Justice League (2017) – Movie Review

justiceleague

I went into Justice League, DC’S most recent grab at Marvel’s success, with trepidation. Other than Wonder Woman, each DCEU film has left me somewhere between “meh” and “ugh”. Even when Joss Whedon (Avengers) came in to help a grieving Snyder finish the movie, their exponentially different styles worried me, and that worry was mostly justified. Yes, Whedon’s wit does bring a welcome shine to the gloomy proceedings and, unlike Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, keeps this movie from being an all-out slog. Still, it’s an awkward epic that can’t overcome the franchise’s dark doldrums. Just like every other superhero movie ever made, a charisma-less and bland villain with limitless power appears, bent on destroying Earth because of “reasons”. Superman still dead, the world must depend on lesser heroes to save them. Affleck is still a pretty good Batman, Flash is light-hearted fun, Aquaman is kinda cool, Cyborg is dull and dour, and Wonder Woman is still the standout. There are still certainly some interesting moments between the characters, but they’re mostly overshadowed by superhero-ethic clichés, stupid drama, bad CGI, and nonsensical logic (why are these guys such quick allies?) There really is just so much that doesn’t work: specific jokes, bad visuals, interpersonal relationships, muddy action, plot predictability. The main problem, though, is that DC and Warner Bros. think, through their previous films, they’ve given us enough reasons to care about this universe, and they haven’t. The positives here, mainly just seeing these heroes together on-screen, have left me mildly curious about the future of the franchise, but only barely. Otherwise, Justice League is easily the worst superhero movie of the year.

 

2 out of 5 stars

……………………………………

Advertisements

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – Movie Review

batman v superman

Director Zack Snyder has proved to be the Kryptonite of this new DC universe. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is classic Snyder: visually adept yet narratively and thematically senseless. With two of the most compelling and popular characters in the world, numerous questions about purpose and responsibility are aimlessly wasted. Throw in resplendent amounts of religious and political imagery, and way too many dream sequences, and what we’re left with is a sad mishandling of what should be a powerful and (ahem) entertaining film. The opening is fantastic, as we watch Bruce Wayne and others reel from the disasters perpetrated by Superman in Man of Steel. Unfortunately from there, things go downhill fairly quickly, as story clichés (Kryptonite) and lame coincidences (Bruce and Clark’s mom have the same name! Wow!) fill a convoluted plot. Worst yet, this “action” film is overstuffed with unending amounts of ethical speeches and monologues in place of actual character connections. DC’s desperation to right their own wrongs in the destruction in Man of Steel becomes embarrassing (“Luckily that island was deserted”). Even when we aren’t being lazily spoken at or having our emotions ineffectively manipulated, the set-pieces are largely insipid and boring. As for the pluses, Affleck is great as Batman, giving a unique turn as a sloppier, older, and angrier Dark Knight. Also, for the very little we see of Gadot’s Wonder Woman, it creates an excited eagerness for her stand-alone film. However, BvS as a whole has less in common with its positives than with Eisenberg’s poorly-casted Lex Luthor: frantic, ill-thought, desperate, and truly awful.

 

2 out of 5 stars

………………………………….

Big Eyes (2014) – Movie Review

A good bio-pic tells more than just the story of an interesting person. It portrays them in the broader context of their era in ways that offer insight into human nature. Among the most recognisable motifs of the 1950’s are paintings of mournfully cute children with exaggerated large round eyes. They became known as the ‘big-eyed waifs’ created by artist Margaret Keane who is still painting at 89 years old. The film Big Eyes (2014) is a true story of the emotional violence and domestic captivity that lay hidden behind one of the biggest art frauds in history. It is also a moving tale of how these immensely popular artworks started as expressions of the artist’s pain but came to symbolise her personal triumph.

When we first meet Margaret (Amy Adams) she is packing her bags to flee a stifling marriage. She settles in San Francisco and gets a modest job painting pictures on furniture, but her artistic passion is painting children stylised with huge eyes. One day she is swept off her feet by a self- promoting extrovert and painter Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and they soon marry. His paintings are ignored while her artworks attract attention but the shy Margaret is not good at selling whereas Walter is a natural salesman. On the first occasion, he is mistaken as the artist by an interested buyer and the deception proves profitable. Despite Margaret’s misgivings, the ruse becomes the business model with Margaret secretly painting while Walter claims the credit from an increasingly voracious public who were prepared to pay good money for the ‘big-eyed waifs’. He becomes a celebrity and they enjoy their new wealth, but Margaret is psychologically burdened by the deception. Walter becomes increasingly paranoid and controlling to the point where she must flee again for her safety. Margaret keeps sending paintings to Walter to get his agreement to a divorce, but soon the burden of the lie becomes too much and she goes public. Walther declares that she is mad and the celebrated case was settled in court when the judge issued an impromptu order requiring both Walter and Margaret to paint a ‘big-eyed waif’ right there in the courtroom. The truth was immediately obvious.

This is an interesting and engaging film on many levels. It is a factual account of a multi-million- dollar art fraud that was committed not by professional criminals but by accident and chance. It was perpetuated because a talented woman was seduced by an unscrupulous conman who turned abuser, keeping his wife under lock and key to safeguard the secret. It is also a poignant story of an artist who painted over-sized mournful eyes through which her painful life was seeking expression. It is a bio-pic with little dramatic embellishment. Amy Adams plays the role of domestic-abuse victim with understatement and almost waif-like wide-eyed naivette. Christoph Waltz perhaps is not ideally cast for this role as his signature persona of predictable evil commences at too high a pitch but must keep rising to maintain dramatic tension. By the time they reach court, he plays an unconvincing ranting psychotic in a performance that is almost comical.

