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óè Man of Steel

Christopher Nolan sits in the producers's chair on the Zack Snyder Superman movie Man of Steel. But his influence is felt.

In reinventing Batman for the screen, Nolan's esthetic strategy was to remove the winking humour and the cartoony villains. His reasoning: If superhero stories are the mythology of our age, let the myth be a myth.

That approach works equally well on Superman, a character who sorely needed a reboot.

Curiously, the reinvention incorporates the origin story elements of Richard Donner's Superman (1978) and the general Zod plotline of Richard Lester's Superman II (1980).

On the dying planet of Krypton, noble visionary Jor-El (Russell Crowe) plans the salvation of the Krypton race by sending his own infant son to the hospitable planet earth. General Zod (an intense Michael Shannon) seeks to intervene in his bid to take over the planet in a bloody coup.

Some year later, on Earth, a young wanderer (Henry Cavill) pulls off amazing feats of anonymous heroism in the Far North, activities that attract the attention of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Their dual quests eventually lead to the same place, the Arctic site of a top secret extraterrestrial crash site.

Superman's back story as the foundling Clark Kent is told in flashback, with Diane Lane and Kevin Costner bringing surprising dignity to those Kansas farm folk Ma and Pa Kent. Just as Superman discovers the truth of his heritage, General Zod and his small army of superpowered underlings come to Earth with an unpleasant scheme of Kryptonian imperialism.

Snyder, who took a highly stylized approach in previous adaptations of the graphic novels Watchmen and 300, puts his creative energy to more practical use here, mostly in addressing the question: if humanoids possessed super-strength and super-speed, how would their battles take shape here in the real world?

The answer is, of course, apocalyptic.

As with Batman Begins, we leave Man of Steel with our interest piqued to see where the franchise goes from here. One can't help empathizing with this movie's beleaguered military as they fall under the crushing impact of a relentless superpower.

You win this round, Warner Brothers.

Blu-ray DVD extras include the excellent Snyder-produced animated short celebrating Superman's 75th anniversary. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

óè Frances Ha

NOAH Baumbach, a filmmaker who seems to enjoy the challenge of making us care about difficult people (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg), here makes it easy to bask in the lovable eccentricity of 27-year-old Frances (Greta Gerwig), a dancer and would-be choreographer adrift in New York City.

Like Annie Hall before her, the awkward-funny-beautiful Gerwig is a neurotic's dream girl. But as scripted by Gerwig and Baumbach, Frances proceeds as if Annie Hall didn't really need the Woody Allen character. Primarily, this is a movie about the desperate challenges that predicate coming in to your own. It feels a lot like Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture, only with better production design and Gerwig's star power.

Frances is living a relatively happy existence in Brooklyn with her roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of Sting), whom she adores. But Sophie wants to move in with her boyfriend. Frances is jettisoned into a series of changing residences.

Also, her dancing career is stalling and Frances seems to be perilously close to moving back in with her parents (played by Gerwig's real parents) back in Sacramento.

A compulsive weekend trip to Paris ravages her dwindling resources. A job at her old alma mater promises to be humiliating. Still, she rises above it.

It's not a conventional story arc, but Frances is not a conventional heroine.

Gerwig doesn't get by on charm alone. Baumbach infuses her image with a classic-film lustre, shooting her in glamorous black and white.

It adds up to a film that is an enjoyable, subtle alternative to noisy, apocalyptic movies. It's as smart, funny and tender as a cosmopolitan character study can be. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2013 C14

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