Man of Steel

  • Title: Man of Steel
  • Director: Zack Snyder
  • Date: 2013
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, SF
  • Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Cosner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishborne, Christopher Meloni, Michael Shannon
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, Region 1

“Can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?” – Young Clark Kent
“You are my son. [long pause] But somewhere out there you have another father too, who gave you another name.  And he sent you here for a reason, Clark. And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” — Jonathan Kent

“For 100, 000 years our civilization flourished, accomplishing wonders.” – Jor-El
“What happened?” – Clark
“Artificial population control was established, the outposts and space exploration were abandoned. We exhausted our natural resources, as a result our planet’s core became unstable. Eventually our military leader, General Zod, attempted a coup, but by then it was too late.” – Jor-El

“The people of Earth are different from us, it’s true. But, ultimately, I believe that is a good thing. They won’t necessarily make the same mistakes we did, not if you guide them, Kal. Not if you give them hope. That’s what this symbol means.  The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied in that hope is the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.” – Jor-El

Man of Steel starts on Krypton with Jor-El and Lara insuring the survival of their son, when their planet is about to be destroyed. The background on Krypton, and the exact means of its destruction will also be expanded upon, during encounters between an AI hologram of Jor-El and others – including Clark, Lois Lane, and even General Zod. But I’m getting ahead of myself. After introducing us to Jor-El, Lara, the Kryptonian government Council, and Zod and his coup – which fails, as well as the launch’s escape from Krypton and Krypton’s destruction – Man of Steel actually skips forward quite a bit.

We see a lobster harvesting ship, and a young man everyone calls “Greenhorn”. Only from the film’s trailers do we realize this is Clark Kent. The ship receives an SOS from an burning oil rig. When they arrive, the Coast Guard has declared the rig a lost cause and the lobster ship’s captain says the guys inside are dead already. Clark leaps into the water, gets the men to the rig’s deck that’s still somewhat free of flames, and they are rescued by the Coast Guard. Clark ends up falling into the water below the flames.

The film flashes back to Clark being overwhelmed by his senses as school. His mom helps him to focus.

The film flashes forward to Clark – he’s awakened below water by whale song, then gets to shore and borrows some dry clothes.

The film flashes back to a slightly older Clark on a school bus, where he’s being bullied and taunted by school-mates. The bus tire blows out, loses control, goes through a guide-rail and lands in a river. Clark pushes open the back door, then lifts the bus to safety on the shore. Some of the kids have seen what happened.

One of the parents confronts the Kents. Jonathan Kent tells Clark he can’t use his powers. He shows Clark the space ship and gives the S-shield key to Clark. He explains that Clark has another father out there, somewhere, who sent Clark to Earth for a reason, and Clark should strive to find out who his father was and what the reason may be.

The film flashes back to the present. In a rough and tumble bar, one of the oil workers harasses a waitress.  Clark tells him to stop it. The customer throws a beer in Clark’s face and taunts him. The waitress tells Clark it’s not worth it. Clark walks off. The guy throws a can at him and hits him in the head.

Clark walks down a highway, carrying a bag, and hitch-hiking.

Lois shows up to investigate an “anomaly”.

Clark finds a Kryptonian ship buried in ice that’s over eighteen thousand years old. He uses the S-shield key to deactivate the automatic security system. The key is an command key. Lois also follows Clark and gets attacked by the security system – Clark uses his heat vision to cauterize her wounds.

The ship departs. Lois narrates her story but Perry won’t print it. She gives the story to a conspiracy theorist website.

Meanwhile, Clark meets an Artificial Intelligence-hologram of his father, Jor-El. Jor-El gives his son, Kal-El a lesson in Kyptonian history. They had expanded across the galaxy, built outposts, even terraformed planets. Then the empire withdrew back to Krypton, abandoned its outposts and space exploration, began using genetic engineering to predetermine everyone’s role in society, and eventually exhausted Krypton’s resources. This lead to mining of Krypton’s core, which caused the core to collapse and the planet to explode.

