Sunday, 27 December 2015

Movie Review: The Death Of "Superman Lives": What Happened?/Daddy's Home (2015)



http://redribbonreviewers.wordpress.com
Every year, thousands of films go into production all over the world. Some get global releases, others are more local, some go straight-to-DVD, others to online outlets, and some just don’t get released at all or, at the very least, get delayed countless times from being released. But then there are times when, for one reason or another, production just stops dead. All that work done by the numerous cast and crew members to realizing an artistic vision, all those man hours that goes into the concepts and attempts to actualize them, all that potential for could very well be a masterpiece; just gone to pot. There are a lot of stories like this, particularly in the realm of superhero movies: The third Joel Schumacher-helmed Batman film with Courtney Love as Harley Quinn; the Green Lantern film starring Jack Black in the lead role; all those Spider-Man spin-offs and sequels Sony had planned before Amazing Spider-Man 2 turned off the entire world. However, far more than any other, there is one story that has captured the minds of a lot of film and comic book geeks: A collaboration between the poster child for modern-day Goths, the biggest comic geek-turned-filmmaker and an actor known for his legendary scenery-chewing. This is The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?

The plot: In 1996, Kevin Smith approached producer Jon Peters with a different take on a Superman film, based on a subpar script he had obtained called ‘Superman Reborn’. Based off of the classic Superman comic book story ‘The Death Of Superman’, it was set to have Tim Burton as director and Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel himself. Director Jon Schnepp, through access to the many writers and conceptual artists that were attached to the film as well as the original artworks, looks into the behind-the-scenes story of Superman Lives, the film that was never was.

There were three key writers involved in the production of Superman Lives: Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick who wrote not only the Doom movie but also the Nightmare On Elm Street remake, and Dan Gilroy, who wowed everyone with his work on Nightcrawler last year. Knowing Smith’s history concerning his Q&As and the fascinating stories he has to tell, bringing him on to talk for a documentary is already an amazing step forward. He recounts his now-infamous story about meeting Jon Peters and his reactions to the guy’s phenomenally weird and pretty stupid ideas, only now we have footage of Peters himself corroborating most of it. Something about the notion that Peters legitimately wanted a giant spider fighting Superman or polar bears fighting Brainiac or that he would have liked Tim Burton’s Batman to have the titular hero say “I’m Batman, motherfucker!” is instantly hilarious. Strick gives some decent tidbits about his involvement in the crux of the film’s production after Smith had left, but he does seem to fall in-between two far more interesting interviewees because Gilroy gives some great insight into why production ultimately got pulled. Considering how badly Warner Bros. was doing financially at the time, and how much of a risk they were taking on Burton’s vision of Superman at the budget they had projected, it unfortunately makes sense that it didn’t go forward.

Since this film largely exists in the conceptual stage, it makes sense that a lot of the original conceptual artists would be asked to give their two cents on the production. This is easily the most fascinating aspect of the film, as the audience is given a surprisingly in-depth look into what ideas were being put into it. The concept art showed a lot of promise for what would have been at the very least an interesting take on the character, which is helped by some animation and even a bit of live-action re-enactments of some of the more visual ideas. Said live-action segments literally look like they were filmed alongside an episode of the Nostalgia Critic, but that attempt to visually present those ideas for consumption is appreciated nonetheless. The amount of effort that was put into the suit alone is great to watch, as they detail the different materials and lighting configurations that, when you see the suit itself, actually look pretty damn good. Like, even considering this was all done during the late 90’s, this holds up. It also helps that there is no bias when it comes to what ideas are presented in the documentary, as we get a good sampling of the good (Drawings for Krypton), bad (early concepts for the black Kryptonian suit) and just plain weird (Brainiac with Christopher Walken’s face).

Were it that this film was made, it certainly would’ve been a paradigm shifter given how ambitious it is. However, what makes this even more compelling is just how influential this non-existent film has become if you really think about it. A lot of the concepts for Brainiac where he is essentially a human head with spider legs ended up being used in another fashion, given how Humma Kavula turned out in the 2005 Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy movie. Kevin Spacey was originally slated to be Lex Luthor, a role he would end up taking in Superman Returns and ultimately becoming the best part of that entire film. But probably the most telling, and the reason why this film was released at easily the best time possible, is the approach to Superman himself. The crew behind the production clearly wanted to create a darker version of Superman than people were used to, similar to what Burton himself did with Batman. This idea of treating Superman the same way they did Batman, at the end of the day, is the same mindset that went into 2013’s Man Of Steel as well as the upcoming Batman Vs. Superman film. Burton did agree to the project because, given how Superman is more a creature of sunlight than the gloomier characters that he is used to, he wanted to challenge himself and learn from the experience. However, that doesn’t affect how that aspect still remains in a lot of what the other interviewees mentioned: A darker, possibly grittier version of the character that would be based on a story line where the character would die. Given how badly Man Of Steel turned out, and how extremely disheartening BVS looks just from the trailers, it’s kind of disheartening that this didn’t get made but that film is going ahead.

