Thursday, March 31, 2016

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Occam's Razor Dulled

-Written by guest reviewer Drew Boudreau

I had the privilege of seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice several days after its debut, marked by critical destruction. I am, among my group of movie goers, the forgiving one. I liked X-Men 3 and I liked The Dark Knight Rises despite some problems here and there. If there is a movie that everyone else craps upon, I usually hold it close, stroke its head, and whisper down next to its shivering, tear-laden head ''s ok...they're just being're not bad.' Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was too difficult to like. I tried to like it. I tried to hold its hand and see things from its point of view. But it wasn't the subject matter. It was the continued choice of otherwise competent characters making outlandish and ignorant choices in the face of simple situations to further the contrived story.

The whole premise of this movie is that Lex Luthor wants Batman and Superman to fight, just for funsies, so he frames Superman for the murder of some (American?) soldiers in the desert, where Superman is saving girlfriend Lois Lane. The soldiers are all killed by the machine guns of Lex Luthor. So...the feds never went to the scene of the crime to see how their soldiers were killed? Never did an autopsy, never even saw the bodies? Nope. Strike 1.

Batman, the great detective, believes Superman to be a threat to the planet, based on the events that occurred in Man of Steel.  So he foregoes all detective work and instead makes a plan to kill him, with no further investigation. Strike 2.

When the battle does begin, Batman is armed with Kryptonite weapons that he fires at Superman. Superman recovers, and Batman fires again. Again, Superman recovers. Superman just forgets he can end this all by flying at warp one-gillion with Batman in tow and telling him that Luthor is using him. Strike 3.

Batman is winning the fight nearly the entire time, in a blind killing rage, gleefully punishing Superman (again, we're still not sure why) and as he's about the strike the death blow, Superman mentions his own mother's name, which happens to also be Batman's mother's name. In that one moment, Batman changes course entirely, and decides to be Superman's new BFF. Once again, he has asked no questions or done any research into whether Superman is telling the truth or not, not what his intentions might be. So far, Guy Noir puts this guy to shame in the detective department. Strike, what is that, 4?

Let me take this moment to also explain how this movie shoots itself in the foot with a sawed-off shotgun. It attempts to paint a dark, realistic picture of modern city life in Gotham and Metropolis. It opens '18 months' after the Man of Steel fight that completely wiped out downtown Metropolis--and the whole city is rebuilt. To put this fairy-tale number in perspective, I went to visit Ground Zero in March of 2003, and there was still rubble from the two skyscrapers that fell, that were being cleaned up. It took 10+ years to even begin planning of the Freedom Tower. And in Metropolis, the equivalent of the entirety of midtown Manhattan was sacked and burnt, and it's back to normal in a year and half. That's two strikes right there. 6, I think.

Now to the subject I liked the least, and like talking about the least as well. Jessie Eisenberg. I have never seen worse film acting in a big budget movie. He plays Lex Luthor as disturbed, paranoid and giddy with unstable evil plots. Unfortunately, he also plays him with all the skill of a high school student taking his first acting class who thinks anyone can play Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.  I cannot figure out if director Zack Snyder had a clause that said he wasn't allowed to direct Eisenberg, or if he just wasn't allowed to fire him. I have to believe it's the second. When you see this film, you'll realize how hard it is to play a mental affliction with nuance. Three more strikes for Eisenberg. The side is retired.

The visual aspects of the movie are fantastic, as are the first few minutes of the film, seeing the ending of the Man of Steel from Gotham, just across the river.  All the actors, sans Eisenberg, give engaging and full performances, including Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Laurence Fishbourne, Amy Adams, and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (whose extremely brief screen time was absolutely nailed).  However, there is an awkward moment when Cavill and Affleck are meeting for the first time, and the energy in the theatre peaks, until Eisenberg joins them and it's like watching the guy who won the walk-on role join the real actors. (In the same scene, Luthor says to Bruce Wayne he is glad he finally got Bruce into Metropolis. The billionaire businessman has never ventured into the biggest city in the country? One more strike. Team forfeit.)

There are far more script flaws I could go into, but I get no satisfaction ripping on a movie. I hope this was just birthing pains, a necessary plot device to enable the launch of the Justice League movies, which I also hope meet success. But this film shows you that the necessity of a plot device (Batman and Superman have to fight!) will make good screenwriters create dumb narratives, and otherwise smart heroes useless when it matters most.


Editor's Note: Though I didn't see the film, and have no intention of seeing it (yes, that probably makes me a bad critic, but I refuse to see Douche Snyder wreck the only superhero [Batman] I still give a shit about), I feel this clip from the incredibly underrated 90s film 'Angus' accurately sums up why Superman is a terrible character:


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Zootopia: An Important Movie, Especially Now

Disney and Pixar have been the be-all end-all for animated films. Pixar has had a long standing reputation that holds itself to the highest quality of family-friendly animated film. It has breached said reputation only a few times. And, even still, it wasn't enough for movie goers to disqualify the Pixar name. Last year's Inside Out was spectacular and had way more emotionally thematic layers than any animated movie should. But, Pixar gives a shit about people and telling a story that actually means something. It's almost guaranteed with Pixar.  Look at other production companies and the animated movies they put out the last two years: Minions, Hotel Transylvania 2, Alvin and the Chipmunks 4, Rio 2, Planes, The Nut Job.  Yes, not all non-Disney/Pixar movies are bad.  There's some hidden gems (like The Lego Movie), but it appears Pixar has the monopoly on well-rounded, fun, emotionally taut, fantastic family animated films.  Then, a branch of Disney started making their own animated films separate from Pixar and they've been nothing less than stellar: Tangled, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Wreck-it Ralph, and now Zootopia. I say this with zero hyperbole: Zootopia may be the best animated film I've ever seen.

We begin with Judy Hopps, a teeny-tiny bunny rabbit with big dreams of leaving her podunk bunny town and moving to Zootopia to become a police officer. She's tiny (and don't call her cute), but she's got a ton of heart. She finishes top of her class and finds her way to Zootopia where she isn't taken seriously and is put on parking duty. There, she meets a con-artist fox, Nick, who winds up being an important ally in an on-going missing persons case within the city. Judy has to prove herself, not just to her gruff police chief, but to the entire city that thinks a tiny little bunny won't amount to anything more than a carrot farmer. And while the film follows Judy and Nick in their attempt to solve the case, it really isn't about that. The heart of the film is a beautiful message of racial equality. Judging one another based on stereotypes (a bunny could never be a cop, a fox can never be anything but a predator) and a serious commentary about said equality, especially now.  Racial tensions in this country have always been high and it's forever going to be an embarrassing stain on our country's history, but it's films like Zootopia that has the opportunity to open ignorant eyes in 2016 which is something very powerful.

Racial inequality is not the only embarrassing aspect of being an American... especially right now with a few specific candidates running for President on a platform of nothing but mere hate. When Donald Trump wants to ban all Muslims or build a wall separating this country and Mexico, and he's still the favorite to be the Republican nominee... something is seriously wrong. Zootopia was released in the perfect time to be able to add the ongoing dialogue of the pervasive problems surrounding our American culture and society and the way we treat others who are different than us. The way we lump all Muslims together when it's a religion of peace and a few radical terrorist groups have been able to successfully exploit the religion's name is appalling, but not surprising in this country.  We are a people who base our lives around what we fear. If that brown dude wearing that tarp thing on his head is sitting next to you on a plane-- do you immediately think he has a bomb?  And yes, racism itself is never going to end, but when pieces of art like Zootopia can get ignorant brains to start working again... it may actually make a difference in the lives a few people.

This wasn't meant to be turned into some preachy rant... and that's what's great about the movie-- it's got a strong message without being preachy. It's not exactly subtle in its message, but if you're not looking for one, it might be easy to overlook. Whatever the case may be, it's a fun, fantastic, funny, and important film, especially now, that everyone should see. Whether you're a fan of animated films or not-- this is one to take anyone you know to.  Especially kids.  Let's cut the hate while they're young.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane: Like If The Chick From Room Never Got Out Mixed With War of the Worlds

First off, do yourself a favor and STOP watching any and all trailers for this movie. I saw the initial trailer back in late January and that was it for me.  I avoided everything else so that I could go into the film as blindly as possible. And it made a difference. Secondly, do everything in your power to separate the original film from this one as best as possible. The first one was a nice little surprise, but it suffers re-watch value because of its use of the incredibly tired 'found footage' trope. It would be a near-perfect monster movie if we didn't have to follow around the film with a shaky cam and the quippy voice of, now famous, TJ Miller. 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn't really have much to do with the original, but believe me when I say... it's definitely a Cloverfield-esque ride. I know it's only March, but this is the best movie of the year so far.

I'm not going to do much of a plot breakdown because, like I said, you should go into the film with as little knowledge as possible. What you've seen on the original trailer is this: Melissa (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is trapped in an underground bunker, with a broken leg handcuffed to the rail and her captor Howard (John freakin' Goodman) is a sinister dude who may or may not be completely insane.  There's also another dude there with a broken arm named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.).  Melissa was in a car crash and saved by Howard before a global "attack" which forced him to lock them inside said bunker where they can't leave for at least a couple of years. Initially Melissa doesn't believe a word the socially inept Howard says, but things start to happen that send her questioning if she was actually kidnapped or if the hell she's in currently is not as bad as the hell happening outside.

It's a great concept for a wonderful hybrid film.  This easily could've been a standalone kidnapping film without any of the Cloverfield alien stuff lurking in the back of your mind, because the scenes with Melissa, Emmett and Howard are the best moments of the film. They're tense, they're frightening, and they're the most gut-churning. We all know John Goodman as the lovable dad and here he's anything but. He's a nutty conspiracy theorist who doesn't know how to interact with other humans. He'll say something that leads you to believe that he's a murderous killing psychopath and the next, he'll be friendly and you'll wonder if it's all in your head (like Melissa does the ENTIRE film).  It's a brilliant character played brilliantly by a brilliant actor. It's almost uncomfortable watching Goodman portray this, at the very least, Aspbergers'd up nutjob.  It's a terrifying little puzzle you're trying to put together all the while having flashes in your mind remembering that this is still a Cloverfield movie so literally anything can happen.

This film has strong writing that benefits strong characters. Goodman, who switches back from villain to hero to villain again is only so good because his character was written so complexly. Melissa is a great strong, female character.  Never once is she damsel in distress.  From the moment she wakes up chained to a pipe, she's got a plan.  She doesn't sit and cry about it, she's ready to get the hell out of there. Every character turn Howard makes, Melissa has a plan.  Every time it appears he's docile and telling the truth, she's still ready for anything. Even better is they don't try to have some sort of forced romance between her and Emmett.  This movie knows what it is and it doesn't deviate.

So, having spoiled nothing for you, hopefully you understand how original and how creative this movie actually is. There's something here that you will like and if you're a fan of consistently feeling nervous throughout a film, this one will knock you on your ass. I still can't get over how great this movie was and it was filmed in secret. No one knew it existed until the trailer leaked online a few months ago.  What a refreshing treat. I love that it takes the concept of movie monster and breaks it down a few ways: yes, it's Cloverfield so you're already under the assumption that there will be a monster, but there's also Goodman's monster.  He's a monster that may or may not actually be a monster. It's a perfect metaphor. Stop watching previews for this movie, stop reading reviews for it, and go see the film. Just thank the Lord it wasn't a found footage movie.  It's awesome.