Archive for the 'review' Category

Man of Steel in Motion

Spoilers follow.

At first, I dug around some of my favorite sites for writing about movies, looking for examples of the critics writing about what doesn’t work in Man of Steel. By now, though, you’ve probably heard, read, or thought all those things, too. Simply put, the mayhem and destruction in the film may be too much. Superman’s actions either cause or allow too much damage to be wrought on the people of Kansas and Metropolis, many have said, and I agree with that. The climactic action of Man of Steel is too costly in human life even for a mythic yet novice Superman.

(That director Zack Snyder wanted it that way is telling. It’s a choice, and a choice he’s allowed to make as the painter of a Superman story, but it doesn’t work for me.)

That ending doesn’t undo everything I liked about the movie, however, and I liked rather a lot of it. The whole first hour of the film crafts bold, beautiful worlds on Krypton and Earth. It is earnest to the point of being pulpy, even cheesy, and I am fine with that. My favorite parts of this movie are when Superman talks with humans, including that final scene in the Daily Planet offices.

This incarnation of General Zod may be my favorite version of the character. He’s crazed from the get-go, dangerous and devoted and fanatical to his cause. His trajectory through the picture is the real propulsive force and the reason why the movie is so hyperactively violent. Thanks to Michael Shannon, especially, I felt like this was his picture — scary and bombastic because of his villainy.

That’s sort of a shame for what amounts to our reintroduction to Superman, I think. I think Henry Cavill is a terrific Superman. At once modest and powerful, doubting but driven, his relationships with his human and alien fathers is well handled by the actors of Clark. I’m eager to see another Cavill performance in the cape.

And that’s the best thing about Man of Steel for me. This is a deeply cinematic vision for the character and his world, building on stuff we already know about Superman and remixing it in ways to give the stories the right pace and style for the movies. I love that Lois Lane won’t spend the franchise trying to figure out who Superman is — we’re only likely to get a handful of stories with these characters before another reboot, so some of the tales that worked in the serialized comics won’t play as well here. I’m excited to see the Clark/Lois dynamic in the next film, thanks to this one.

Above all, though, the Kryptonian action of this movie — from Jor-El to Zod’s cadre to Kal-El — is all about motion. We get some strong visual portraits of Superman that would work in the comics, like that shot of him in the custody of soldiers, his hands bound. But we also get moments that work best in motion, like the casual breaking of those handcuffs and the use of Superman’s cape throughout. The shifting snow and pebbles before he takes flight might not play on the page like they do in the theater. That’s good stuff.

This movie doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be the core depiction of the character. This story plays with what we know and expect, fitting into the larger mythology of Superman in a way that I think is right for a reboot in an age when comics and movies and television are all interacting with each other in new ways. This isn’t a definitive Superman, this is a distinctly theatrical vision.

Here, moving images reign. The comics’ tableaus and heroically statuesque visuals rule a different realm. Let each form do what it does best.

For me, the cinematic Steve Rogers of Chris Evans and Marvel Studios is still my preferred superheroic do-gooder (and I’m very excited to see Captain America develop further on screen in The Winter Solider), but I have room in my roster for this new Superman, too. Here’s hoping the next movie adventure of the Man of Steel learns a lot from this first one, though.

Addenda:

Hans Zimmer’s score worked so well in the movie, for me, that I went and bought it right after. Alas, it doesn’t work outside the film as well, for me, but some of its key motifs remain really powerful.

I dug the amount of sci-fi flavor in this film (though I’d like to see this Superman foil a bank robbery, too). This galaxy makes me a little afraid of what might come to threaten Earth next, which makes me feel like Superman’s role as our world’s galactic protector is nicely underlined.

Someday maybe I’ll get to pitch my sci-fi vision for a futuristic Superman miniseries or story. I have just one good Superman story I’d like to tell.

Soundtrack: Uncharted: Golden Abyss

When I write, I put on music. When I play RPGs, I put on music. I don’t know anything about music, really, but here’s something I’m listening to.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss by Clint Bajakian

Uncharted: Golden Abyss by Clint Bajakian

Clint Bajakian was an early influence on me, musically. I learned to play some parts of his soundtrack for Star Wars: Dark Forces on the piano, just by ear, because I don’t really play the piano. (I can play the Force theme, “The Imperial March,” and the main riff from “Mission: Impossible” if you give me time.) He scored Monkey Island 2 and Outlaws and more. He does good work.

So when I saw his name turn up on Uncharted 3 in places, I was intrigued. That’s a good soundtrack. Then, it turns out, he wrote the whole score for Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the Uncharted game I am criminally unable to play because I don’t have a PS Vita. So I did the other thing I do: I bought the soundtrack, listened to it as I wrote things, and imagined.

This is also a good soundtrack. Tracks run the gamut from action-adventure jaunts to moody, atmospheric pieces, much of it toying just a little bit with core Uncharted musical themes. (You might have to be a theme aficionado to notice; I had to check the booklet to catch at least one of them.) Listen for wonderful vocal arrangements and guitar flourishes amid the orchestra.