Jor-El and his wife Lara sought a different path. They risked much to have a natural birth, the first in generations, and when Krypton’s doom was nigh, they put Kal-El in a spaceship with the Codex of Krypton’s citizens and sent the ship off, towards Earth.

The film flashes back to a teen-aged Clark, who wants to be something greater, something more than a Kansas farmer, like Jonathan Kent. He’s arguing with his father, when a tornado hits on the freeway. Thanks to Jonathan’s actions, most everyone gets to shelter, but he, himself, ends up trapped in a car (after freeing their dog). Clark goes to rescue Jonathan, but Jonathan yells at him to stay with his mother.

Clark goes home to visit his mother.

General Zod shows up and gives Earth an Ultimatum – turn over Kal-El or face the consequences.

Another flashback, as Clark remembers being bullied and conversations with his Dad about not reacting to the bully.

Back in the “present”, Clark turns up at an army or air force base, and offers to surrender if he can speak to Lois and if the military guarantees her freedom.

There’s another flashback/dream sequence of Zod’s history. Zod explains how the destruction of Krypton released him and his fellow insurgents from the Phantom Zone. They retrofit a ship with hyperdrive and search for Kal-El.  Not finding anything on Krypton’s old outposts for thirty-three years, they pick up a signal from the scout ship that was sent automatically when Clark entered it. Zod’s plan is to take the Codex and then use a World Engine to terraform Earth into New Krypton. This will, of course, destroy every living thing on Earth.

Lois and Clark are taken by Zod, and put in cells on Zod’s ship. They are tortured and experimented upon. Lois, however, has the command key – and when she uses it, Jor-El appears to her and guides her through what she has to do.

Clark manages to escape from Zod’s ship, and rescues Lois – who’s escape pod has been hit by weapons fire and is spiraling out of control towards the ground. But Clark rescues her. Zod, his female lieutenant, and his other cronies attack Martha Kent and do considerable damage to her house. Clark and Zod have a show down on main street.  But before they can re-play High Noon, the military arrives and in trying to shut down Zod and company make things worse.

There’s a massive battle between Zod, Superman, Zod’s lieutenant, the military, and Zod’s forces. Needless to say, Smallville, Kansas doesn’t fair well. Eventually, Zod and company leave.

But, Zod orders the release of the World Engine. Having discovered that Jor-El bonded the Codex to Clark’s cells – and that it’s recoverable whether Clark is alive or dead, Zod will use his machine to terraform Earth into New Krypton, kill everything on the planet, and take the Codex from Clark’s corpse.

Lois and Clark bring his capsule ship to the army, and he, Lois and Col. Hardy explain how the capsule can be used to destroy Zod’s ship. Superman will go to the second site and destroy the other half of the World Engine terraforming machine in the Indian Ocean.

The plan basically works, though Zod survives and Clark has to fight him. Eventually, Superman kills Zod.

I thought Man of Steel  was better on second viewing, than when I first saw it in the theater last Spring or Summer. The film works best in it’s quite moments – Lara and Jor-El on Krypton trying to save their child, Clark talking to his father – Jonathan Kent, and Clark learning from his other father – Jor-El. But, at times, some of the action sequences seem overblown and thus almost boring. They can just be too much and too long. I also found the constant flash backs and flash forwards to be somewhat distracting. Not that I never knew “when” I was – that was perfectly clear, but I think the film would have worked better if it was presented in chronological order, or largely chronological with only the tiniest of shots back to scenes we had already seen. I think it would have made Clark a stronger and more interesting character, and the audience would have been able to follow his journey – and route for him more. I also think some of the action sequences could have been trimmed a bit, there’s only so much CGI of collapsing buildings and flying cars that one can take. The cast was good. Henry Cavill made for a more vulnerable take on Clark Kent, and the surrounding cast of experienced actors made the film work. Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Kevin Cosner were all brilliant as Clark’s parents.

Recommendation: See It
Rating: 3.5 to 4 Stars
Next Film: Not sure, probably Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Les Misérables

Title:  Les Misérables
Director:  Tom Hooper
Date:  2012
Studio:  Universal
Genre:  Musical, Drama
Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Format:  Color, Widescreen
DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“But remember this my brother, see in this some higher plan, you must use this precious silver, to become an honest man.” — The Bishop

“But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame. …  There are dreams that cannot be, there are storms we cannot weather.  I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I’m living.  So different from what it seemed, now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”  — Fantine

“You know nothing of Javier, I was born inside a jail.  I was born with scum like you, I am from the gutter, too!”  — Javier

“…how your world might be changed in one burst of light, and what was right seems wrong and what was wrong seems right.”  — Marius

“But now there’s a higher cause.  Who cares about your lonely soul?  We strive towards a larger goal, our little lives don’t count at all.” — Enjolras

Les Misérables is a sung musical, meaning that nearly every line in the film is sung, rather than the majority of the film being spoken and acted, only to break for the musical numbers. However, because everyone is always singing everything in the film, the singing quickly becomes part of the reality of the film, and the audience becomes used to it and accepts it. Also, the characters are often singing their hearts out, and many of the best songs in the film are actually soliloquies.

The film is based on the long-running stage musical (which ran in both New York on Broadway, and in London on the West End), which is turn is based on a novel by Victor Hugo.  The story though is about redemption, about mercy, about love for one’s child, and about how tiny kindnesses or tiny slights can have vast effects on a person’s life.

The film opens with Jean Valjean and a group of convicts in the rain pulling ropes to right a capsized ship.  Inspector Javert looks on, then orders Jean Valjean to bring him the French flag.  Valjean does this by lifting the entire broken ship’s mast — a very heavy, long, wooden mast.  Javert then gives “Prisoner 24601” his yellow ticket of leave.  Jean Valjean is at first excited that he has finally gained his freedom after nineteen years a slave to the law – his crime breaking into a house to steal bread to feed his sister’s starving child.  However, he is only placed on parole – ordered from place to place by the French police and military.  Jean Valjean soon discovers no one will offer work to a convict, and he can’t even find food or a place to sleep.

Still desperately trying to live, Jean Valjean, drops into a local church, where the bishop (Colm Wilinson, originator of the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway), offers him food and a place to sleep for the night.  Yet, in the middle of the night, he awakes and steals the bishop’s silver. He’s immediately caught and brought in front of the bishop.  The bishop shocks Jean Valjean by lying for him, confirming his story to the police that he “gave” his silver to him.  The bishop then also gives him his silver candlesticks, and dismisses the police.  But for his mercy, the bishop demands that Valjean must become a better man.

Valjean goes into the church to contemplate his fate and his future.  He ends by tearing up his yellow papers which brand him a convict.

Eight years later, in Montreul, Valjean, now using the name M. LeMer, owns a factory employing hundreds, and is mayor of the town.  In his factory, Fantine is one of the female workers.  She continues to refuse the advances of the foreman.  When she receives a letter, a rival female worker steals it and reads it aloud.  Upon learning Fantine has a child, she attacks her.  The two fight and Fantine shouts back that the woman has a husband and “something on the side”.  Enraged, the woman attacks again.  Valjean arrives and is about to deal with the problem – then he sees Javert and goes to his office instead, leaving his foreman to settle matters, though he admonishes him to show mercy.  The foreman sacks Fantine, and kicks her out in the cold.

Meanwhile, Valjean meets with Javert who introduces himself, remarks that he’s been noticed as an excellent mayor, and gives him papers introducing himself and his transfer as officer of the law for the town.  Valjean is a bit nervous, but accepts him.  There’s a shout from the street and Valjean runs outside.  A man is trapped under a collapsed cart.  Though the cart is quite heavy, Valjean lifts it to free the man and save his life.  Javert looks on, suspiciously.

