MEEK AT THE MOVIES : Draft Day —- 2 STARS

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^ not much of a draft picker : Kevin Costner as NFL GM Sonny weaver, Jr (with Jennifer Garner) in Ivan Reitman’s “Draft day”

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Here’s something new : Kevin Costner back in a sports movie. Ok, maybe not new, but this time it’s football and not baseball, and he’s traded his cleats for a front office job. “Draft Day” is supposed to be a funny quirky race against the clock, cum romance, like “Jerry Maguire,” but it’s no all that funny. Costner does his job channeling his signatures : assured nonchalance as Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the Cleveland Browns.

The film starts off on the morning of the big titular day with Sonny going back and forth with his girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) about who he might pick, and of course she has some big news to tell him, but his phone keeps ringing. Cleveland has the number one pick in the draft and everyone wants it because there’s a QB out there who’s the next Tom Brady (which is ironic because the team that’s after him the most, the Seattle Seahawks, have Russell Wilson and just won the Super Bowl; kind of the same post- shoot conundrum that afflicted “Fever Pitch” when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 76 years and the filmmakers had to scurry to stay with the times).

Sonny, who fired his beloved Dad as head coach, seems to be a front office bonehead as he trades away the team’s next three number one picks and appears to be on the verge of being shown the door by the team’s owner (Frank Langella) who’s just as concerned about flash and pomp as he is about winning. It doesn’t help that Ali works for the Browns as well, and they’re not out as a couple, even though everyone knows.

In short Sonny’s in a world of shit and I won’t even mention the issues with his mother (Ellen Burstyn), ex-wife (Amanda Peet) or his new head coach (Denis Leary playing a Barry Switzer-esque role in that he had a Super Bowl ring because he inherited a championship caliber club).

As the clock winds down in the fourth quarter, the whole back and forth of the deal becomes more tiring than successive spring training sessions, as does the “are they, or aren’t they?” water cooler talk. All the actors are fine, it just feels like they’re given saw dust to recite and a circuitous plot that offers few gems as payoff for the rigor. It’s a neat premise and there are some attempts at deepening the human interest aspect of it (a star athlete trying to get paid to support his family of slim means vs. the flash QB who may not be all he appears to be), but the drama of the real draft and the unscripted nature of it, bears far more intrigue and consequence.

Next time producer/director Ivan Reitman (“Ghost Busters”) should draft a better team of writers.

—- Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

MEEK AT THE MOVIES : MAN OF STEEL ( Rating 2 ** )

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Zach Snyder’s always been big on bluster and pizazz but a bit lacking when it comes to the essentials of storytelling. Take “300” or “Sucker Punch,” which made for titillating trailers set to edgy, esoteric rock (Nine Inch Nails’ “Just as you Imagined” layered on clips of the Spartans battling Xerxes in “300” may be the greatest music video/movie trailer of all time); but when it came to holding an audience’s attention for 90 minutes, only fanboys and cultists who dug Gerard Butler’s CGI-enhanced abs and righteous barking, or Babydoll and her bustier-wearing ilk beating down misogynistic ogres, could go the distance – because that was all there was: alluring visuals and sound bites, sans the bite.

One major early steppingstone was his 2004 remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” which featured an eclectic cast (Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley) and zombies that could run at full tilt. Danny Boyle had done that bit before and better with “28 Days Later …” and there’s really no one who can out-shamble Romero  in the walking dead genre — which he pretty much invented. Yet sure enough, in the maddening, flesh-ripping mayhem, Snyder carved out his niche as a hyperactive visual stylist.

Anyone who saw “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” an animated adaptation of a children’s serial, would have to admit it was a surprising and pleasing departure from what one might expect of Snyder. And then there was “The Watchmen,” which certainly ranks as the most well done but widely disregarded superhero flick of the new century. It was Snyder’s moment to find that delicate and articulate balance between character development and special FX razzle-dazzle.

But on to “Man of Steel.” Snyder inherited script by Christopher Nolan (director of “Memento” and “The Dark Knight”) and David S. Goyer (writer of the “Dark Knight” series), and the special FX (which you can experience in 3-D to boot) are top shelf. Sometimes too much of a good thing can overwhelm the senses – imagine being trapped in an elevator that a bottle of richly redolent perfume had recently spilled in.

The narrative cuts neatly into three chapters spanning time and universes. We begin on the planet Krypton, where Jor-El (Russell Crowe, doing better than Marlon Brando in the 1978 version) is father to the first naturally conceived child in decades – a taboo, because newborns are harvested from a “Matrix”-like aquarium and their destiny (warrior, scientist, bureaucrat, laborer, etc.) is genetically predefined. The science and reasoning on that don’t make much sense, nor that Krypton, for all its future-tech machinery and spaceships, is about to implode because Kryptonians have exhausted the planet. (No forecasting, no way off ?) In such final moments, General Zod (Michael Shannon), a character you might remember happily from “Superman II,” launches a coup to save the race. Even though the planet is crumbling, when he is thwarted, the Kryptonian government follows its bureaucratic habits and gives Zod his due process : which is to send him off to a deep-space prison.

I’m not sure why they’re not headed for the distant stars themselves, but at least Jor-El encapsulates his natural-born son and sends him off to Earth.

The second act does not take up with the baby being found in the cornfield by the Kents; that’s all told smartly in flashback vignettes, Diane Lane and Kevin Costner giving wonderful, full-bodied performances as the adopted parents. Instead, we catch up with Clark (a buff and apt Henry Cavill) as a young man working McJobs on a fishing boat, as a bar back and so on. Occasionally he’ll save someone and mysteriously disappear. One of these side jobs lands him on an icecap as a civilian aiding a military operation to find out what’s trapped under the ice. Perky  (and somewhat annoyingly snoopy) Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is there too, and, as it turns out, what’s under the ice is the ship Jor-El sent to Earth long ago (again that forecasting thing). Most importantly, a father-to-son message in hologram — and that essential blue lycra suit and red cape.

Now we’re cooking, and you’d half expect Gene Hackman or Kevin Spacey to drop in as Lex Luthor, but Nolan and Goyer’s script is darker than that. Before Superman can do too many good deeds, Zod shows up (it seems that prison was a safe haven) on a colonial mission of sort. He wants to rekindle the race of Kryptonians and to do so has brought along a “world forming” machine that will basically rebuild Earth to suit the new race and wipe out humans in the process. It’s here we learn that the Kryptonians had an imperialistic yen and a history of re-forming other planets for their own (which all somehow perished when Krypton did). The implication is that they’ve been practitioners of genocide and genetic engineering, but let’s not digress into politics, morality or a self-ward reflecting mirror.

The end game is a ballistic spectacle with Zod and his underlings and Superman beating each other through buildings and gas stations. Skyscrapers fall, F-15s get punched out of the sky and things blow up in grand fashion. But it goes on too long.

What’s missing in Snyder’s Superman is a dash of the hokey goodness that Christopher Reeve contributed to the role and the comic cold cheesiness that Gene Hackman and Terrence Stamp brought as Luthor and Zod in the ’70s and ’80s.

In all this, the mention of Bryan Singer’s 2006 “Superman Returns” feels lost, so much so in that it feels redundant with Snyder’s vision. Will this one catch fire, where the other one didn’t? Time is the judge, but I think people no longer care – or the newer versions know how to wow, but not woo.

The Reeves series set up Clark Kent as a man with flaws; Cavill looks and feels the part, but he’s so brooding, impregnable and dark there’s not much joy in the affair. A dark hero, yes, but into all darkness must shine some lightness. And logic.

—- Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies