Man of Steel
There have already been five major Superman feature releases, starting with Richard Donner’s 1979 film Superman with Christopher Reeve in the title role. The most recent was in 2006, Superman Returns, directed by Bryan Singer and starring the relatively unknown Brandon Routh, which was acceptable but failed to reboot the original franchise in the way that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight did for Batman and JJ Abram’s 2008 film did for Star Trek. Another effort is being made to redeem Superman, this time by Zack Snyder, who polarized audiences with his super-nerd take on superhero comics in Watchman and the darkness and dubious mindgames of Sucker Punch. Snyder has opted to take Superman as a serious character-driven drama, with epic dimensions, following in the vein of Watchman and The Dark Knight rather than the pandering to the mainstream success of knowing self-referential humor that is the key to the most successful recent superhero franchise, Iron Man. The title character is played by Henry Cavill, who has emerged from the bodice-ripping romance of the HBO series The Tudors to a much more nuanced role in Man of Steel.
The Passion of Marie
Also released under the title Marie Kroyer, this film by Billie August, twice winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Pelle the Conqueror and The Best Intentions, The Passion of Marie is a solid period drama that deals with the family life of Peder Kroyer, one of Denmark’s foremost artists. The story focuses on the relationship between Kroyer and his wife Marie, which is seemingly happy but coming apart from within as Kroyer suffers of increasingly intense bouts of mental illness, and Marie finds comfort in the arms of another. Solid performances, a good eye for period detail and August’s own assured style ensure that this film provides stimulating entertainment for those with a passion for well-acted period drama, but unlike films like Pelle the Conqueror, it remains very much defined by its time and place.
The Kirishima Thing
A high concept drama based on a novel by Ryo Asa and directed by Daihachi Yoshida, The Kirishima Thing is a study of high school culture that tries to bypass the usual tropes of the schoolyard drama. Kirishima is a star athlete and multi-talented high achiever who opts out of school and who is never actually seen in the film. Nevertheless, his act of rebellion sends ripples through the hierarchical structure of cool kids and nerds, shattering accepted notions and forcing all those affected by his presence to think about who they actually are. Yoshida’s film tells of a series of events from a number of perspectives, replaying the same scenes as experienced by different protagonists. The director handles his large cast well, but the slow build of the drama, as various characters establish themselves, demands some patience from the audience.
The prolific Steven Soderbergh is back with another mind-bender, quite literally, in this tale about a young woman whose world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects. Psychoactive drugs are very much a hot-button issue, and this is Soderbergh in his typical mode, going for a quick hit in the manner of Contagion, which focused on the possibility of a global pandemic. The story is pretty implausible, but such is Soderbergh’s bag of cinematic tricks and the persuasiveness of the cast, which includes Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rooney Mara (from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), that this doesn’t matter too much. It’s a terrific thriller, but you don’t want to go thinking too much about it or it begins to unravel pretty quickly.