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14feb5e5d26812ef15bc61I don’t pay a lot of attention to press kit material, but a quote from director Zack Snyder in the Man of Steel notes bears repeating. “We knew the action had to be bigger than big, with heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat thrills. We never lost sight of the fact that we were making a Superman movie.” His producer wife, Deborah, chimes in on their goal: “To make Superman relevant for today’s audiences, to make him fit into our world.”

Mission accomplished“–as a former president once said of some business that turned out to be rather incomplete. On its own terms, Man of Steel is a success, an update of 75-year-old comics mythology free of the “truth, justice, all that stuff” ambivalence of the only fitfully fulfilling Superman Returns (2006). It knows what it wants to be, and owns it. But it’s the latest in a lengthening line of superhero and sci-fi/action adventure blockbusters (many, like this one, produced by the deep-pocketed Legendary Pictures) to leave me

Sucker Punch (Warner Bros., 2011)

“What the…well, maybe the fanboys will like it,” I can hear Warner Bros. executives grumbling during studio previews of Zack Snyder’s babes-in-arms folly, the sort of pet project that keeps an “earner” in the fold. But they didn’t, and I’m not feeling the love for it around here, either. Being a sucker for disaster, though, I plunged right into the 127- minute version that’s available on Blu-ray. The R-rated version, heh, heh…

The Story: Snyder’s feature debut, the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, had outstanding opening and closing credits and not much between the bookends. 300 (2007), his big one, didn’t rouse me, either, but there was a definite pulse, and a style, that held my interest. For me he arrived with Watchmen (2009)–problematic, and a boxoffice disappointment, though as good a long-form feature as could have been wrested from material best suited for a Game of Thrones-type miniseries on cable. It’s become one of those movies that’s when it’s on cable I can’t stop watching, for a few minutes anyway.

I missed his owl flick (yeah, like you saw it) and Sucker Punch cleared theaters fast. It sounds like a pretentious graphic novel adaptation but is actually Snyder’s first “original,” meaning, like so many “originals,” it’s cobbled together from spare parts to look like new. (Which is not  a bad thing; Franken-films like Splice have a lot going for them.) What we have here is the grrl power version of Shutter Island, with dollops of The Wizard of Oz, Moulin Rouge!, and every balls-out action movie and videogame Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya could get their hands on.

Sounds like a recipe for cinematic acid indigestion, right? Plot summary won’t help smooth things.

Jeff Giles: Ladies and gentlemen, your new Superman.

Dw. Dunphy: He’s all dark and stuff.

Chris Holmes: Looks more like Bizarro to me.

Ted Asregadoo: It’s like the they combined the Captain America and Batman/The Dark Knight costumes.

Matt Springer: He’s not MY superman, Giles!

Seriously, not high expectations here. Goyer and Nolan have earned serious cred/kwan with me, but Zach Snyder is ewwww.

Jeff: Remember all the fanboy rage after your Sucker Punch editorial, Matt? You must feel pretty vindicated now.

Matt: I always feel vindicated. It’s how I survive on the Internet.

Scott Malchus: I’m with Matt. Chris Reeves is still my Superman.

Jack Feerick: Dude, what does that even mean? Should they dig up Reeve and stuff his corpse into the fucking suit?

My first inclination upon seeing the teaser trailer for Zack Snyder’s upcoming film Sucker Punch was to post a series of boob jokes to Twitter.

That’s not surprising. My response to most things is either a boob joke or a dick joke.

After giving the footage a closer look, however, it struck me that there actually isn’t much boobage to speak of. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of oversexualization of women on display; if you don’t have a sword or a slutty outfit, you don’t belong in this film. Preferably, you need both. It’s just not one of those “HOLY HOOTERS” type of movies.

But it’s still scummy, oh yes, and that’s based on just 90 seconds of it, so sure, I’m prejudging a film based on its teaser trailer. Welcome to the Internet.

9-1Before we begin, a brief warning to all parents considering taking the wee ones to see Focus Features’ latest, 9. Be certain that whatever kids you’re taking are stout of heart, because there are some creatures within this film–and the actions they take against the main characters–that may seriously frighten younger children. The film’s rated PG-13 for a reason, so consider yourself duly noted.

As for 9 itself–only the second animated film from Focus following their highly successful Coraline–the movie is amazingly entertaining and visually striking. In spite of its ending, which left me sort of flat, it’s very possible this film might make it onto my Top 5 list at the end of the year.

9 takes place in a not-too-distant future, wherein humanity has been betrayed and destroyed by the highly intelligent machines they’ve built. Any similarities to the Terminator franchise end there however, immediately upon the introduction of the titular hero (voiced by Elijah Wood)–a stitchwork figure only inches tall, brought to life by an infusion of part of the very soul of its creator…the scientist who created the machines’ A.I., ironically to usher in an age of peace. The peace has been achieved, all right: the peace of the grave, brought to vivid life via scenes of ruined landscapes and brief glimpses of dead bodies, among them a mother still clutching her child. 