When I put this one into my headphones, it ebbs and flows, falling away when I’m working and rising to the fore when I stop to take a puff on a cigar. I dig that about it.

I haven’t used this soundtrack in RPG play much (though I should) but it’s a staple of my Storium writing. One track in particular, “Protect Chase,” is something I play in my “Adventurous” playlist before I shuffle it. That track flows with intrigue and adventure, telling me it’s time to get writing. Speaking of which, I’m off to do more writing.

I bought Clint Bajakian’s Uncharted: Golden Abyss via the iTunes store.

Music: “Protect Chase,” Clint Bajakian

Soundtrack: Ocean’s Twelve

When I write, I put on music. When I play RPGs, I put on music. I don’t know anything about music, really, but here’s something I’m listening to.

Ocean's TwelveDavid Holmes, composer and DJ, made the music for such Soderbergh films as Out of Sight and Haywire, plus every film in Soderbergh’s Ocean trilogy. All of those films have great sounds — Out of Sight’s soundtrack is so sharply put together that the last time I saw the movie, parts of the film fell away into memories of the soundtrack album — but one of these discs has driven me through work in a way the others have not: Ocean’s Twelve.

We can talk about the movie itself someplace else. This is about the sound.

As a writer, I find something about the energy and juxtaposition on this disc propulsive. The way the graceful charm of Ornella Vanoni’s “L’Appuntamento” transitions into the bassy, distorted verve of Holmes’s own “$165 Million + Interest (Into) The Round Up” takes me from contemplation into action. (The back half of that “Round Up” sometimes grates on me, though.)

For writing or play, you’ve got a slew of playful and melodramatic tracks here that build in terrific ways. “What R We Stealing” and “The Real Story” have terrific energies. “Yen On A Carousel” is a fantastic, uplifting sound for a swanky victory pulled from an ugly defeat.

Want to just get a taste of this? Two additional tracks came out as a single from this album: “Amsterdam” and “I Love Art… Really!” Both are repetitive motifs that loop well to create a bit of playful fun for any con.

My favorite piece out of all of these, though, is the dramatic, grandiose, complex sound of “7/29/04 The Day Of.” I play that track for dramatic arrivals, travel montages, moments of ecstatic panic, and all sorts of spirited scenes. The moment around 1:49, when the track gets anxious, is a great dramatic shift if you can nail it. If you miss it in the moment, the through-line sound of the track is still great for action-packed heists.

The mid-century-style swagger and cool on this album reminds me of Lalo Schifrin’s original Mission: Impossible sounds with all the military vibes stripped out. It’s a great sound for surreptitious antics and heisty shenanigans.

I bought Ocean’s Twelve on CD… I can’t remember where. It’s available, disc and download, from Amazon, iTunes, and elsewhere.

Soundtrack: The Indiana Jones Soundtrack Collection

When I write, I put on music. When I play RPGs, I put on music. I don’t know anything about music, really, but here’s something I’m listening to.

I’ve written about Indiana Jones elsewhere this week, so I thought I should take a post to underline this wonderful set. John Williams’s musical scores for the Indiana Jones movies are classics. Each one contains a host of unique and stirring themes and each one runs a range from mysterious to adventurous. I do a lot of writing to these scores and I’ve been using them in RPG play since forever.

I had to seek out the Temple of Doom score as a Japanese import years ago because it was otherwise out of print on CD. (I also have it on vinyl.) Now you can get all the scores alone or together as disc or download, including a bonus disc of tracks from the first three films. Get them. These are musts for any soundtrack collection.

I got the physical boxed set of the complete collection as a gift when it came out. Recommended.

Soundtrack: Tomb Raider

When I write, I put on music. When I play RPGs, I put on music. I don’t know anything about music, really, but here’s something I’m listening to.

I thought Jason Graves was a strange choice for Tomb Raider at first. I associate his name with Dead Space, where I first heard of him, and I’m not familiar with the soundtracks for those games yet. The big thing that Lara Croft has been missing, musically, in my opinion, is a terrific theme. Would Jason Graves provide that?

Sort of. Tomb Raider features a pretty decent theme for Lara Croft… but we barely get to hear it in this score and I remain skeptical whether it’s a theme that we’ll hear build or expand in follow-up games. Even the Lara Croft movies failed to stick to a musical theme for her. A shame.

Having played Tomb Raider now [here's my review] I see why Jason Graves was chosen. It’s sort of an adventure game but it’s definitely a survival game — and it’s sometimes horrific. Graves brings urgency, dread, melancholy, and hope to the score, especially through wonderful percussion motifs, but the menace and action is often frantic. I’ve listened to the score a few times now but my first impression was that it was too aggressive to fall into the background while I wrote. Yet I have it on now and the sound is coming across as something more varied than my first listen suggested. So I’ll give it a shot for certain writing projects — I certainly enjoy the textured strings and variety of percussive elements in here.

If Graves can build on the Tomb Raider theme here in a future game, I’ll be happy.

I got Tomb Raider from the Amazon MP3 store.

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