Meanwhile, Fantine struggles to support herself.  She sells her jewelry, her hair, her teeth, and finally gives in and sells herself.  Fantine’s soliloquy, “I Dreamed a Dream”, tells her story and contrasts the golden summer of her youth with the hell she’s now living.  Hathaway’s performance is strong and makes the audience feel sympathetic to her, rather than feel sorry for her.  And the performance won her several “Best Supporting Actress” awards.  Later, when Fantine is wearing the sleeveless red dress of a prostitute, she’s attacked by a man.  When Javier arrives the man claims she attacked him.  But Valjean also arrives, and upon learning the woman once worked in his factory, he takes pity on her and takes her to a hospital.  He also learns she has a daughter, living with an innkeeper and his wife.

Later, Javert presents himself to Valjean, admonishing himself for making a false report, and telling Valjean that “Prisoner 24601” has been caught, so he apologises for thinking “M. LeMer” was Valjean.

This leaves Valjean in a moral dilemma.  He cannot allow another man to go to prison in his place, yet his workers depend on him.  In the end, Valjean decides he cannot allow an innocent man to be jailed in his place.  He goes to the court, and admits he is “Prisoner 24601”.  But then he leaves the court and goes to the hospital to see Fantine.  There, he finds Fantine dying. He promises to find and care for her child. She promises her to his care.  At the hospital, Javert arrives.  They confront each other.  Jean Valjean pleads for three days to find, take care of, and make arrangements for Cosette.  Javert pretty much says, “Are you kidding?” and draws his sword.  Valjean defends himself with a wooden beam and escapes by jumping into the water.

Jean Valjean travels to the inn, and pays the Thénerdiers’ fifteen hundred for their “sacrifice” of keeping Cosette.  Madame Thénerdier had been abusive of Cosette, treating her like a slave while spoiling her own daughter, Éponine.  M. Thénerdier had cared so little for her – he couldn’t get her name right.  Valjean and Cosette leave, taking a horse-drawn couch to Paris.  The flight to Paris features the one new song from the film that isn’t in the original musical, “Suddenly, You’re Here”.

Javier, having lost Valjean again, sings “Stars”, his own soliloquy.  He’s on a roof, and the song begins with a large, stone eagle behind him.  As he sings, he walks on the top of the stone balustrade, seemingly careless of the result if he fell.  He swears he will catch Valjean.  “Stars” is a beautiful song, and one of my favorites from both the film and the musical.

In 1832 Paris, Valjean and now teenaged Cosette, have made a life for themselves.  Times are hard, as the people are suffering.  Marius, Enjolras, and a group of students are disgusted with the state of affairs, and try to raise the people in rebellion.

One day, Marius sees Cosette on the street.  She and Valjean are handing out alms to the poor.  They also run into the Thénerdiers.  Meanwhile, Éponine lives in the same rooming house as Marius, and knows that his father is rich.  She’s also trapped in the gang of thieves led by her parents, the Thénerdiers.  Javier is also in Paris, and still obsessed with catching Jean Valjean.

When Marius arrives in the wine shop, his fellow students tease him about falling in love at first sight with a girl whom he doesn’t even know.  But his best friend, Enjolras, is actually angry.  As staged in the film, “Red and Black” actually becomes an argument between Marius (who’s just fallen in love and is beginning to re-think things) and Enjolras and the other students, who want to start a revolution.  When young Gavroche arrives to tell them the people’s hero, General LeMarque is dead, the students all agree – they will raise the barricades at his funeral.

Cosette gets her turn at a soliloquy, “In My Life”, as she realises she’s also fallen in love at first sight.  The song, “In My Life”, transitions from Cosette to Marius, to Éponine, to a duet of Cosette and Marius. That night she and Marius meet in her garden.

