30 June 2013

Sixth Anniversary, Monsters University, Man Of Steel

Saturday was our sixth wedding anniversary.

Six years ago, dancing to The Whitlams' "Make The World Safe" at our reception.
Saturday night anniversary dinner at the Hyperdome.
We hadn't got each other any gifts yet, so I looked up a list of traditional gifts for each anniversary year. After finding iron, sugar and wood listed as the appropriate gifts for a sixth anniversary, I had a little idea which I let Kara in on yesterday.

While Kara was getting some coffees before the first movie of our date, I went around to all the cafes in the vicinity of the Piazza to gather a sachet of sugar from each one.

L to R: Gloria Jean's, Central Perk, Zaraffas, McDonalds, Toscani's, The Coffee Club.

Later, at dinner, I found a rubber band in my bag and tied them up in a bouquet for Kara... which she thought was sweet. She presented me with the wooden chopsticks she'd sourced from a couple of the Asian eateries nearby. Traditional wedding anniversary gifts, the cheap (free) and memorable way.

My "bouquet".

First up was the new Disney/Pixar film, Monsters University.

A prequel to the great Monsters Inc., it follows the adventures of young Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) as he follows in the footsteps of his childhood Scarer heroes and majors in Scaring at Monsters University. Here he meets Sully (John Goodman), son of a prestigious alumnus. Cue college-buddy-movie stereotypes! Mike studies hard and has all the book knowledge, but "just isn't scary" in the eyes of the teachers. Sully is big and can roar, but is coasting on his family reputation and just wants to have fun. It isn't long before both of them get on the wrong side of Dean Hardscrabble (a perfectly cast Helen Mirren)and are kicked out of the Scaring Program.

Oozma Kappa fraternity going out for a nice stroll in the moonlight.
A chance at redemption comes via the annual Scare Games. In order to compete, Mike joins the bunch of lovable misfits and social outcasts in the Oozma Kappa fraternity, but they're short one team member to qualify. To round out the numbers (and get back into the Scaring Class), Sully also reluctantly signs up with the O.K. team.

Sports-movie tropes and cliches follow in quick succession. We have to work as a team? We each have unique strengths we can use? The underdog team will win in the end? I'm sure you'll forgive me for not hiding these behind spoiler tags - if you've seen any of the "Mighty Ducks" movies, you'll know where the Scare Games are headed.

Predictable and formulaic sports-team-movie cliches aside, Disney and Pixar have once again brought us a highly entertaining film that both adults and kids can enjoy. Like the first film, there are some scary scenes that may scare some younger children, but I don't remember hearing any crying or distressed children during the session we were in - it is mid-year school holidays at the moment, and the cinema was packed with parents and little ones.

On the technical side, this is just filled with the amazing detail and texture you can expect from Pixar's animation team. Every single strand of Sully's fur. The pockmarks and rain streaks on concrete walls (see the picture above). Blades of grass in the university grounds. There's an outdoor night scene in the "real" world that almost looks filmed rather than computer-generated.

Our local cinema is only showing this one in 2D, but nothing really popped out as an obvious "gimmick" shot like some of these animated films are wont to include. (An obstacle-course race and a capture-the-flag game in the library would've probably looked cool in 3D, though.)

Me: 7.5 out of 10.
Kara: 7.5 out of 10.

My Highlights:


  • Nathan Fillion as the voice of fraternity jock Johnny Worthington. Until his appearance, I'd forgotten he was in this film, and no-one does smug quite like Captain Hammer himself. "Release the stuffed animals!"

  • While out one night on a prank, one of the Oozma Kappa frat members' moms sits waiting in the getaway car. "I'll just listen to my tunes," she says - and promptly cranks up some Mastodon. Heavy metal + Pixar? Nice!
Double-feature date night.

After the movie it was time for dinner, at La Porchetta. Our "usual" is a shared large meat-filled pizza, and some garlic bread.

But before we ate, silly picture time.

Kara being silly.
Kara takes a picture of the sugar-bouquet centrepiece.
We're creatures of habit. Or maybe we just like tradition - like our regular Sunday night meals of fish and chips. Pizza is a common birthday/party/celebration meal in both of our families, and we are continuing the trend.

Some days it's hard to believe we've already been married for six years. They've had their incredible ups and their devastating downs, but I look forward to what is yet to come!

Halfway there!

After dinner it was time for movie #2... on the BIG screen... and in 3D... Man Of Steel.

The film opens on a dying Krypton, with twisting rock formations, hovering robot servants, flying creatures being used for transport, and giant winged-turtle-shaped spaceships. It was all a bit John Carter meets Star Wars meets Avatar, but it was entirely appropriate for a DC superhero whose origins certainly belong more in the realm of science fiction than those of someone like Batman.

Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is at the side of his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) as she gives birth to their planet's first naturally-born baby in centuries. Fearing the destruction of Krypton from over-mining, he puts baby Kal-El into a space-pod and shoots it off into the galaxy to a world once visited in their race's long-gone colonising past.

That planet is of course Earth, and we cut to thirty-three years later. Parallels with Jesus - a strange birth, an adopted father (in a manual labour job no less), not seeking too much attention for miracles, trying to save humanity - are fairly common in Superman comics. They're present in this film as well, but aren't as in-your-face as the messianic overtones in The Matrix.

Written by David S. Goyer from a story he co-wrote with Christopher Nolan, this has a lot in common with the recent Batman reboot movies those two brought us. It is grounded in realism, even when in the science fiction segments on other planets. It's a story of Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) on a mission to find out who he is, and discover his place in the galaxy. Flashbacks periodically show glimpses of his childhood discovery of special powers, and his attempts to control them with the help of his adopted parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Eventually we know he will take his place as "Superman" - although that name is only used once in the entire film.

There is no Lex Luthor in this film (beyond the logos of "LexCorp" being seen on several vehicles onscreen), but as a sequel has been announced, he may yet make an appearance in this rebooted Superman film universe. The role of Big Bad is taken by General Zod (Michael Shannon), a military leader with a superiority complex who shares Jor-El's fears but comes up with vastly different solutions. Like blasting a hole through Earth to reshape it into a second Krypton.

My Highlights:

  • There is no cheesy glowing "kryptonite" to be Kal-El's Achilles heel. Just like in the comics, his strength and superpowers is derived from Earth's richer atmosphere and the radiation from our younger, yellow, sun. So the writers have come up with a much more realistic scenario to counter his super-strength. After a lifetime on our world, exposure to Kryptonian conditions (such as trying to breathe the AC on board General Zod's ship) gives him a very bad reaction, and renders him weak.
  • Michael Shannon's performance as General Zod.
  • They take the rather laughable "underpants on the outside" thing a step further. In this story, Superman's entire suit is a type of Kryptonian undergarment, designed to be worn under other clothes or armour. General Zod has a grey version of the blue suit, complete with his own family crest inside a shield logo on the chest.

On the downside, the Kryptonian-on-Kryptonian slam-fest that inevitably ensues when Zod and Kal-El cross purposes started to get a little confusing at times, especially in 3D. What kind of insurance would the mayor of Metropolis have to take out after the events of this film, in which the city gets even more wrecked than New York in "The Avengers"? That being said, I will be making this an addition to our Blu-ray collection, and look forward to a 2D re-viewing.

Me: 8 out of 10.
Kara: 8 out of 10.
And this from someone who's never read a Superman comic in her life. (She is mostly familiar with Lois and Clark and Smallville.)

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