Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Superman Belongs to America

The British have produced a lot of heroes and homegrown mythology. They have given us Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Discworld and James Bond. I have nothing against the British. They are the masters of the fantasy genre. We Americans have not come close to them when it comes to fantasy. Who wouldn’t like to be a fly on the wall when J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would get together for beer and talk about those two novels they were working on? That being said, we Americans seem to have something that the British don’t. We have our comic books. Yes, comic books. We may not have J.K. Rowling, but we do have Stan Lee. That’s what we Americans have. We have created Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Batman, Archie, Wonder Women, the Justice League and who can forget, well, Captain America. So, you Brits may have created timeless fantasy novels, but we Americans have created timeless comic books. I think that’s a fair trade off. The recent trend is that in the new comic book movies, Hollywood has been shipping off our American superheroes to British actors. The new Spiderman movie stars Andrew Garfield. The new ‘Batman’ stars Christian Bale. Now, I think I could handle this. As much as I think ‘Spiderman’ is the all-American teenager, insecure and somehow heroic at the same time. All while pining for the girl next store, Mary Jane. I think an American teenager would have been a better choice, instead of a twenty something British guy. Anyway, it’s the recent trend in Hollywood to hire British actors. There is an exception to my tolerance. They have casted Henry Cavill, a British actor, to play Superman.

Now, I have nothing against the British, but I don’t think its right to cast a British person as Superman. Superman is our hero. He is the All-American hero, and I think Superman should only be played by Americans. Before you yell at me that this is an unfair judgment, ask yourself this question. Would you cast an American kid to play Harry Potter? Now, yes, I know Harry Potter and Superman are very different, and in some ways, similar to each other, but you can’t deny they are both icons of their respective countries. Now, the last ‘Superman’, was played by an American, Brandon Routh, in 2006. He’s a soap opera actor and model. I guess that franchise reboot didn’t work too well if they never invited him back to play ‘Superman’, and yes, I have to admit, the movie was stiff and not one of the better Superman films. That being said, if they are going to do a re-boot, they still need to cast an American actor to play Superman.

Now, what you don’t know about Superman I will tell you. It all goes back to history. Superman was created by two Jewish comic book writers named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They envisioned Superman as both a Jewish response and an American response to Hitler’s idea of a perfect, blue eyes, blonde hair society. I mean, think about it. All you have to do is look at an early issue of ‘Superman’, which I don’t expect you to because it’s one of the most highly priced comic book issues ever, but stay with me here. He was a man with black hair, in a suit that was red, white and yellow. He lived in Metropolis. His persona was a mild mannered reporter for a newspaper called ‘The Daily Planet’. His love interest was an independent woman who’s profession was journalism named Lois Lane. His adoptive parents where Ma and Pa Kent, who lived on a farm in Smallville. He’s an alien. He’s an outsider. Yet, he’s a hero. He’s an immigrant. Doesn’t any of this just scream America?

So, I just think it makes no sense for Warner Bros. to cast a British actor to play Superman. The British already have their fictional icons, and Gawd, they’ve done great. We Americans deserve our own, and that’s the comic book superheroes. Those are our icons, and thus should be cast with American actors. I wouldn’t dream of casting an American kid as Harry Potter, or cast an American guy as James Bond. So, why should we cast a British guy to play Superman or Spiderman? That makes no sense. We Americans need our own mythology like everyone else does. So, casting a Brit to play Superman, is well, not super.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Um, It's A Art Picture

One and a half stars

‘Tree of Life’, the new film by Terrence Malick, I really didn’t get. I hate to bash an art film, but at the very least it’s trying to do something different than the usual barrage of trash that commercial vendors and mainstream media throw at us. Though, this film is full of what the fudge moments. A montage of the earth being created, including a computer animated dinosaur, which I had to ask: what was that doing in this picture? The scene goes on for almost ten minutes. When they cut to a scene of the mother in a glass casket in the woods, I thought to myself, this film is pretension city. The father (Brad Pitt), one moment is a good guy and then the next moment is an awful jerk. One minute he’s hugging his kids, than he’s yelling at them to call him father instead of dad? Or how about the constant moments of the film with the camera constantly pulling in for close ups, or the constant moments set to music. The film never has any scenes of just dialogue. I don’t like the way the film is constructed. Was it really necessary to have a scene with a kid dying in the pool? Maybe I just don’t get art films, but on the contrary, I’ve written a lot of pieces about art films, and I love good cinema as opposed to just good movies at the mainstream theater. I’ve given a lot of thumbs up to films that are art films, and off the map, films like this one, that have weird construction, somewhat artsy feel that try to do something different. I like a lot of films where nothing happens for long stretches of time. I think there’s something to the art house picture that’s great. Though, this film broke a lot of rules of films I usually give a good review to a film that does that. Though, this one I just didn’t get. What was so good about it?

First of all, the film needs to have either a story or characters I could care about. By the end of this film, I kind of had a hard time caring about any of the characters. Brad Pitt’s character is a jerk. The mother (Jessica Chastain) is kind of useless. The kids are realistic kids, but I had a hard time caring about them. I think a movie fails if you have a hard time caring about kids. By the way, as my companion who saw this movie pointed out, the mother had a tattoo on her foot. This film takes place in what? The 1950’s? Who had a tattoo in the 50s? Anyway, this film throws a lot of stuff at us about biblical meanings and religion. The story doesn’t really lend itself enough to religion in the first place. But can you really call this a story? Then there’s a problem of narration. There’s more than one narration but none of them are linear. The narrations come in small little voices. The problem is that none of the narration, I think, makes any sense. One of the kid’s narrations asks God to kill his father. His father is kind of a jerk, but not bad enough for a kid to ask God to kill him. Then again, do I really want to hear a kid ask God to kill their father in the first place? No. Not really.

Something that could be pointed out from this experiment, and learned is the following. First of all, escapism is important. That’s one of the prime reasons we go to the movies. This is a piece of cinema, not just another movie. So, if you are going to tell a story that’s a bit harder around the edges, you still need to tell it like a story instead of being all over the place. I started to wonder as I watched this picture if they told this story straight, would it have been a better picture? I guess I will never know, but this film is a prime example of why people hate art pictures. It’s very pretentious, and it reminded me of a line from a Woody Allen film about how some artists pass off their pain as art. I think this film is an example of this. I mean, yes, using film to try to figure out where we are in the universe is important and can be done well, but this film knocks you over the head with that. It yells ‘art picture’. I have to give it some credit. It’s beautifully shot. It makes an honest attempt to capture the surreal nature of childhood, but I’m sorry this film just didn’t click with me. I think a film like this can be thought provoking, and it’s good to ask questions about the universe, but I didn’t like the way this film went about it.

I’m sure a lot of people will say I didn’t get this film. They will also say that it takes a certain kind of viewer to view this film. I would agree with that. I often am that kind of viewer. I like many off beat films. It’s a certain kind of offbeat I like. I like films that play with the traditional feel of a film. I can’t recommend this film. I found it off putting, and at times, rather creepy, to be honest. I don’t want a montage of the creation of the earth. I don’t want narrations of child asking God to kill their father. I totally didn’t click with this film. That happens, sometimes. I’m sure there are people who will find this film life affirming. I didn’t. I found it to be pretentious and at times, boring. I have to be honest. I left the theater and the first question I asked was “What did I just watch for two hours?”