The Thénerdiers’ gang plans on robbing Valjean’s house, Éponine stops them by screaming to attract attention, but Valjean thinks Javert has discovered him, and tells Cosette they must leave and move on.  Cosette is angry and hurt, as she’s just fallen for Marius. Éponine, realising that Marius will never fall for her, sings her soliloquy, “On My Own”, in the rain.

Everyone then sings, “One Day More”, anticipating the coming battle in the morning.

At General LeMarque’s funeral, the people sing, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and the barricades are raised.  The students rush to the barricades.  Javier sneaks around to discover what is going on, and wears a French tricolor boutonniere.  Javier lies to the students about the army’s plans.  Gavroche however, recognizes him, and tells everyone he’s “Inspector Javier”.  The students attack Javier who attacks back, and finally he’s at the students mercy as the soldiers advance.  Battle breaks out.

Éponine sacrifices herself to save Marius from being shot.  She gives Marius Cosette’s letter.  Marius gives Gavroche a letter, who gives it to Jean Valjean.  Valjean has to figure out what to do, and he decides to go to the barricade. Enjolras gives Javert to Valjean.  Javert taunts Valjean to kill him.  Valjean sets Javert free with no conditions, he evens offers his address.

As night falls, the students drink wine and sing the melancholy, “Drink with Me”.  Valjean also sings, “Bring Him Home”, praying for Marius’ safety, for Cosette’s sake, and sees him as his son.  In his prayer, Jean Valjean offers his own life to save Marius and bring him home to Cosette.

The next day, Marius and the students are the only barricade left.  The people never rose up, not liking the odds.  The rain has ruined their gunpowder.  Enjolras, knowing their situation to be hopeless, urges those who wish to, to leave.  Gavroche sings one line of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and the students stay for a desperate last stand.  Gavroche then goes out to get ammunition from the dead bodies before the barricade.  He’s shot dead by an French army soldier.  One of the older students, presumably his father, is devastated.  The soldiers give them the opportunity to give up.  Enjolras encourages a last stand.

There’s a last minute battle.  One by one the students die.  The soldiers bring in cannons to blow-up the barricade.  The rest of the students are killed, Enjolras raises his banner, and is shot dead.

Javier sees the death, walking among the row of impossibly young people lying dead in a row on the street.  He pins his own medal on Gavroche, and is completely disgusted by the death and waste.

Jean Valjean carries a wounded Marius away through the sewers.

In the sewers, Thénerdier steals from the dead.

Javier and Valjean confront each other.  Valjean pleads for mercy for Marius, so he can get him to a doctor.  Javier lets Valjean go, then commits suicide by jumping off a dam.  Javier’s final soliloquy makes it clear that he can’t stand Valjean’s mercy, that Valjean had saved his life, or that his entire life dedicated to law and order has become such as sham, as so many young children were killed in the rebellion.

Marius is brought to a doctor.  Marius sings “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”, a lament for his friends he’s lost, though the film does not use the “ghosts” behind him, used to great effect in the stage musical.  Cosette comes to Marius.  Marius offers Valjean a home with he and Cosette.  Valjean refuses, and explains who he really is.  Jean Valjean leaves and goes to a convent, seeking sanctuary.

Cosette and Marius marry.  The Thénerdiers  arrive to cause trouble, and to bribe Marius, but Marius realises instead that Valjean had saved his life at the barricade.  At the convent, Valjean is dying.  He hears Fantine’s voice, then she appears.  Cosette and Marius arrive and say their final farewells.  Fantine leads Jean Valjean to the light.  “Do You Hear the People Sing?” is reprised as Jean Valjean joins Fantine, Gavroche, Enjolras, and all the other dead characters on the barricade, singing in the sun.