All in all, this is an utterly fascinating look into the filmmaking process for a film that, unfortunately, didn’t even get to the stage of filming. The use of concept art and expert use of editing (seriously, this might be the best edited film of the year) to further illustrate what the film could have looked like is excellently handled, the interviewees all bring interesting quips about its background and the timing, given how close we are to the latest iteration of Superman on film, couldn’t have been better. For those with any interest in what goes on behind-the-scenes for a film, or just those that wondered how Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel could’ve gone, I highly recommend checking this one out. It’s better than Straight Outta Compton, purely based on how well this did at portraying a story that never reached its finale as opposed to dramatizing a true event. However, it ranks just below Truth because, as well-constructed as this film is, it falls short of the genuinely amazing dialogue of that film.

 

Occasionally, my laziness will show through but, for the most part, when I review a film that has so little respect for its audience, then I feel that it doesn’t my usual attempts at profundity that somehow counts as an introduction. This is such a film. This is Daddy’s Home.

The plot: Brad (Will Ferrell) is a step-dad who, after months of work, has finally gotten his kids to accept him as their new dad. All that changes when their birth father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) comes to town and wants to take his place as the patriarch of the family.

Director/co-writer Sean Anders’ previous work in the last few years have included Horrible Bosses 2 and That’s My Boy, both vastly different in their quality but equally blue in their style. This is a PG movie. It is rather racy for a PG movie, provided you haven’t watched Land Of The Lost before, but a PG nonetheless. This film, regardless of how many dick jokes it makes, still feels like it has been sanitised for a lower rating. After having a monologue about the phrase “Cut the shit” (Oh, how fitting), immediately going into cut-for-TV mock swears. Not just Brad, either. As a result, the rest of the film has this aura of tonal uncertainty, doing its best to give into the Apatow-lite style of comedy at its core but still keeping it okay-ish for the kids to watch. That is not a line you want to be picky about if you can’t adequately do both.

Then again, this film seems completely incapable of doing either, since this is easily one of the least funny comedies I’ve sat through all year. We’re talking Hot Pursuit levels of unfunny here. We’ve got a token black guy constantly calling everyone else racist because this is the whitest film since Three Colours: White, and that’s probably the closest this has to a decent running gag. Really, considering how this wants to care about the drama and how much Brad should win this dick-measuring contest, a lot of the jokes just end up being depressing. I mean, when the film is painting Dusty to be so blatantly the bad guy, the scene where Brad nearly dies isn’t funny. I can count all of one funny line, about the name of the dog Dusty gives to the family, and even though it’s an extremely weak pun, that is still the only one that they deserved as well.

It probably didn’t help the two characters that the majority of the humour revolves around, Brad and Dusty, who are so lazily characterized that I wouldn’t be surprised if Akiva Goldsman did an uncredited rewrite. It’s not just the fact that they respectively the complete opposite sides of the clash, the uptight dad and the laidback dad, but rather because even for broad slapstick these guys go too far. Dusty’s past kept making me think that it was going to be revealed that he made it all up, which they “””cleverly””” hit off at the pass with a reiteration of the Cinnabun product placement but only result in making it worse. Brad, on the other hand, makes Tilda Swinton look like Pam Grier with overly white and effeminate he is throughout. Him being a doormat isn’t funny, nor is how he had to progress past a point where the children wanted him dead. What makes these exaggerations feel even worse is that, for some reason, this film feels like it has a reason to poke fun at “film” moments. There’s a scene where Griff the token, Brad and his boss are talking, after Griff arrives with news, then they proceed to outline the cliché of the male lead chasing someone down to get more information about how they can resolve the film. Griff at one point that the scene they’re talking about would be drawn-out and cheesy. I’d so love to show these people my kettle, so I can beat them over the head with it.

The film actively wants Dusty to be the villain but, with the way they realized him, Brad comes out as the real villain. Even with how passive-aggressive Dusty is, at least his method of getting one on Brad actually involved the kids in the family. Brad ends up so fixated on this petty squabble that, honestly, wouldn’t have escalated if it wasn’t for his own involvement, that he ends up completely neglecting those same kids. The one time he does do something for the kids, it’s out of an act of trying to essentially out-bid him on the kids with presents. This might have been fine if that was the point of it, that fighting between parents/step-parents can end up disturbing their relationship with their children, if it weren’t for the fact that this isn’t even addressed. When the battle resolves itself, through incredibly stupid means at that, all that’s brought up is how it’s good that they aren’t fighting each other any more; nothing about one of the key reasons why they shouldn’t be, just that. There could have been a point about treating the step-father with respect because he cares more about the kids then the birth father. If it did, not only does that argument have a lot more nuance than this film could ever muster but it is also buried under the weak verbal emasculation and occasionally badly CGI-ed slapstick scenes.

It’s a bad sign when the product placement is giving the most effort out of everyone involved. Aside from essentially being bookended by Ford Flux commercials, we keep getting brand names just brought in conversation for no other reason: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Red Bull, Cinnabuns in particular must have given good wife to be a running motif in this thing. Not since Sex Tape have I seen a film show this little restraint with its marketing ploys.

All in all, I honestly thought I was clear of these types of comedies for the year. Turns out that I was dead wrong, as this is less funny and more just plain depressing for most of it. Ferrell and Wahlberg are both clearly trying to make their material work but, quite frankly, neither of them are playing roles that they should be, especially when coupled with writing that is this tonally confused. I’d honestly recommend Get Hard long before this; as terrible as that was, at least it made better use of Will. It’s worse than Dinosaur Island, as that one definitely made me laugh more than this ever could; even its one reasonable joke is bad. However, regardless of its quality and relevance, that laugh still happened. That is still more than Superfast! got out of me.

No comments:

Post a Comment