61OQtfp2ndL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]Watchmen (2009, Warner Bros.)
purchase from Amazon: DVD | Blu-ray

Others may have summarized Watchmen more eloquently, but my friend and colleague David Medsker struck right at the essence of the year’s first would-be blockbuster with three simple words: “Floppy blue cock!”

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with cock in the movies — floppy, blue, or otherwise — but the genitalia proudly displayed by Doctor Manhattan, Watchmen‘s emotionless, radiation-powered superbeing, are the perfect visual distillation of the film, for three reasons: One, it’s hard not to get distracted looking at it; two, it frequently looks silly; and three — given Manhattan’s propensity for supersizing himself — it’s painfully, unbearably long.

Seriously. Seriously, you guys. If you plunk down the $21.50 it’ll cost you at Amazon to get Zack Snyder’s painstaking recreation of the classic graphic novel on Blu-ray, you will get plenty of bang for your buck, starting with the 186-minute director’s cut, and including sooo much more — a stack of featurettes tracing the book’s impact as well as its journey to the screen, a “maximum movie mode” that will allow you to watch the movie while Snyder raps at you, and the ability to link up the disc’s BD-Live features with Facebook so you can share your Watchmen experience with your friends. The package even includes a digital copy! The merits of the movie aside, this is exactly the kind of stuff that will make or break Blu-ray as a format; instead of pumping cheapo transfers of catalog titles onto store shelves, if the studios put more effort into stuffing their titles with added content with this much interactive coolness, I have to believe that even reissues of dreck like Indecent Proposal would enjoy healthy sales.

watchmen_ver91Thanks to last year’s Iron Man and Dark Knight, the age of the superhero as a legitimate and viable tale in the realm of cinema is now in full effect. The epic story of Watchmen continues the trend of anchoring such heroes in an entirely believable world.

This world isn’t exactly ours, however. Based on the 1986 best-selling graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (both this book and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” helped raise storytelling for comics to the adult level and set in motion changes within the industry that are still felt today), the tale is set in an alternate 1985, where superheroes were once a part of everyday life–helping to win the Vietnam War and get Nixon elected to three terms in office–but have since been outlawed by the government. Most have retired, but a few, such as the enigmatic Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) continue to operate, while others such as the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup)–the only living being with actual superpowers–live and work at the behest of the U.S. government.

It is the Comedian’s murder, in fact, which opens the film…allowing for Rorschach–a brutal conspiracy freak with a penchant for killing criminals, in his view bringing them to justice–to begin doggedly investigating the case, which ultimately leads to a type of reunion for the Watchmen, some of whom, like Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) have been itching to find a reason to don their costumes once more.

Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008, Sony)
purchase this DVD (Amazon)

I have to say, I am pretty much the biggest fan of the Resident Evil games. From the moment I played the original version on Playstation 1, I was hooked, and have followed the adventures of Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, Claire Redfield and all the various characters through the years, as they’ve tried to outlive the memory of the outbreak in Raccoon City, which turned the entire isolated community into flesh-eating zombies.

Although Resident Evil didn’t actually initiate the genre of game playing known as “survival horror” as is popularly thought, it did inspire the title, as well as such later iterations as Dino Crisis, Silent Hill and The Suffering, among others. It also spawned its own series of films, each meeting with a fair degree of financial success at the box office.

Now comes the first fully CG movie in the series, Resident Evil: Degeneration, from the game’s developer Capcom and Sony Pictures Entertainment(Japan). It received a release in Japan in actual theaters, and limited release stateside in New York and L.A. before hitting DVD shelves, and with damn good reason; as far as storyline and execution goes, this was a monumental waste of time, money and involvement on the part of everyone from the director on down to the janitor, on a par with the 2001 bomb Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

The story takes place seven years after the end of the game Resident Evil: Nemesis when the aforementioned Raccoon City was destroyed by a nuclear missile to contain the zombie outbreak. Claire Redfield (voiced by Alyson Court, who portrays the character in the games) is working for an environmental group which responds to bio-hazard outbreaks. She’s meeting a friend at the airport when an unexpected attack upon U.S. senator Ron Davis (Michael Sorich) by an infected man and the crash into the terminal of a plane full of diseased passengers instigates a new outbreak of flesh-hungry Undead. Sent in with a Special Response Team to save the survivors is special agent Leon S. Kennedy (Paul Mercier, who also plays Leon in the games), another Raccoon City escapee. After effecting an escape from the terminal however, Leon and Claire find that even greater dangers lie ahead, as an unnamed terrorist group threatens to unleash the T-Virus (which turns the living into zombies) upon every populated area in the U.S. if their demands aren’t met. The deadline: midnight, which leaves our heroes barely four hours to find and stop the terrorists before America turns into the land of the Undead…