I saw Les Misérables on opening night in 2012, in a packed theater, with people of all ages.  I think I started crying during “Red and Black” and I don’t think I really stopped until the end of the film.  Every time I started to not cry, the woman next to me started, and before long we were both sobbing again.  But I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.  I cried when I saw it the second time in the theater.  When I bought the DVD, I watched the commentary track first — and still managed to cry while concentrating on Tom Hooper’s description of making the film. Even while taking notes in preparation for this review – I cried during, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”  The film is that moving and beautiful and stirring.  But it’s also a very moral film. By giving his silver to Jean Valjean, the Bishop shows him mercy that he had never seen and completely changes his life.  Later, Valjean must sacrifice everything to spare an innocent man mistaken for him, to rescue Fantine (who’s downfall was his own fault – he’d been too wrapped up in his own problems to notice hers) and most importantly to save Cosette.  Raising Fantine’s child, not only does he come to love her, but he rescues Marius and gives him to her because he loves her, and knows he must let her go.

Meanwhile, Javert, as played by Russell Crowe, is considerably more sympathetic than in the two stage productions of  Les Misérables, I’ve seen. Javert isn’t evil, but he’s overly concerned with fulfilling the letter of the law, without any care to extenuating circumstances.  Javert at the beginning of the film, doesn’t care that Valjean stole to feed his sister’s starving children.  He honestly believes it’s better to starve and die than  to resort to crime to live.  When Valjean shows him mercy, letting him go at the barricade, and covering it up with a gunshot directed away from the inspector, Javert cannot understand it, and begins to become unhinged.  When he catches Valjean and Marius, and Valjean pleads for mercy – Javert grants it, but decides he cannot live in Valjean’s world.  Javert is incapable of seeing the grey of the real world, and only sees black and white.  However, whereas such a character is often portrayed as “evil” or “hated” – Crowe gives him depth and makes him understandable and sympathetic.

This is a beautiful film.  It’s not to be missed.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Iron Man 3

L.A. Confidential

  • Title: L.A. Confidential
  • Director: Curtis Hanson
  • Date: 1997
  • Studio: Warner Brothers, Regency Entertainment
  • Genre: Drama, Mystery, Film Noir
  • Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Straithairn, Simon Baker (Credited as Simon Baker Denny)
  • Format: Widescreen, color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Come to Los Angeles… there are jobs a plenty and land is cheap…”— Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito)

“I admire you as a policeman, particularly your adherance to violence as an adjunct to the job.” — Police Captain Dudley Smith to Lt. Bud White

“How’s it going to look in your report?” — Det. Lt. Exley
“It’ll look like justice. That’s what the man got, justice.”— Lt. Bud White

LA Confidential is a brilliant modern film noir. The film weaves deep layered characters into a complex plot of police corruption, graft, drugs, and murder. All the actors give brilliant performances. Russell Crowe, in an very early role, is Lt. Bud White, police captain Smith’s “enforcer” with a soft spot for abused women. Watching his journey from tough guy and bruiser to someone who actually starts to figure out what’s going on and who stops just following orders and starts to think — even when solving the case leads right back to the police department — is a joy in this film. Guy Pearce is the college-educated “new cop” who isn’t afraid to testify against other dirty cops, as long as it allows him to get ahead. But he too has to make decisions — does he “do what he’s told, and reap his reward” or does he follow a more difficult path and expose the corruption he and Bud have uncovered? And brilliant as always Kevin Spacey as “Hollywood Jack” Vincennes, who’s a technical advisor on the TV cop drama “Badge of Honor” (think “Dragnet”) and partners with tabloid reporter Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito) accepting payments to pass along info about upcoming busts so the reporter can photograph them. Sid, a pioneer in bottom-feeding tabloid journalism, and publisher of the tabloid “Hush-Hush” regularly gives Vincennes gifts and bribes, as well as passing along information. In other words, their partnership is two-way.

