Friday, April 22, 2016

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” – Read before you write.

Following the screening of The Hunstman: Winter’s War was a Q&A session that I already wrote about. In honor of that event, let’s do Q&A for this review.

Q: I heard a rumor that you and a couple friends are starting a podcast where you fix movies. Is that true?

A: Indeed. The idea sprung up prior to a screening of Batman v Superman, where my friend and I discussed how easy it would be to fix Man of Steel to make it, at the very least, not so dumb.

Q: So your first episode will be Man of Steel?

A: Nope. We’re going with Snow White and the Huntsman, but we’ll be doing Man of Steel soon enough.

Q: I see what you did there. You created an excuse to rewatch Snow White and the Huntsman so nobody would think you were weird for rewatching Snow White and the Huntsman. There isn’t really a podcast, is there?

A: Yes, seriously, there is.

Q: Well…how about that? So, what did you learn?

A: I learned that writers not writing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe don’t bother to read screenplays of predecessors to sequels or even watch the movies.

Q: Do tell.

A: Are you okay with SPOILERS?

Q: Absolutely. Continue.

A: Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is trapped in the mirror and her sister inadvertently lets her out.

Q: Do you mean the same Ravenna that dies at the end of the first film? The same woman who shrivels up into a desiccated corpse on the floor? That Ravenna?

A: The very same.

Q: *Sigh*

A: I know. There is no explanation whatsoever as to how she ended up in the mirror. The fun part of that is during the Q&A, Theron said she didn’t think it was contrived how they brought Ravenna back to life.

Q: Isn’t that kind of the definition of contrived?

A: Yes, but if you read my full Q&A write-up, Theron more than made up for it.

Q: Fair enough. What else didn’t they bother learning from the first film?

A: Remember the scene in the first film where Ravenna’s brother tells the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) how he killed the Huntsman’s wife?

Q: Not really.

A: Well, he did. Anyway, not only is that retconned in the sequel, but she’s not even dead. The queen’s sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), tricks him into thinking she’s dead. Sure, he believes the lie for seven years, which covers the events of the first film, but doesn’t explain Ravenna’s brother reminiscing her death.

Q: Fair enough. So, what’s this movie about, anyway?

A: It starts off pre-Snow White events, showing Ravenna killing one of her previous husbands/kings via chess board. Freya…

Q: Wait – death by chess board? Like, she murders him by hitting him with a chess board? That’s oddly specific.

A: Actually, no. She’s placed a spell on the game they are playing that literally kills him when she puts him in checkmate. Stop interrupting.

Q: Sorry.

A: Anyway, Freya is there later and they discuss how Freya’s powers haven’t surfaced yet and how love sucks. This was the strange way they segued into Freya’s lover allegedly burning their child to death, which causes Freya’s powers – control of all things ice and cold – to explode out of her.

Q: So she’s Elsa? HAHAHAHA.

A: I didn’t even think of that. Nice work.

Q: And was anyone in the theater surprised by the obvious – that it will be revealed Ravenna actually killed the baby?

A: Of course not. She might as well have worn a sign admitting as much.

Q: You still haven’t told me what this movie’s about.

A: Good point. Freya becomes the ice queen of the north and takes over kingdom after kingdom. After each conquest, she takes all the captured children, raises them to be soldiers (referring to them as her huntsman) and tells them that her only rule is that love is forbidden. Of course, her two best warriors – Sara (Jessica Chastain) and Eric (Hemsworth) – fall in love. Freya finds out about it and tricks Eric into thinking Sara is dead and tricks Sara into thinking Eric abandons her after making the two of them fight other huntsman. Seven years later, King William (Sam Claflin) asks Eric to recover the magic mirror before Freya gets it and take it to a special place where its power cannot be used.

Q: There seems to be a lot going on in that paragraph and none of it is the plot. Why don’t you try again?

A: Eric must stop Freya from invading Snow White’s kingdom.

Q: Better. So, why does she need the mirror? She’s a super powerful ice wizard and the only power the mirror has (that we know of) is the ability to pick People Magazine’s most beautiful woman.

A: I have no idea why she wants it. It’s one of the most blatant MacGuffin’s in the history of cinema, but without it, they can’t shoehorn Ravenna back into the movie, which in turn allows them to redeem Freya at the end.

Q: Couldn’t they have just made Freya evil from start to finish?

A: This movie is from the same people who brought us Maleficent.

Q: Got it. How about you wrap this up in the way I know you’re dying to use – how would you fix this movie?

A: It’s about time. Here goes – I would remove the mirror altogether and go all in on an evil ice queen; no more of this garbage where the bad guy has to start off good or be misunderstood. She’s an ICE QUEEN. I’d have Eric and Sara learn about the fake-out at the end of the film. That way, we can still have the betrayal moment in the woods, but it makes more sense. And, instead of everyone chasing the Magic MacGuffin, let’s just have them defend the kingdom from the ICE QUEEN. We conclude with the climactic fight scene where Sara learns of the fake-out and turns on Freya. Maybe the two lovers die, maybe one of them dies, maybe neither of them dies, but they take down Freya and save the realm.

Q: Nice. So, you must have hated this movie.

A: Actually, no.

Q: Wait – what?

A: If you can ignore all the side stories of this film and incongruity with the first film, it’s actually a decent fantasy quest movie, despite the MacGuffin. The actors and characters are all good, comic relief was added to lighten the tone (and it worked very well), the visuals were splendid, and, overall, it was more entertaining than the first movie.

Q: It was Emily Blunt, wasn’t it?

A: I’ve got a podcast to go prep for.

Rating: Ask for half your money back. At the very least, you’ll be glad Kristen Stewart doesn’t make an appearance.

Monday, April 18, 2016

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” – Q&A session

If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know that I sometimes present my review in a Q&A format. What you are about to read is not me pretending to interview another me or inventing an imaginary Q&A session with actors, but an honest, actual Q&A session with Jessica Chastain, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron and hosted by some guy whose name I forgot to write down. While I won’t be presenting it as a straight Q&A (I have commentary of my own mixed in), I wanted you to know that I did not make up any of this. This session followed an advanced screening of The Huntsman: Winter’s War and was shown live across the screens of about a dozen Alamo Drafthouses.

(Note: I will be paraphrasing all of the questions and answers as I did not record the session, but did take notes. Also, I will be referring to the interviewer as Anonymous Guy or AG. Sorry, AG.)

My immediate impression of this session was both disappointment and satisfaction. It was disappointing because I assumed the audience was going to get to ask the actors some questions, even audience members in different states, but this did not happen. I mean, it is 2016 and we all know how to use Skype. Plus, isn’t that the point of having the session in an actual theater with actual human moviegoers? Apparently not. The host took one single question that was asked via Twitter and again, he could literally smell the breaths of people in the audience right in front of him. I’ll give you one guess as to what that extremely predictable question was. You are correct.

Twitter: What was your favorite scene in the movie?

Chastain: The scene where we all get caught up in the net. It was very difficult to keep a straight face because the dwarves were improvising a lot and it was hilarious.

Theron: I was jealous of the other actors because they had many more scenes than me. At one point, Emily (Blunt) got to ride in on a polar bear and I thought – where’s my animal mount?

I liked the answers, but when the interviewer moved on, I wondered the same thing you are now wondering – what was Hemsworth’s answer? Unfortunately for Hemsworth and us, that wasn’t the only time the interviewer skipped/ignored him. We’ll come back to this because this happened toward the end of the session. Aside from that, the actors were surprisingly candid (Theron dropped an F-bomb at one point) and made the session worth listening to.

Here was the rest of the session (my comments italicized):

AG to Charlize: This is the first time you’ve reprised a role. How did you feel about it?

Theron: I was flattered, but had my reservations because my character died in the first film. I was concerned that the way they brought her back would be contrived, but after reading the script I didn’t think it was contrived at all. This was probably my greatest job because the other actors are so great.

I love that she was worried about contrivances, but I have to disagree with her – it was very contrived. You’ll just have to read my actual review for the explanation because I’m trying to keep this SPOILER free.

AG: Tell us about the training.

Chastain: The stunts were very challenging. It was a lot of fun after doing all the depressing movies that I’ve done. Also, Chris is obnoxiously tall and muscular.

The audience loved that last bit and Chris was very humble about it. Not even a flex for all the ladies.

Theron on the chess scene: I don’t know anything about chess and we had to do many retakes.

AG to Theron: Why do you like “bad” roles?

Theron: You get to do stuff that you don’t get to do in contemporary films.

I think Theron is a great villain, but has yet to be given a truly well-written one to portray.

AG: Who was the most uncomfortable during the “hot tub” scene?

The hot tub scene features Chastain and Hemsworth in a hot springs making out. The movie’s PG-13. Sorry.

Theron: The director probably…”Jessica has amazing tits.”

I don’t remember what she said during the … for obvious reasons. And yes, that is the one direct quote I’m giving because it was awesome. Jessica turned a shade of red trademarked by Coca Cola and Theron continued to elaborate. When AG tried to go to Hemsworth for the next question, Hemsworth (correctly) stated that the audience wanted to hear more about Jessica’s boobs. I told you this session was worth staying for.

On the comedic scenes with Hemsworth, the ladies said he added more fun and humor and that they were allowed to inject their own humor.

This is always a question we want to know because some scenes just feel improvised. It’s also where the blooper reels get their filler and, often, funniest stuff.

Theron on the costumes: Sets and costumes make it easier to perform because they help the actor get into character. Of course, we women bitched to each other constantly about the weight of the dresses and having to walk up stairs in them for multiple takes. The costume designer (Colleen Atwood) didn’t care because she’s been nominated for ten Oscars and “you’ll wear what I tell you to wear.”

I sympathize with the women because I think some of the dresses were solid metal.

The last question of the night, following the “most fun scene” question I already told you about, was what the actors were doing next. I don’t remember what Chastain said and Theron said she is doing Fast and Furious 8, to which I shook my head. Then AG thanked everybody and the actors and I sat there wondering how he could continue to skip Chris Hemsworth on these questions. He’s sitting right next to you, AG and he’s not a small guy.

If I was rating this interview, I’d say it was worth your money unless you were only there for Hemsworth. While the questions were predictable, they at least led to some interesting insight and fun answers and it was clear the actors enjoyed making the movie. And, like I said, the candidness of Theron was something to behold; a refreshing reminder that these actors are red-blooded people just like us. The only thing that could have made this session better, aside from some questions from the audience, was hearing what Emily Blunt thought of Chastain’s tits. Apparently, they’re amazing.

Friday, April 15, 2016

“The Jungle Book” – Your kids will have nightmares.

As I sat through the end credits of The Jungle Book, it ended in a way that I was not expecting – with a big rating block proclaiming that the movie was rated PG-13. I wasn’t actually waiting for the rating block; I was watching the credits to confirm that Christopher Walken and Bill Murray did in fact sing their own songs (we’ll get to that in a minute). My point is that, previous to the screening, I had read that the movie was rated PG. The best way I can describe my surprise at the truth goes something like this – how many teenagers out there are excited to watch a movie featuring a young boy in a red diaper, running around the jungle and singing with animals? You’re with me now, aren’t you?

Just to be clear, I wasn’t surprised that this movie was rated PG-13 after watching it. Swap in humans for the animals and you end up with the equivalent amount of violence as most of our superhero movies, plus of healthy dose of scares. Though, none of our superhero movies have featured a monstrous snake about to swallow a small boy whole and, yes, there were kids in the theater crying during this scene. It is legitimately frightening for younger viewers, and good luck ever getting those kids to go near even a garden hose any time soon.

So, who is this movie for? If teenagers don’t give a shit and younger children will be traumatized, why did Disney spend $175 million to make a live action version of the 1967 animated classic? Surely, they don’t think adults are going to flock to the theater for nostalgia, do they? Maybe it’s because they have so much Star Wars and Marvel money lying around that interns were vanishing in piles of thousand dollar bills spilling out of the break rooms and OSHA made them address the problem. I might not be able to discern the target audience for this movie, but I am sure of one thing – this movie brings nothing new to the table, and it’s a very expensive table.

(The only possible SPOILER in this movie is the end, since this movie is almost a clone of the 1967 cartoon. And, yes, I’m going to spoil that end because it sucked.)

If you are unfamiliar with the story of The Jungle Book, it’s about a young boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who is raised by wolves in the jungle, but must leave the wolves and the jungle before a tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba), kills him. It’s a simple plot and the meat of the movie is Mowgli’s journey, highlighted by run-ins with a bear, Baloo (Murray), and an orangutan, King Louie (Walken), the climactic showdown with Shere Khan, and the presence of his escort, a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who is trying to get Mowgli to the man-village. To answer your question - yes, I am describing the 1967 version and, yes, I am describing the 2016 version. For $175 million, Disney made an unoriginal, 3-D, mostly CGI-animated version of a cartoon, but without any of the charm of that cartoon.

To be fair, there are a couple of differences worth noting, but none of them are good. King Louie is roughly the size of a Pizza Hut because the tree-sized snake, Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), wasn’t scary enough for small children. And speaking of Kaa, she gets one single scene that lasts about three minutes – just enough time to try to hypnotize and eat Mowgli before being swatted by Baloo. What a waste. Then, there are those songs you remember, but butchered by actors who do not have singing careers for a reason. Maybe there was a time decades ago when Murray and Walken could hold a tune, but this was just bad. I once heard Kevin Pollack joke that when he gets a crappy song stuck in his head, he uses Walken’s voice to help get it out by singing the song in that voice. That’s how “I Want to Be Like You” sounded in the movie. On the flip side, Johansson does a solid job reprising Kaa’s “Trust in Me” during the end credits, but that just makes you even more annoyed at how little screen time she got.

But, the most notable changes relate to Mowgli. For starters, the kid knows how to solve complex engineering problems despite having grown up with wolves and never having attended even one class at MIT. He’s adept at making ropes, pulley systems, and cutting tools, much to Baloo’s delight as Mowgli succeeds in obtaining the honeycomb that Baloo was lusting after. Of course, as in the cartoon, Mowgli doesn’t know how to make fire (much to Louie’s dismay), which seems a little odd considering the rest of his technical knowhow, including banging rocks together to crack them into cutting tools. Are you really telling me that not one spark flew during all that banging?

But the biggest change is the ending. The best thing about the cartoon was how, after all of Mowgli’s resistance to going to the man-village, all it took to convince him to go was a cute girl batting her eyelashes at him. And that’s perfect because that’s exactly how a child nearing puberty would act. Unfortunately, Disney is hell-bent on franchising The Jungle Book (they’ve already begun work on a sequel), so the film ends in a full circle – with Mowgli running through the jungle with the wolves and nary a cute girl in sight. Of course, for the sake of sequels they probably shouldn’t have dropped Shere Khan from a tree and burned him alive, but at least now we know what got them that PG-13 rating.

Besides Mowgli, the other large change is with Shere Kahn. Rather than hunting Mowgli, he simply kills the wolfpack leader, Akela (Giancarlo Esposito), and tells the rest of them to spread the word that Akela is dead, assuming that Mowgli will come racing back to avenge Akela’s death. Seriously?! Nevermind the sheer laziness of this event – that very act, which happens early in the film, removes nearly all of the tension and drama of the film because now there isn’t an angry tiger hunting Mowgli and it’s only a matter of time before the script tells Mowgli to fulfill Khan’s assumption. Plus, blood-thirsty tiger hunt was the only thing left to keep those teenagers interested and now they don’t even have that.

Based on early reviews, you’re going to think I’m crazy (as of 1:00pm on April 13, the movie has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), but those critics are making the same mistake they made with movies like Mad Max: Fury Road and John Wick. They are deliberately ignoring a regurgitated story (or non-existent story in those other movies), inconsistent world building, and a worse ending because of the visuals or, as The Guardian put it, the “hyperreal digital animation.” They aren’t asking questions like “why can’t the elephants or monkeys talk, but every other animal can, including King Louie – a monkey?” or “if Shere Khan didn’t know Mowgli was in the cave when Khan killed Mowgli’s father, how does Khan know that Mowgli is that guy’s son?” or “the man-village seems to consist of a bunch of drunk idiots and a massive bonfire – how is what seems to be a Texas A&M pep rally gone bad safer than a murderous tiger?“ or even “the animals know what propaganda is, but not fire? How creepy is it that they all refer to it as The Red Flower? It’s a jungle – I’m sure they have actual red flowers there.” Essentially, these critics are saying “look at the pretty colors” while lapsing into a state of stupor brought on by 3-D IMAX.

I realize this is a lot of complaining about a movie that is the very definition of the word “meh.” It’s really not that bad of a movie, just a flawed movie lacking any creativity or something new to say about the source material. It’s a movie that seems to have no real target audience beyond people who are enamored by shiny things. But the real problem with this flick is that it is inferior in every way, save special effects, to a fifty-year old cartoon made for $4 million that actually is appropriate for your young children to see.

Rating: Unless your only motivation was to see a fake CGI jungle in IMAX, ask for all of your money back. You’ll need it for your kids’ therapy.

Friday, April 8, 2016

“Demolition” – That’s one way to show it.

Pretty much the worst thing I can think of happening is also the premise of the movie Demolition – my wife tragically and suddenly dying. It’s one of those thoughts that flitters through my mind every time she travels for work and she travels a fair bit. How would I handle it? What would I tell my toddler? What in my house wouldn’t bring a flood of memories and turn me into a man-sized puddle? And how would I explain that to my toddler? It’s not a fun brain exercise, but it’s one that I never see coming until it’s already dancing in my skull. So, yeah – bring on Demolition; my wife is travelling again soon.

(Some mild SPOILERS coming up, but let’s be honest – you aren’t going to see this movie because you’ve never even heard of this movie.)

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis Mitchell, a successful investment banker whose wife, Julia (Heather Lind), is killed in a car accident. This happens within the first few minutes of the film and for the next few minutes of the film, you will wonder what this movie is actually about. That’s what I did because I’m a plot guy, so I’m always looking for the plot. As it turns out, this movie doesn’t really have a plot – it’s just one hundred minutes of Davis coping with his wife’s death. Essentially, it’s a biography and once I figured that out, I stopped wondering when they were going to get to the point because I realized that was the point. Being a biography, it makes up for a lack of plot with very well-developed characters as well as an exploration into one of the ways in which a person might cope with such a tragedy – by demolishing pretty much everything in sight. Yes, this movie has the most on-the-nose title not featuring a superhero.

Of course, he doesn’t just start demolishing everything right away. He starts with appliances and doors, then moves on to bigger things, which I won’t spoil for you. But before any of the demolition begins, he tries to buy a candy bar out of a vending machine at the hospital (after his wife dies) and the candy bar gets stuck. It’s definitely the kind of kick to the balls that life gives to a person when said person doesn’t think life can suck any worse. Anyway, Davis decides to write a complaint letter to the vending machine company and includes a detailed accounting of his wife’s death, among other things. The customer service who receives the letter is Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) and she finds it so heart-breaking that, after a couple more letters from the grieving widower, decides to give him a call. I’m not sure this qualifies as your typical rom-com meet-cute, but then this isn’t a rom-com and it’s one of the most depressing meet-cutes in the history of movies.

Karen is a single mom who likes smoking pot, has a 15-year old son, Chris (Judah Lewis), and is dating her boss. Also, Karen is a little crazy, which becomes obvious well before you learn any of those things. She’s probably the opposite of the kind of person that Davis should be hanging out with, but it seems to be helping both of them. As Davis ramps up the destruction, he also forms a bond with Chris, who is your typical disgruntled, angst-y teenager, but with the added bonus of being sexually confused. So, if you are keeping score, that’s three people with serious life issues. Given the title of the movie, you can confidently assume there’s going to be some kind of blow up involving the three of them, but I can confidently tell you it’s not what you think. Like I said, this isn’t a rom-com, so the blow-up isn’t the misunderstanding event that is standard to those films.

After watching the film, I realized that film schooling would have been really helpful for analyzing this particular movie. It’s obvious that the director and writer filled this movie with more symbolism than a Dan Brown novel, but I’m sure I missed at least half of it. I did manage to catch things like flickering lights early in the film (Davis’ mental state), Davis moving forward through a crowd while everyone in the crowd was moving backwards (no explanation required), and, of course, the obvious metaphor/literal demolition of everything in his life. But, what I don’t think I can explain well (at least without a minimum of one more screening) are the memories of his wife that we see scattered throughout the film. Not one of them felt superfluous or pointless and all of them manage to affect the viewer as if we are Davis. It’s really good filmmaking like that which allows me to enjoy a plotless movie.

I’m usually not a fan of biographies, but I found myself very content when the film was over. While I think they dropped the ball a bit on Karen at the end, I do think it was a pretty solid movie. It quickly dawned on me that I never realize how much I need movies like this until I’m actually watching one (a good one, I mean). I love action flicks, but it’s nice watching a well-made movie every once in a while that doesn’t leave my ears ringing and my eyes wobbling. Of course, the downside of this particular movie was having my brain start dancing again during the drive home.

Rating: I’m not sure the film is worth a theater screening, but I don’t think you should ask for any money back if you give it a shot.

Friday, March 25, 2016

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” – What a hot mess.

After returning home from the screening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I didn’t know how I was going to finish a full review of this film before its Friday release. The screening was Tuesday night and there were so many things that my friend and I discussed on the drive home from the movie that I was prepared to pull a Benjamin Button review out (my old review) just to get something out on time. In fact, here’s what I was prepared to post:

BvS is such an incoherent mess that my brain tried to cook itself during the screening. While I try to put my thoughts together for a full review, just know this – the only people who are going to like BvS are the same lunatics that defend the nonsensical Man of Steel as well as those who defend Zack Snyder as being a competent director. Also, did you know fried brains smells like burnt popcorn?

Little did I know that Mother Nature wanted to read my full review as well, so she delivered a serious blizzard to my home town this morning. (Snow day!) Buckle up – this is going to take awhile.

On the drive home, my friend summed this movie up, saying: “If you had told me before BvS that it would be less coherent than Sucker Punch, I never would have believed you.” Upon leaving the theater, my initial comment was “at least Captain America: Civil War will be out soon to wash the taste of BvS from my brain.” For all you DC Comics nerds out there, that does not mean I’m a Marvel apologist. I loved the first two Christopher Nolan Batman flicks (the third left a lot to be desired) and I think Suicide Squad looks like it’s going to be very good. BvS is just a clusterfuck of bad writing, visuals that never stray out of the dark end of the visible light spectrum, and Snyder’s usual insistence of including as many slow-motion shots (of people or shell casings) at the expense of telling a good story. But let’s start at the beginning.

(Unlike nearly every other review out there, I’m going to SPOILER the crap out of this movie, even the end because the end is bullshit. As I’ve said many times for other movies, there is no way I can properly explain why this movie was so bad without giving specifics. Besides, you’re probably going to see this movie regardless of what I think of it. So, go see the movie, then come back and read this and be ready to agree with me. I’ll wait.)

One big question I had was if they were going to keep any of the Batman story from Nolan’s trilogy. Right off the bat, we get the scene that nobody needed to see again – little Bruce Wayne watching his parents die, then falling down the well. So, I guess we’re rebooting Batman again. As executive producer, Nolan must have been thrilled because now his very good mythology won’t be tainted by Snyder’s stink.

Anyway, turns out this opening scene is the first of many dreams/visions throughout the film. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) wakes from it on his way to Metropolis to try save the people in his building from dying during Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod’s (Michael Shannon) battle royale at the end of Man of Steel. Even though the people are literally staring at the world engine and destruction, it takes a call from Wayne to get them to evacuate the building. I bring this up because it’s the first in a string of stupid that adds nothing to the film, but gives a convenient excuse for us to relive part of the battle and paint this version of Wayne as possibly the dumbest one in Batman history. I mean, what the hell did he think he was going to by driving into Metropolis without even so much as bringing along his Batman suit?

Cut to eighteen months later in the Nairobi desert where Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is getting ready to interview a warlord. The warlord’s security discovers a tracker on her photographer, kills him, then kills everyone in the camp, save for Lois and the warlord. Just after they leave, Superman shows up to save Lois and we get one of the very few decent scenes in the entire movie – Lois signals to Superman and Superman zips through the air, grabbing the warlord, and killing him while flying through several walls. Also, even though Superman presumably saw the entire firefight, he doesn’t go after the guys who just murdered everyone in the camp, which is important because if he had, Luthor’s plan would have died right there. So we now have a stupid Batman and a stupid Superman. Grea-a-a-a-t. This scene is also the first stage of Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) evil plan which is – wait for it – to kill Superman.

Why kill Superman, you ask? Just because. Seriously, the movie never gives us a motivation for Luthor’s plan, which is easily the biggest flaw in the movie. Our writers (David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio) apparently think motivations are lame because, not only is Luthor without one (the only thing we’re left with is he’s just crazy), but Batman hates Superman even more than Luthor does for the weakest of reasons ever. When Alfred confronts Wayne about it, Wayne says “he has the power to kill everyone on the planet. If there’s just a 1% chance that he might, we have to do something.” That’s flawless logic, but then doesn’t that mean that Batman should also want to kill the leaders of every nuclear-armed country on the planet? And are we only talking about people who can kill everyone? What about people who can kill thousands or hundreds or even just a handful? Do you see why this reasoning is bat-shit (sorry, couldn’t resist)? Oh, and in case you missed it, Batman's a murderer now too (like Superman became in Man of Steel) because Snyder and company are that clueless.

So, that’s the plot of the movie, I think, and it couldn’t have been handled more terribly. For starters, the first thing we see after the “18 months later” screen, is a diver pulling up a chunk of kryptonite from the world engine that crashed near India. If you were like everyone else and wondering how Batman – a man with gadgets – could possibly have a fight lasting longer than half a second with an indestructible humanoid with super strength, super speed, super breath, and eye lasers, kryptonite still wouldn’t help since Superman could just burn a whole through Batman’s face from half a mile away. Or throw a gas truck at him. Or…you get the point. And, why are they fighting again? Superman doesn’t like vigilantism involving branding criminals with a bat symbol (which leads to their deaths in prison) and Batman has that whole 1% problem he can’t get over. Batman blames Superman for thousands of deaths, but doesn’t seem to give a shit that Superman hasn’t killed anyone else since the city battle, saved the entire world from being krypton-ized during that battle (and saving the rest of the world in the process), and saving a bunch of people after the battle from various predicaments. Is it just me or is Batman kind of a raging dick in this movie? But the kryptonite has to exist so Batman can make it into a Jesus spear with which to kill Superman (not making that up).

And you should be asking yourself at all times, why does Batman never even attempt to have a nice, calm chat with Superman or vice versa? They’re basically on the same side right – stopping criminals? There’s even a senator (Holly Hunter) who literally says “That’s how democracies work – we talk to each other.” Of course, she gets blown up almost immediately after saying it, proving that the Republicans have been right all along – terrorists are everywhere and fuck the Iran nuclear deal.

Which brings us back to Luthor’s, er…plan. He doesn’t want to just kill Superman; he wants people to hate him first, especially Batman. Blowing up the senator had the same goal as the Nairobi incident – to frame Superman for a bunch of deaths and of course it works. Because Superman always kills people with guns. And Superman can definitely cause a building to explode just by standing in it. Oh wait, nobody believes that. They even immediately identify the source of the bomb as the guy who had it in for Superman. But does anyone bother to point out that Luthor paid the guys’ bail and had a reserved chair in the senate hearing precisely because he was the bomber’s benefactor? Of course not – we’ve got more shit to blow up in slow motion.

This nonsense goes on for the entire movie. People doing things that make no sense, knowing things they couldn’t possibly know, believing things that couldn’t possibly be true. Examples:
• So, in eighteen months, metropolis has been completely rebuilt and they even had money left over for a really nice, giant Superman statue?
• How does Luthor know that Bruce Wayne is Batman and that Clark Kent is Superman and that Lois knows that Clark is Superman? This is never even hinted at.
• Why are we still doing the glasses gag? It was bad enough before, but we have facial recognition software now and Superman doesn’t exactly hide his face.
• If Batman and Luthor both want Superman dead, why not just have them work together?
• If Luthor wanted Batman to have the kryptonite, why didn’t he just give it to him instead of going through the elaborate car chase charade? (And we know he did because when he finds out Batman has stolen it, he smirks.)
• Why does Batman leave a batarang in the case containing the kryptonite? Considering it was stuck into the middle of the case, he had to have thrown it there after removing the rock.
• Since when is Gotham City just across the harbor from Metropolis?
• Why would Clark Kent be invited to a glamorous gala at Lex Luthor’s house if he is the sports beat writer?
• How the hell does Clark not know who Bruce Wayne is? You work for a newspaper and you’re Superman. WTF?!
• Why wouldn’t the Daily Planet cover the obviously sensational story about a vigilante Batman branding people? Especially since Gotham City is right there? (The editor, played by Laurence Fishburne, is fuming that he’s not covering a random football game.)
• Why wouldn’t Bruce Wayne’s secretary alert him to the returned checks (to the bomber) with the crazy red writing all over them? And why would the writing make Wayne hate Superman more? It’s not like Superman was intercepting them.
• Why did Luthor just feed that guy a Jolly Rancher? (Not making this up.)
• Why would Luthor be allowed unescorted access to an alien ship in the middle of the city?
• Would a super-advanced alien ship really be tricked into accepting a new commander by fake fingerprints? Really, not even a security question like “what was the name of your first pet?” And if it knew he wasn’t Zod (it literally says, new commander accepted), why did he need the fingerprints at all?
• If the Council of Krypton decreed that no abominations would be permitted to be made, why would they build the function into the ship? And why would the computer change its mind on the subject just because Luthor reminded it that the council was dead?
• Seriously, human blood is the key to reincarnating Zod and it has to go in his mouth? And why does Zod reincarnate into an orc? And why is Luthor always putting stuff in other dudes’ mouths (living and dead)?
• Why is Luthor a psychotic man-child who uses strong-arm mob tactics to get what he wants rather than the super-intellect that used to define his character?
• How does Batman magically know where Luthor’s men are holding Superman’s mom (Diane Lane)? And, if Superman can hear Lois screaming from underwater through concrete, why can’t he hear where his mom is?
• Who the hell is that super-hot woman dressed like Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)? Oh, that is Wonder Woman? Good thing you told me, because this movie sure didn’t (Yes, I recognize the armor; that’s not the point).
• Why does Luthor have a bunch of files on meta-humans, complete with unique logos for each? And, what’s a meta-human?
• Also, meta-humans? Really?
• Why is Wonder Woman on that airplane while an apocalyptic battle with a Kryptonian super-orc is going on? And, how did she get her shield and sword past airport security? For that matter, how did she even fit them in her carry-on bags?
• Do you seriously expect me to believe Batman refrains from killing Superman because their moms are both named Martha?
• Do you seriously expect me to believe that Superman can survive being nuked, but can’t survive being stabbed?
• Are there any rules to these superpowers at all? Even a little bit?
• Did you guys even try to write something that made even a modicum of sense?

Whew. That was a lot and I’m sure I missed some. And if you think I’m nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking, just know that my friend and I said all of that and more in the half-hour drive from the theater to our houses. That’s how terribly written the movie was.

Now, let’s answer some other important film-y questions in case you don’t care about little things like plot and character development (of which there really was none).

Music – mostly bombastic, but was cool when Wonder Woman joined the fight.

Dialogue – a lot of bad filling in the holes when Luthor wasn’t monologuing (and wow, he pretty much never shut up).

Performances – I won’t fault any of the actors here, except maybe Eisenberg. The only character who didn’t suck was Wonder Woman and she was ridiculously underdeveloped. The actors delivered what they were directed to deliver – an angry, confusing Superman; an even angrier Batman with zero signs of being the best detective on the planet; an obnoxiously annoying and decidedly non-genius Lex Luthor (though Eisenberg was way over the top, which was his fault), a lame CGI Zod-orc, and an Alfred that is suddenly a master technician, electrical engineer, surveillance expert, and computer wizard because Batman was reimagined as an angry rage-aholic lacking the charm, charisma, cool-headedness, intelligence, and guile we expect out of the caped crusader (and Irons was criminally underused). In all seriousness, the best performance is arguably the cameo by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Yeah – I know.

Visuals – slow-motion artillery shells dropping to the floor. Massive fight scenes in sepia tones. Gadot’s jaw-dropping dresses and beauty. Afflecks ripped abs and shredded body doing pull-ups, pounding on tires, and pulling weight sleds (is he being trained by Rocky or something?). Question – how is that going to help him fight a guy who can punch a hole through the Earth? And, that Orc. Gech-h-h-h. It’s exactly what you expect from Snyder – decent fight scenes and no slow-mo he didn’t love.

Now that my brain is free of all that shit bouncing around, I feel better, but not about the movie. As I said in the beginning, the only people who are going to look past all of the awfulness of the movie are the same people who looked past all of the awfulness of Man of Steel. And Sucker Punch. And 300. Yes, as many apologists will try to say, it is just a superhero movie that is only supposed to be entertaining, but that is bullshit. Marvel has proven this trope dead wrong multiple times. Even DC, through Christopher Nolan, has proven they can make really good movies that are more than just popcorn flicks. But, even if those people were right, BvS isn’t even a decent popcorn flick because even decent popcorn flicks have coherent plots. But rather than go on for several more pages about how BvS is a bigger, hotter mess than every Bachelor relationship, I’ll leave you with my friend’s theory on why Batman is really so angry with Superman.

If Gotham and Metropolis are so close, and Superman can hear people screaming for help, why doesn’t he help people in Gotham? Says Batman, “we know you can hear us – you’re right there. We can see you.”

Rating: You should definitely save your money for Civil War, but I almost want you to see BvS just so you can see how badly they’ve handled what should have been an awesome movie. ALMOST.

Friday, March 11, 2016

“10 Cloverfield Lane” – Inception-y horror.

Raise your hand if you knew this movie was coming. Ok, everyone not involved in the making of this movie, raise your hand. That’s what I thought; me either, and I know about most movies well before you. I found out about it maybe two weeks ago when the first trailer was released and my reaction was “wait, when did J.J. Abrams have time to produce another movie while doing Star Wars?” My next reaction (because I’m a nerd) was “another Cloverfield movie? Niiiice.” Then, I watched the trailer and, as is typical with Abrams’ movies, learned just enough to think “Niiiice.”

There are plenty of things to admire and like about Abrams, but my personal favorite is how good the trailers are for his movies. Most movie trailers ruin 80% of the film or they completely lie about what the movie is actually about. Abrams does no such thing, instead, choosing to tease the viewer and raise questions that in the viewer’s mind that must be answered. In the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the trailer shows three people (John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr.) in a bunker doing trivial things – reading, assembling puzzles, and listening to music. Then, things start to turn dark with shaking, fires, pointy sticks, handcuffs, and terrified glances. Finally, Winstead whacks Goodman in the head with a bottle and bolts for the door, getting through the first door (it’s two doors creating a homemade airlock) and locking it before Goodman can reach her. As she looks out the window, Goodman is screaming at her not to open the door and we see her cover her mouth in horror and…fade to movie title. Dude.

Now, because we saw Cloverfield (if you didn’t see Cloverfield, what are you doing here?), we have a basic idea why they are in the bunker – rampaging monsters that may or may not be aliens. After that, nothing. From the one minute and forty-four second trailer this was what went through my head:

They seem like a family; they’re making the best of a shitty situation; oh there’s John Goodman’s ass dancing in front of a juke box. (Rumble, rumble) That would be the monsters. Wait, why does Winstead look terrified of Goodman? Who’s in the handcuffs? What’s in the air duct? FIRE! Goodman’s little pistol and a sharpened stick are not going to kill those monsters. Do they have a plan? Are they all going to die? Holy shit – she just whacked Goodman with a bottle and made a break for the door? What the hell is happening here!? I thought they were a family? Goodman’s right – don’t go out there!! Oh my god – what does she see! (Title screen) NOOO!! …….. when does this movie open?!?!

Now that is how you make a trailer. Incidentally, 10 Cloverfield Lane is also how you make a horror movie. Unlike most horror flicks, 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t stoop to cheap tricks like gory deaths or making things jump into the screen. It uses actual writing and film elements to scare you and make you tense throughout. It’s a cross between a whole lot of Misery sprinkled with some, well, Cloverfield. There are genuine moments that shock you because you really weren’t expecting THAT to happen. In short, it’s a horror movie inside a completely different horror movie.

I’d see any Abrams movie, so I might be a little biased in saying that this movie is definitely worth the price of admission. But, even if you aren’t an Abrams fan, you almost have to be a John Goodman fan. Winstead and Gallagher are both good, but Goodman brings his A-game. As the subplot of “who is he” unfolds, you won’t know what to think. Is he good, bad, crazy in an innocent way, or crazy in a Hand that Rocks the Cradle kind of way? Regardless, you will enjoy his character because Goodman was that – uhh – GOOD.

Like the trailer, I’m keeping this short and not giving away too much. If you’re an Abrams fan and seen his movies, then you know he can’t resist giving you at least a peak at the monster under the bed. Whether that monster is Goodman or something outside, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back. Remember this movie when you’re NOT being scared later in the year by movies like The Purge 3.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

“London Has Fallen” – Quit it already, the ‘80’s are dead.

One of my favorite movie sites, Ruthless Reviews, has an entire set of reviews under the heading 80s Action. As every cinephile knows, the 1980’s were overflowing with action movies. Ruthless came up with a format for reviewing those movies in which the following components were included: homoeroticsm, corpse count, how bad is it really, post-mortem one-liner, stupid political content, and novelty death. Without fail, every 80’s action flick had more than enough content for each of those categories. With the rise of the superhero movie, 80’s action style movies have all but vanished, but there are still a handful released every year (usually straight to DVD or starring Jason Statham) for those nearing-middle-aged people who love big, dumb action flicks, but want that damned CGI to get off their lawns.

(Like Olympus Has Fallen, I’m going to SPOIL a lot of this film because you should not waste your money on it, even if you love 80s action flicks).

London Has Fallen is very much an 80s action flick, as was its idiotic predecessor, Olympus Has Fallen. I didn’t think Olympus Has Fallen did well enough to merit a sequel, but it somehow tricked $161 million dollars’ worth of moviegoers (on a $70 million budget) into seeing it. Anyway, like Olympus, London asks you to believe things so insane and unbelievable that even most 80s action stars are shaking their heads. This time around, a bunch of world leaders attend a funeral in London after the British Prime Minister unexpectedly dies. Terrorists attack the leaders prior to the funeral because it’s much easier to kill a bunch of people in different locations than it is to wait until they are all in one spot. Of course, the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) – or POTUS, as Hollywood likes to say – and his super, special, secret service agent, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) survive the initial attack and the rest of the movie is standard action flick fare – bad guys chase good guys and lots of people die while things explode. Why? Because the mastermind terrorist (Alon Moni Aboutboul) isn’t satisfied with killing hundreds of people – including an untold number of world leaders >= 4 (seriously, they don’t tell us the number) – and destroying half of London, HE MUST HAVE THE POTUS!!

Look, I knew going in that this movie was going to be loud and dumb, so all I was hoping for was a plausible execution of the attack (you know, like Olympus didn’t have) and I would happily enjoy the remainder of the film. Yeah…no. The writers of this “movie” went out of their way to make several characters say variations of “this is the most secured event in the history of the world” and even showed us scene after scene of security forces checking IDs, walking police dogs around, and using those mirrors-on-wheels to look for car bombs. So, with all of that security, how do the terrorists wreak such havoc? By posing as cops. That may sound plausible until you watch dozens of terrorists (out of hundreds) start murdering people in various ways. Remember, this is the most secure event in the Milky Way, so of course no legitimate cop wonders who all the new middle-eastern-looking cops are that just happened to show up for THE MOST SECURE EVENT EVER!!!!!. I know, and that’s not all. Just before all the attacks we are shown the Japanese leader stuck in traffic on a random bridge, the French leader chilling in a boat on the Thames, and the Italian leader and his wife getting ready to bone on the roof of Westminster Abbey. Not only were dozens of terrorists able to infiltrate police ranks, but they also just happened to know precisely where these leaders would accidentally be prior to those leaders accidentally being there so they could blow them up with bombs. Now, you should be asking yourself if their psychic abilities were that awesome, why didn’t they get the POTUS? Because POTUS got there earlier and didn’t tell anyone. Take THAT, stupid other world leaders who also didn’t tell anyone where they would be.

I know what you are really wondering now so, in honor of Ruthless Reviews, let’s finish this up with their 80s action flick components.

Homoeroticism
In the actual 1980s, you could always count on some female nudity to soften the male homoeroticism, but there is nary a female breast or ass to be found in 2016 London. The two biggest female characters are Banning’s pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell) and his boss (Angela Bassett), who is impaled by helicopter shrapnel early in the film, so any chance of convincing us these dudes aren’t thinking about some together time in the Lincoln Bedroom is quickly dashed. And, let’s not forget that the President is widowed because Mike chose to save him first rather than his wife (this happened in Olympus). Plus, the film opens with Mike struggling to decide on resigning his posting to the President’s detail so he can be with his wife and soon-to-be-born child. What can I say – the heart wants what the heart wants. Also, these bits of dialogue happen:

Banning (to the President): “I was wondering when you were going to come out of the closet.”

British SAS soldier to Banning: “Take care of your balls.”

Corpse count
I didn’t actually keep count, but we’re told hundreds…and I’d guess that we visibly saw at least fifty. Banning himself is responsible for no less than thirty and even POTUS tallies several. But don’t worry too much because the vast majority of the dead are either British citizens or terrorists. Let’s be honest, Earth - if they aren’t American, nobody really gives a shit, am I right?

Novelty death
There are so many to choose from – from Banning crushing a guy’s throat with a well-aimed two-by-four to Bassett’s death by shrapnel to Banning jamming a broken piece of metal into a terrorist’s lungs. But, I’m going with Banning sideswiping his car against a concrete overpass pillar to remove a dangling terrorist from his window. Does the terrorist’s head stay in Banning’s hands? You bet it does. Does Banning toss it through the passenger side window, inches from a horrified Bassett? You’d be disappointed if he didn’t.

Post-mortem one-liner
When Banning shoves the broken metal into the terrorist’s lungs, he’s also taunting the terrorist’s brother via walkie-talkie, ala John McClane. After tossing away the walkie, the President asks “Did you really have to do that?” Banning’s response: “Nope.” And, yes, Banning is grinning a little.

Stupid political content
Terrorists have infiltrated emergency response services, they are hiding under your bed, they’re in your closet, and Obama still hasn’t called Jack Bauer to save us all from a fiery, bullet-riddled death. The FBI, NSA, and CIA must have access to all of your communications or some guy with an al- in his name is going to blow up a Banana Republic. They say the terrorists hate us because of our freedom, not because we shot a missile at that brightly covered wedding pavilion in the desert and accidentally killed 40 or so party guests in order to kill that one really, really, bad guy who, luckily, left the party early (this happened in the movie). At some point, the rest of us are going to accept the fact that war works both ways and demand that our government either stops invading countries or stops doing it half-assed.

How bad is it really?
Well, it’s not worse than Olympus, but it’s not better. Between Butler struggling to deliver an American accent while surrounded by his British countrymen and a pointless Pentagon crisis room filled with Academy Award nominated/winning actors occasionally clapping or barking into a phone, you have a movie that doesn’t want to say anything more than (sing it with me): “America – Fuck Yeah”. That and “the 80s will never die.”

Rating: If you didn’t learn from Olympus Has Fallen, nothing I say here will stop from you from pissing away ten more dollars.

P.S. – Thank you, Ruthless Reviews.