the way.

So what did Jack and his beany friends do wrong?

How did this film that cost tens and tens of millions of dollars to produce and market end up such a disappointment?

Although it’s hovering a little above 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, the top reviews from my Google search seem to focus adamantly on the film’s better parts, admitting its flaws yet downplaying them at the same time.

How is this so? What am I missing?

How can they ravage a film like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey which clearly has heart, pathos, and a wild sense of adventure and then innocently gloss over the glaring weakness of Jack’s Boring Climb to Floating Giant World? (Ah sorry, I said I would try to be nice. I’m failing.)

It is weird. It is weird to care so much and it is weird to spend so many words trying to articulate my feelings but I promised that I would get around to make some positive and constructive comments, so here goes.

Here is how Jack the Giant Slayer could have been a better movie:

1) Tell me, who exactly is this titular Jack?

Really, I didn’t see what made Jack any different than say the hero/protagonist of Eragon or some other bland fantasy movie. I know that this Jack grew up listening to stories about giants. I know that Jack now lives with his uncle or something. I know that Jack lives in a pretty humble house and that he is brave and gets into fights during puppet time.

But what I don’t about Jack is why I should care about him. He is pretty generic. He could be anybody.

When Nicholas Hoult played Beast in X-Men First Class, there was an instant connection created between the audience and his character. He was super smart, he had cool classes, he was geeky, and he had secret mutated feet that he hid from the covert government branch where he worked. He had great chemistry with Raven/Mystique and yet couldn’t quite find it in himself to pursue her. He was a small character but definitely a character.

What really needed to happen with Jack is something that could set him apart from the generic fantasy humble farmboy stereotype. As far as I can tell, he is a simple do-gooder with a mediocre personality. I’m not even certain he was the main character of the film, despite the title.

Here’s how Jack should have been. Jack should have an opinion on the monarchy/crown apart from mere deference to “your highness.” How does Jack feel about the king and his kingdom? Does he think him a good ruler? Does he feel pained that he and his uncle live in relative squalor while the royal family feasts in their palace? Or perhaps does he aspire to serve the king one day, to be in the royal guard or an advisor or be the king’s court storyteller?

What does Jack want besides to rescue the princess and not lose his uncle’s horse? He certainly does not wish the destruction of Cloister, but then again nobody really does except the Giants and Super Evil Lord Roderick.

But what does this movie’s Jack want? The princess, sorta. But only if she makes the first move because Jack is a little shy.

But you know what, I forgot. Jack likes books. So there you go, he is a character after all.

I MIGHT be concerned about Jack’s relationship with Princess Isabelle except I know even less about her than I do about Jack.

Which brings us naturally to the second question.

2) Why do we care about the relationship with between Jack and the Princess?

All we know about the princess is that the director likes to crosscut scenes of Jack and scenes of Isabelle so as to confuse us or perhaps symbolize how they are both the same person because they were read the same bedtime story and both have grumpy father/uncle figures in their life. I don’t know really know.

The princess, like Jack, could be anybody. I didn’t even remember what her name was. I had to look it up.

The one thing I do know about the princess is that she does not want to marry the evil psychopath/narcissist/world conqueror. Again, as with Jack, that is not really notable characterization in that NOBODY wants to marry evil short serial killers.

A little notable is that she is defiant of her stubborn and unsympathetic father. The king wants his daughter to stay in the palace all day and marry Lord Psycho. Instead of creating a tender and enlightening relationship marked with two district approaches, instead we just get a straight dysfunctional one. The king lost his queen, so now he just decides to be a jerk. Instead of exploring this backstory and what it means to the King or the Princess we just skip ahead. The King doesn’t care about his daughter. He will happy even start chopping down an impossibly thick giant vine all by himself and sacrifice his daughter, because GOSH HE DOESN’T CARE.

At least Lord Roderick has the goal of taking over the world. At the least the Giants are under mind control half the time to excuse their goal-less behavior.

Why can’t we see the King care about his daughter for once? Maybe it happened somewhere and I just missed it, but moving on.

Perhaps because the movie was so dimly lit but also because the script intentionally decided to hide her appearance for the beginning of the movie, I really had no idea what Isabelle even looked like. She was wearing a hood. She was wearing a princess outfit. She was wearing a cloak and hat and hiding her face from Jack. She was in a cage in dimly lit room full of giants.

Who is this character? I can’t even see her face! By refusing to let us see her face, her eyes, the portal into an actor’s soul, the movie intentionally turns Princess Isabelle into a mystery for most of the movie. And unfortunately, a mystery cannot simultaneously be a character.

Yes, I know Isabelle likes to disobey her oh-so-stern father and conveniently run away to the main character’s house, but by the time the action gets started she is swept away.

Sure, Jack likes her because he’s evidently never seen a girl before but why should we care?

Princess Leia is an awesome character because she is dedicated to freedom fighting, skilled at diplomacy, sarcastic and outspoken. Princess Merida is an incredible archer, defiant of her parents yet also loving toward them, responsible over her brothers, and adventurously brave to boot. But Princess whatshername? Not so much.

3) Why is Lord Roderick so evil?

As little as I know about Jake and Isabelle, I know even littler about the movie’s primary antagonist. The giants are stupid and don’t really have a plan. But Lord Roderick is a master manipulator, schemer, and backstabber.

Unfortunately, he is not a character either. He is evil because he just is so evil. There’s no real reason that I remember given for his nefarious deeds and his unquenchable drive to conqueror the whole world with an army of giants.

Did the King slight him somehow? Did the princess spurn his love for so long as to leave him with a hole instead of a heart, a hole that can only be filled with power and control so as to never be hurt again?

Nope, Roderick is evil for no reason whatsoever.

4) What is going on with Elmont?

There is strangely self-aware moment of the film where Roderick is fighting hand-to-hand with Elmont. Clearly Ewan McGregor’s Elmont was supposed to be an awesome butt-kicking sidekick/companion to Jack. During the cave fight scene, where Roderick clearly has the upper hand, Roderick shouts to Elmont that Elmont is not the hero of this story and Elmont replies that he knows he is not the hero so it doesn’t really hurt his feelings or anything.

But wait? If Elmont is not the hero, then why die the movie try so hard to make him look cool and stuff? He doesn’t really make much of an impact on any of the other characters and his role in advancing the plot could have really been done by anyone. But no, Elmont gets the awesome task of staying behind to kill evil Lord Psycho and get back the glowing crown that gives you mind control over lazy CGI giants.

IF Elmont is not the hero, then why he is 200 times cooler than Jack?

IF Elmont is not the hero, why is he doing the hero’s job?????

IF Elmont is not supposed to be the dang hero, then why do I so badly wish that they had cast Ewan McGregor as Jack instead?

Elmont is basically just another version of the generic fantasy hero. He is pure, he is loyal, he is selfless, he is good at being brave and fighting stuff. And he does it all better than Jack does. Oops.

For Elmont to exist, he needs to have some kind of influence on Jack. He should be the one to encourage him to go after the Princess, or to convince Jack to stand up and fight the giants, or to shed his uncle’s provincial mentality and come serve in the capital. But no, Elmont is a glorified sidekick.

It would even have been better if they changed Elmont to the main character who is viewing Jack’s situation and progress from the outside, ala Shawshank Redemption. Make Elmont the main character, who just happens to be witnessing Jack’s story and helping him become his own hero.

Alas, we don’t really even get to see how the story ends for Elmont. One second he leading armies in battle and then he is offscreen forever.

5) What do the Giants represent?

Evidently nothing, but let’s pretend for a second they did.

If I learned there were freaking Giants that could bite off my head in 2 seconds, that would shake my reality for a second. In the movie, not so much. People are not really afraid of the Giants as much as they are uncannily prepared to kill them with fire moats and javelin-machine guns.

Giants should be this awe-inspiring chaotic force that makes kings tremble and cause the strength of warriors fade. This is what Lord of the Rings gets so so right during its battle scenes. The orcs are unrelenting, uncaring, unfeeling. They strike fear into the heart of man. A giant does not need to be like an orc, but it should do something besides mobilize an instant and 100% effective response, no?

I thought the troll scene in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey captured the big humanoid creature thing pretty well. Although heavy on the snot jokes, the trolls were grotesque and unexpectedly dangerous caricatures. These giants, however were a faceless army. The only one of importance or with any distinct personality was the general, Fallon the two-headed giant.

A great tragedy, Fallon has two heads but one is a slobbering doofus. How great would it have been to have a giant with two heads and two distinct personalities that worked together using their separate approaches to solving problems? Imagine instead of having Fallon killed by dropping a magic bean in his mouth if Jack “slayed” Fallon by finally getting the two heads to argue with one another, critically distracting them in order to plant the seed in them?

But no instead we get one head that does everything and another that blindly tags along.

Why? Because giants are stoopid.

I never for one single second in the entire 2 hours was afraid that any of the good characters in this movie would get hurt by a giant. The giants live in the coolest place in the world, a floating island in the clouds, and when they go after a single unprepared human city are defeated in 20 minutes.

5) Was that really the ending?

As far as I’m concerned, all the heroes did was manage to annoy the giants and remind them to come back down sometime and eat all the humans.

Really the ending was terrible. What could have been an awesome story punch (see: name of the blog) was instead a mind-bending gimmick.

After accepting the premise that this is a fantasy world for the entirety of the movie (a premise that allows us to accept facts like magic beanstalks, forgettable CGI giants, and characters made of out of cardboard), the movie lets us know that this Jack’s tale is actually the secret history of St. Edward’s Crown found in the Tower of London.

Do we get to see Jack reconciled with his uncle, whose horse, house, and livelihood he destroyed?

Do we see Princess Isabelle make amends with her emotionally vacant father?

Do we see how battling giants and staying true to his kingdom changes Elmont?

Nope, we get a stupid crown.

The Man of Steel is about Jesus (also Pancakes!)

An Enduring Symbol

“A lot of people say that the Superman symbol is the second most recognized symbol in the world other than the cross. A lot of people recognize the Spider-Man symbol, but it doesn’t have the same kind of weight that the Superman symbol does.” – David Goyer, screenwriter for Man of Steel

Superman is a symbol. As the world’s first superhero he is the most recognizable, the most enduring, and maybe even the strongest. And now 75 years after his creation he returns yet again in the $225 million Man of Steel to dazzle the world with supersonic flight, super-strength, and red hot laser beams shooting from his eyes.

Although the critics have savaged the new film, audience goers seem to disagree. It’s a big hit, filled with what is best described as cinema’s finest superhero battles that happen to make the urban destruction of The Avengers look like target practice.

Superman is back, but what does it mean for you and me?

Decades after his debut, what does he symbolize exactly?

He may not be real, but he gives us an ideal to strive towards. Through the wisdom of Jor-El and Jonathan Kent, we understand that Superman’s moral strength is as necessary as his physical strength.

The “S” stands for hope, we are told. Superman means something good. He embodies our collective and individual power to do good in this world, our chance to repel evil wherever it may rear its ugly head.

However as a film Man of Steel is not telling the whole truth. Superman represents more.

As part of their marketing efforts, Warner Brothers hired a theologian to write Man of Steel sermon outlines for pastors to preach to their congregations. One is titled “Jesus, The Original Superhero.”

It all makes sense now. Young Clark asking why God made him this way. The priest encouraging Kal-El to have faith. An innocent Superman willingly accepting his chains. This Man of Steel symbolizes the hope in a Messiah.

I would believe that, but the iconic Superman symbol means so much more.

Reportedly Man of Steel set the record for most product tie ins of any film ever made, beating out the previous champion The Lorax (who inexplicably peddled SUVs by the way). To the tune of $170 million dollars from it’s “partners”, Man of Steel was almost profitable before it even sold a single ticket. Peppered throughout the movie like gaudy billboards are gratuitous product placement for companies like Sears, 7-11, and International House of Pancakes.

Superman means hope, Jesus, and also pancakes.

Outside of the movie, dozens more brands will feature Krypton’s last son ranging from Nokia phones and the National Guard to Twizzlers and Carl’s Jr.’s Super Bacon Cheeseburger. This will all make sense in the movie when Superman explains to a wary military that he is very much an American.

When you can literally buy the right to have Clark Kent wear your brand of glasses, what does he symbolize anymore? Hope is the not the word that immediately comes to mind.

The real question is how far can you stretch a symbol to mean whatever you want?

Is it really possible for Superman to represent the collective power for doing good in the world, Jesus, and Pizza Hut’s Man of Steel box deal all at the same time?

As a summer popcorn film, Man of Steel works great. I recommend it wholeheartedly in my glowing review.

But as for an enduring symbol of hope?

Man of Steel reads more as symbol of American capitalism, a commodity easily sold to the highest bidder. A corporate branding tool, not a sermon illustration. I could go on to compare the symbol of the world’s greatest superhero to the symbol of the Christian cross, but I just got a strange craving for some pancakes.