The film weaves a complicated plot, starting with the beating, in the LA lock-up, of several Mexican-Americans, resulting in the expulsion of several bad cops and the meeting of our characters and seeing how they react. Vincennes is transferred between departments and temporarily taken off “Badge of Honor” as Technical Advisor. White refuses to roll on his partner, or become a snitch. Exley not only offers up info as a snitch, but gives advice on how to get to other cops, though this gets him a promotion – it doesn’t endear him to the other cops. After “Bloody Christmas” but before the trial even starts, there’s a mass shooting at the Nite Owl coffee shop, one of the victims is White’s disgraced partner. The hunt for the killers leads to three young black men, who are brought in, questioned, escape, and then are caught again and killed.

However, all three of our main characters soon realize that the three men, though guilty of kidnapping and raping a young Mexican girl, aren’t guilty of the Nite Owl killings. And, again, the investigation, though it also involves a millionaire who’s running a high-class call girl outfit of girls “cut to look like movie stars” and heroin, ultimately leads right back to the police department. I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you reading this who haven’t seen this brilliant Noir film.

This film starts with a sarcastic voice-over, by Danny Devito, describing the bright, sunny, perfect California that’s being sold as an image — only to expose a dark, dirty, and very corrupt underbelly.  Irony underlies a lot of the picture (such as showing the ground-breaking ceremony for the Santa Monica freeway “LA to the beach in 20 minutes”). But the characters also present an opening image that changes throughout the film — Bud White starts as a tough, an enforcer, a brutal cop, albeit with a soft spot for battered women and kids, but he develops, putting together a lot of the clues leading to an explanation of what really is going on. Exley seems like the college-educated “new cop” who won’t be able to hack it in the field – yet, he also manages to prove his smarts and his investigative chops, as well as his ability to handle violence when needed. Vincennes, “Hollywood Jack” has somehow lost his way. Asked, “Why’d you become a cop?” He answers, “I can’t remember”. Jack is like the tough, hard-boiled, cynical protagonists of a lot of Classic Noir. Yet, like those protagonists, his journey in the film is to discover that he can’t turn a blind eye to the corruption around him any more, especially when he inadvertently causes a young male actor/hooker to get murdered. There’s more to Jack than the smoothness one first sees.

The film is set in the 1950s, but the historical detail, though there, is not at the forefront of the film. The score is fantastic from Jerry Goldsmith’s original instrument themes, to the use of period music by Johnny Mercer and Dean Martin. The film also gets physically darker, as the characters discover the true darkness around them.

I highly, highly recommend this film. It has brilliant acting, brilliant writing, a dense, complex plot, and the feel of a true Noir film, but made in a modern style. The film is very intelligent — both the writing and dialogue and the plot. And, though violent and bloody at times, it’s still quite, quite worth seeing.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Master and Commander

  • Title: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Date: 2003
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox, Miramax, Universal
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Historical Epic
  • Cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D’Arcy
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Would you call me an aged man of war, Doctor? The Surprise is not old. She has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She’s a fine sea bird, weatherly, stiff and fast. Very fast, if she’s well handled. No, she’s not old. She’s in her prime.”— Captain Jack Aubrey

“This is the second time he’s done this to me. There will not be a third.”— Captain Aubrey

“England is under threat of invasion. And though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is England.”— Captain Aubrey

I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and I really do enjoy it every time I re-watch it. Peter Weir is a very talented director, who manages to balance the large scale, such as full-on battles between tall ships during the Napoleonic Wars, and the more intimate story of the unlikely friendship between the ship’s doctor, a man of science; and the ship’s captain, a life-long Navy man.

Master and Commander is set in 1805, and the HMS Surprise is a man o’war, captained by Jack Aubrey, a hard but fair man, lucky, but also experienced. He’s been in the service his entire life. The ship’s doctor is Stephen Maturin, – a man of science, and a naturalist. He’s close enough friends with Aubrey to be able to challenge him, and speak his mind, especially when talking to Aubrey as his friend, rather than as a member of the crew. The film is based on a series of several novels by Patrick o’Brian, specifically the two that form the film’s compound title (the first introduces the characters, the second is the plot of the film, since Weir wanted to do a plot involving a long sea voyage).

