The Morning After: Jun. 24, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Grand Illusion

Looking through history, war films have tended towards depictions of violence and destruction as a method of showcasing the frailties of war. One of cinema history’s greatest anti-war films portrayed German soldiers with affinity. All Quiet on the Western Front remains today one of the finest examples of war depiction. On the other side of the coin is Jean Renoir’s interpersonal exploration of war, class distinction and prejudice in Grand Illusion, a film that never once places a scene on the battlefield.

Offered preferential treatment as prisoners of war, the officers of the French army of World War I struggle with their confinement and prepare for their eventual escape. Thwarted at various turns by forces outside their control, they are eventually shuffled from compound to compound as we see relations between the aristocracy and the working man blend harmoniously in spite of their origins. War is the great equalizer and Renoir recognizes this, using his film to showcase the commonality shared by human beings and foreshadowing the dangers of rising tensions leading up to World War II.

The film also looks at prejudice crushing stereotypes with its portrayal of a nouveau-riche Jew and later highlighting the disdain shown towards a single black officer sharing quarters with the whites. Renoir’s progressive idealism shows through in his sharp dialogue and pensive explorations of the film’s various themes. The differences between rich and poor, black and white, Jew and Christian are deconstructed and rebuilt in one of the most forward-thinking treatises ever filmed. Renoir was an idealist and realist. He recognized that the future would continue on the same recycling tract unless people came together. His sentiments are as true 75 years ago as they are today and in spite of the caution he and many others have advised, we continue down the same repetitive path towards the illusion of equality and that any war could be considered the war to end all wars when the cycle continues unabated.

Man of Steel

Zack Snyder is finally beginning to mature. Emerging from the childish exploitation of form and function, Snyder’s Man of Steel is easily his most sensible production to date. It balances spectacle and sentiment without becoming maudlin. That he relishes his excessive use of visual effects and destruction showcases how far he has yet to go in his pursuit of adulthood as director, but he’s shown more desire to grow-up than many of his contemporaries.

Taking us once again to the beginning of the well known superhero Supreman (Henry Cavill), Man of Steel explores the natural exploitation, forced evolution and eventual collapse of society on the distant planet Krypton. A clear warning to the people of earth, which appears headed down a similar path. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his naturally-born sun to earth so he can one day rebuild the people of Krypton. Pursued by the warrior-bred protector General Zod (Michael Shannon), Kal-El/Clark Kent must come to terms with his origins and understand his purpose as protector of Earth and its people.

Snyder’s trademark visual style is largely stripped from his sixth directorial effort. While there are some minor references to his style in various fantastic scenes in the film, it is largely an accessible effort that does go overboard in its scenes of destruction. Here’s a character whose goal is to save humanity from a force hell-bent on its destruction and instead of working hard to save as many lives as possible, the final series of battles cuts a huge path of destruction through the fictional city of Metropolis. While it has become expected of superhero films in the last several years and getting butts in the seats seems to require untold wanton destruction, but there comes a time with excess must be scaled back for the sake of story. While much of the film is fairly well written, the struggle to inject symbolism and excitement betrays a lot of the potential inherent in the material and one of the reasons Superman is one of the most enduring icons of the genre.

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