Hello everyone, and welcome to the inaugural edition of Numbers and Inspiration.

The idea behind this column is two discuss two pieces of work, which can include movies, books (comic and printed word), or television shows.  One work – making up the ‘numbers’ part of the column – will be relegated to a property that either already is or is being projected to be successful from a dollars and buzz standpoint. The comparative piece of work will be something smaller and/or less trendy that may inspire the writer and/or the masses for various reasons. Properties can be new, unreleased, older, or any mix of the two.  The whole point is to talk about something in entertainment culture deemed popular by conventional metrics, and another that may be just as powerful but just needs that extra little push to make its presence and worth known to you, the Renegade Cinema reader.

The two properties being discussed this week are both very popular, but for vastly different reasons. One is based on one of the most celebrated DC characters of all time, making his way back to the silver screen this past weekend amid much fanfare.  The other is the third act of an intimate trilogy that is a testimony to the commitment of the series’ writers, director, actors and fans. Beware that spoilers may be present, so if you don’t care to know anything about the Man of Steel or the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, take a break now and come back when the time is right to continue reading.

NumbersMan of Steel

Man of Steel

It’s no surprise that Man of Steel opened huge at the box office this past weekend.  Domestic tallies show an opening weekend gross of $125M with over $71M earned overseas, already bringing the film relatively close to its price tag (excluding marketing) after only roughly three and a half days of release. Reviews continue to be mixed but most fans seem very satisfied with Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer’s take on Superman.  As I’ve said before, from the trailers alone Man of Steel looked to be an improvement over Singer’s reboot simply because of the level of action promised.  The movie did not disappoint in that regard – in fact, given the film’s narrative and pacing I would say the only thing really wrong with Man of Steel is that there are no breathers from a seriously frenetic pace in the second half. A lot of care was taken by Snyder and company to establish a wonderful imagining of Superman’s origin, with respect and enlightenment shone on a young boy’s struggle to both find and hide his abilities. Unfortunately a lot of this falls by the wayside once the movie kicks into high action gear at the midway point.  Still, there’s a lot to think about as the film roars towards the climactic battle between Supes and Zod.  Consider Zod’s predetermined lot in Krypton’s sociological hierarchy.  Is he a true villain, or is Zod simply destined to never stop fighting for a dead planet and people regardless of his actions’ impact on the human race?  This and other circumstances (such as a downed aerial surveillance drone in the film’s final moments) contain worthwhile commentary on the plights of our and other societies. The only problem is that such statements are a bit dulled by all the smashing and explosions that don’t seem to let up.

Man of Steel

Still, numbers are numbers, and the overall gross of almost $197M makes a strong case for initial and sustained impact here.  The suits at Warner Bros. are no dummies either – anyone who has seen the film can nod when hearing mention of the strong performance turned in by Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. He and Clark’s relationship are the cornerstone of Superman becoming the, well, man he becomes when finally forced to take up the hero mantle in the face of Zod’s threat to his adopted people. Timing the release of Man of Steel to coincide with Father’s Day weekend may have not made up a huge portion of that stellar box office take, but it sure didn’t hurt either.

Of course, Man of Steel inspires as well, due mostly to the aforementioned depiction of a coming-of-age Superman and his relationship with his Earthly (and to a lesser extent, Kryptonian) father. The deluge of action also inspires – trust me, if you haven’t seen the film yet, there are a lot of ‘wow’ moments to behold. But after all the action ends, and one final moment of quiet elbows its way back into the proceedings, the image of a young Clark playing in the backyard with a red cape knotted around his neck while Ma and Pa Kent look on was the image that really stuck with this viewer. This scene is a bit of retroactive foreshadowing, sure. But it also reminds many of us geeks how we played as children, wondering at the possibilities for help and hindrance that could come from the ability to do just about anything.  The scene also reminds all of us of the magnitude of influence our parents have in our upbringing – positive and negative – to help shape us, no matter what powers we possess.

InspirationBefore Midnight

Before MidnightAh, Ethan Hawke. Who doesn’t like Ethan Hawke? This guy commits to every role he’s ever played, no matter the subject. Good cop or bad cop. Purge security system salesman or anguished true crime writer.  Heck, even in a world of vampires you can count on Ethan Hawke…and he’s a bloodsucker himself in Daybreakers.

Even more inspiring is the level of commitment he, fellow thespian Julie Delpy and director/writer (Hawke and Delpy share screenwriting credits on the latter two films) Richard Linklater have to each other and a small (smaller than Superman, anyway) but devoted and growing fan base as they continue to write chapters in the book of the lives of Jesse and Celine.  These two characters met and parted bittersweetly in Before Sunrise, with a promise to meet again six months later.  However, the two don’t cross paths again until nine years later in Before Sunset. Nine years after that finds the two Before Midnight, the latest act in which the now-married couple stand at a number of crossroads, united but still struggling with various aspects of themselves on individual and combined levels. Linklater once joked that no one asked for a sequel to the original, but the Before films just keep gaining steam as the years go by.

The Before movies are, in essence, a complete 180o from Man of Steel. The only hurting going on is emotional, as in no one’s getting thrown from or through a building.  The first two films show nothing but conversations and reactions in what is essentially compressed real time; one would safely assume that the Before Midnight will be more of the same.  What’s impressive is the way such these characters reel viewers in. Talk to a fan of the series and you’ll note that to them, Jesse and Celine are real, living real lives day to day alongside theirs while, as outsiders, they get a peek through the curtains surrounding Jesse and Celine’s situations every nine years or so. That’s how deep these characters and their simple yet exhausting entanglements cut for many viewers.

Before Midnight

Love for these characters also flows freely from critics, as acclaim has only grown bigger with each installment, with the second film nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. The third film has enough buzz around it that folks like Indiewire are thinking that Jesse and Celine may get a lot more fans if that buzz grows loud enough to snag more Academy consideration. With that will come more numbers, and the tale of the Before films will grow to new inspirational heights as the little trilogy that could keeps on steaming towards bigger and better heights.  Worthy of consideration, the first two films can be found on DVD while Before Midnight is making its way across the country in limited engagements; check your local listings often to see if this escape from otherworldly action into more human realms is available for consumption near you.