The film contains a lot of beautiful historical details (I love the look of the ship, especially when Aubrey stands alone on the top of a mast). However, the film also doesn’t shy away from the brutal historical facts of the life of sailors, especially naval sailors in the 19th century. The crew of HMS Surprise is shockingly young, and as the British are at war with France, the young die too. We also see Aubrey order the flogging of a disrespectful sailor, not because he is cruel, but to keep discipline. Life in His Majesty’s navy is tough, nasty, and often short — and the film shows you that.

The plot of the film is basically that of a cat and mouse game. A French privateer frigate is harassing British whalers and merchant ships. Aubrey is ordered to find the ship and – “sink, burn, or take her as a prize” as the film’s opening printed narration tells the audience. But the frigate vastly outguns the Surprise — 44 guns to 28, with twice the crew, and the frigate has two decks to the man o’war’s single deck. The frigate also seems to be a cross between a ghost, a Flying Dutchman, and Jack’s opposite number. In two engagements, the Surprise is caught nearly unaware, and the frigate has the “weather gauge” or the advantage in the engagement. In their final battle, Aubrey turns the tables and is able to successfully surprise the frigate, but at a high cost in lost men.

A secondary plot is the ship’s doctor, a naturalist. Because of the damage done to the ship, in both the battles with the frigate and a journey around Cape Horn in a storm, one place Aubrey takes the ship during repairs is the Galapagos — someplace Stephen would dearly like to explore, to collect and document new species of wildlife. But every time it looks like the ship might head there – the frigate shows up, and Aubrey must fight.

There is also a plot about one of the Midshipmen being cursed as a “Jonah”. Basically, he’s scapegoated for the ship’s run of bad luck. He’s the Midshipman whom another sailor disrespects, and gets lashed as a result. The scapegoat plot is one of several examples showing the innate superstition of the sailors. The Midshipman commits suicide, and the ship’s luck begins to turn. Though, Dr. Maturin is accidentally shot after the poor lad’s death. (Maturin is shot by one of the Royal Marines who’s taking pot shots at a following albatross. Obviously, the guy never read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”). Aubrey temporarily gives up his chase of the frigate, so Maturin can be brought ashore to remove the bullet and cloth in his stomach. Stephen does the surgery himself, using a mirror, and Aubrey keeps a hand on Maturin’s belly to steady him. It’s one of the more frightening scenes in the film – not that it’s overly gross, but can you imagine operating on yourself?  Even if it’s the only way to survive? Yikes!

The final battle is total chaos, then silence, then more chaos. Aubrey looks fine, and in his element as he boards the enemy vessel. Billy Boyd is also quite good in the scene! For the most part, he’s seen alot but doesn’t get many lines, but it is nice to see him again. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany are perfectly cast, and have a great rapport with each other. The rest of the crew of the HMS Surprise slowly move from faces to having personalities.

One thing both Aubrey and Maturin share is a love of music. Aubrey plays violin and Maturin the cello; and their duets in the captain’s cabin are some of the best moments in a film that is full of excellent moments.

Again, Weir’s direction really is excellent — and he’s now one of my favorite directors. There are plenty of gorgeous shots in this film: the ship at full sail, the creatures in the Galapagos Islands, etc. There are also plenty of terrifying shots: the storm around Cape Horn, the battle scenes. But the driving force of the story is the friendship of Aubrey and Maturin; and the comradeship between the sailors on the ship.

I have the two-disc collector’s edition and it really is a beautiful DVD set. The set looks like old parchment, with line drawings of Crowe and the ship. The special features are located on the second disc and there are plenty of  them and they are enjoyable to watch. I also found that I learned from the special features, especially about the different techniques used in the production of the film.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars