I quite enjoyed The Producers. It has fun performances from Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and the ridiculous Kenneth Mars, and a pervasive sense of cheekiness that works well. However, there aren’t really enough jokes, and some sequences (e.g. Ulla’s dance) are unfortunate. The famous performance of Springtime for Hitler is the clear highlight; it’s so much better (funnier, cleverer, more entertaining) than the rest, in fact, that it reveals the mediocrity elsewhere. My favourite line of the film: “You shut up. You are the audience. I am the author. I outrank you!”.
It seems an odd decision to reboot Superman so soon after 2006’s Superman Returns. However, it’s not a fruitless decision, as it allows a retelling of the Superman origin story, which I regard as the most interesting part of a superhero’s mythology. It also means Brandon Routh – who was sterile and unmemorable in Superman Returns – gets replaced by Henry Cavill, who isn’t great (and has some laughable facial expressions when attempting to look serious or concerned) but is at least an improvement. The other casting is quite good too, with talented performers such as Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne and Richard Schiff in key roles. I enjoyed the treatment of Superman as an alien; the people of Earth (and the authorities in particular) react to his presence and power much as they would any powerful extraterrestrial being suddenly discovered here, which is a refreshing change from the standard you’re-a-superhero-fighting-for-good-so-we-love-you response.
As for negatives… well, there are quite a few, and they’re biggies. Though he’s better than Routh, Cavill is no Christopher Reeve. Costner isn’t given a whole lot to do as Superman’s adoptive father Pa Kent and Shannon is regrettably one-note as the villainous Zod. Apart from the origins-of-Superman stuff, which is fine, the story is weak, consisting mostly of convoluted silliness involving conflict with Zod over the Kryptonian ‘codex’ (a MacGuffin if ever there was one). Many of the action scenes are Michael Bay Transformersish or akin to watching a video game unfold before our eyes (speaking of video games, the acting, dialogue and action in some of the early scenes on Krypton bring to mind the worst kind of video game cutscenes). In some cases, most notably the climactic sequence involving the ‘world engine’, it’s pretty hard to know or care what’s going on. A few scenes and devices are particularly preposterous, such as the preserved consciousness of Superman’s father Jor-El (Crowe) appearing on board the Kryptonian villains’ spaceship to guide Lois Lane (Adams) through a series of attacks. There are also quite a number of nits I couldn’t stop myself from picking and questions I couldn’t stop myself from asking even though I knew the answers were all ‘shut up and suspend your disbelief and logic, it’s a superhero movie!’, such as why the Kryptonians would rely on the least secure form of security I’ve ever seen (pegs that fit into holes!), why they speak English, why Superman’s parents don’t flee Krypton with him, etc. And lastly, a minor complaint: it’s a shame that John Williams’ iconic Superman theme isn’t used at all, even briefly as an homage.
On the surface it’s an exploration of love in the digital future and the question of what it means to be human and to love, but beneath that it’s basically a movie about a man coming to terms with the collapse of his marriage. There are loads of wonderful ideas and it all hangs together into a solid dramatic whole. It’s also frequently very, very funny.
Joaquin Phoenix is memorable and entirely committed to his role; it may be his best performance to date, though to be fair I haven’t seen I’m Not There yet. Amy Adams continues her recent string of strong work; she’s a real talent. Scarlett Johansson is great too in a voice-only part, helping to create ‘Samantha’ as a fully realised character in our minds, which is crucial to the movie succeeding.
The production design is ingenious and the costuming is hilarious (especially the ubiquitous high pants) without being implausible in the least. I also love that the film never bothers to tell us precisely when in the future it’s set, since it’s too busy being awesome. I can’t recommend this highly enough; even if you don’t end up loving it as I did, you’re bound to find plenty to like.
A singular, visceral experience, it’s immensely powerful, particularly towards the end. Steve McQueen shows great precision, pathos and nuance in his direction. It’s one of the best cinematic explorations of injustice and suffering I’ve seen. Telling the story of a kidnap victim rather than one of the countless other slaves he finds himself amongst is an interesting and ultimately fruitful window into the broader issue of the immorality of slavery; we focus on the personal hardship and tragedy of this one man, but in doing so cannot help but recognise the wider injustice around him.
The supporting performances from Michael Fassbender (who performed so well for McQueen in Shame) and Lupita Nyong’o are excellent, and Paul Giamatti does well in a small role requiring him to be a racist arsehole, but it’s Chiwetel Ejiofor who shines brightest in a powerhouse lead performance. Indeed, were it not for Matthew McConaughey’s sterling work in Dallas Buyers Club, I would have handed the Best Actor Oscar to Ejiofor in a flash. Also look for Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire) in a role that basically amounts to a cameo.
This is the kind of movie that I imagine many prospective viewers are apprehensive about watching; it looks like it will be unpleasant, perhaps the cinematic experience of eating one’s greens. I’d say this: it certainly is unpleasant at times, but it’s also deeply moving, uplifting, and full of meat to go with the greens.
Marty certainly knows his craft and the entertainment value is pretty high, but it’s held back from greatness because it’s too lightweight to succeed as a drama in the tradition of Goodfellas (one of his very best films, and the one this resembles most closely in terms of its storyline), and too Goodfellasish – or, perhaps, insufficiently committed to making the audience laugh – to succeed as a comedy, despite a few solid gags (mostly involving drug use, which is never not funny, right?). By the end of the three hours, I’d seen a lot of crazy things and my interest had never flagged, but I was left wondering if there was anything beneath the decadent veneer. In that sense, it felt like the perfect companion piece to American Hustle.