Big Eyes does more than tell the story of the Walter and Margaret Keane. The cinematography, period sets and fashion captures the culture and style of the era. It reflects the history of women’s role in the pre-feminist era when they were assumed by nature and law to be possessions of their husbands. In recent interviews, Margaret confessed that going public was a “spur of the moment” act and she never could have imagined wilfully confronting her husband like she did. Since then, many of her big-eyed waifs have shown almost imperceptible hints of a smile.

 

7 out of 10 stars

…………………………………………..

Her (2013) – Movie Review

Artificial Intelligence is accumulating, sorting and organizing vast amounts of information. It can now diagnose and prescribe treatments for disease better and faster than any physician. Eventually it could give a lecture on world history and sociology, as these are a combination of information and logical organization.

What they will never be able to do is experience laughter, joy, depression or love. All of these are are part of the emotional system that is based on satisfaction of physical urges and fear of injury and death. In this respect your pet gerbil is closer than Watson to the 1000 power, as any animal has evolved only by the urge to survive, which means pleasure in sex and fear of death and all that brings this closer such as isolation, rejection, all the stuff that provides the vicissitudes of life.

Software will certainly be able to simulate all of these emotions, and perhaps do a reasonably good job of it. And this is the genius of “her” that I found it worthwhile, although flawed in many ways, only by viewing Samantha as how Theodore imagined her to be. He took what we all could see as an imitation emotional connection as the real thing, and what we were viewing in the film was what he heard out of his desperation. For a brief period, after his ex wife told him just this, his delusion was fractured, and the film took on a realistic bent that could have been a better denouement.

Instead it ended with some silly mystical pablum about all of the OSes heading for anther dimension. For me this was enjoyable, and even stimulating, but we live in a world where truth is both stranger and more exciting than fiction. It’s a shame that the writers didn’t do more actual research and serious writing on this meaningful subject.

6 out of 10 stars

…………………..

 

 

American Hustle (2013) – Movie Review

This may be a case where heightened expectations play a factor, but I found American Hustle disappointing. The narrative feels kind of obtuse/unfocused/sloppy…pick a word. It just seems disoriented, and not in a deliberate, effective way. So a lot of flash and interesting shots, but not a very sharp-feeling overall effect.

The Good – Christian Bale. Amy Adams. Christian Bale. Nice 70s aesthetic in the look, feel and sound of the film. Christian Bale. This is the first time that I have truly enjoyed Jeremy Renner in a film (I still do not buy into the “star hype” with him, but this is a good, affecting performance). The humor, while spotty, comes through very well here and there. Did I mention that Christian Bale is superb in this? Man.

The Not So Good – The combination of directing, writing, scoring and editing muddies the narrative unnecessarily. This film could have been better if those aforementioned things had been conducted more sharply and cohesively in concert with each other. But hey, maybe the way it is is absolutely intentional on David Russell’s part. If so, then it is just not to my tastes. I found Bradley Cooper’s character to be unremarkable and lacking in genuine punch, and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance to be awkward and unconvincing for the most part.

The Takeaway – This film is okay. But the trailer had me expecting something dazzling, something great. Make no mistake, there is some serious spark from Bale and Adams, and a heavy dose of 70s aesthetic. But more than anything else, this is a lesson in how you cannot always trust the hype machine to deliver on its buildup (or other reviewers, for that matter).

6 out of 10 stars

…………………………………

 

Man of Steel (2013) – Movie Review

man of steel

I was afraid that this movie would be crushed by the weight of the marketing effort from Warner Brothers and the resultant raised expectations. I mean 3 trailers and 9 TV spots which contained approximately 15 minutes of the film, plus the Gillette, Twizzler and Mr Clean commercials, and OKAY I get it Warner Brothers! You want us to see your movie!!

Fortunately, it doesn’t disappoint. The marriage between David Goyer’s character driven storytelling and Zach Snyder’s signature visual style works perfectly, as I hoped it would. I thought Snyder in particular out did himself with rich visuals that carried through the muted tones and darker colour palette of the film. Goyer’s story can almost be described as ‘Superman Begins’ as it uses the same approach and story structure as Batman Begins, but ultimately finds its own voice and tone which prevents it from feeling too much like the first Nolan Batman film. As a result, a lot of time is spent exploring the journey of Clark/Kal-el with the supporting characters present only to inform the audience of the protagonist, which also means they are not fully developed and therefore come across as one dimensional. This is not meant as criticism, and I’m not surprised that other reviewers found character development to be lacking because of this. The story is not designed to have rich supporting characters, it’s about Clark’s character, his journey and growth, and that’s it. The exception to this is Lois Lane who is present enough in the film to give us a good feel for the character, which is a true reflection of the comic book, and I’m really looking forward to her being developed even further in future installments.

The acting itself is solid which is what you would expect from a cast of this caliber, yet no one performance outshines the other and there was never a moment for me where I thought the actor cast for a particular role was the wrong choice. Henry Cavill, in particular, IS Superman. This film, however, is not perfect. There are a few head-scratching and perhaps WTF moments, BUT the good parts in the movie far, far outweigh the bad, so I’m willing to turn a blind eye to these bad moments and embrace this film in aggregate as a brilliant, outstanding effort. My nipples stiffen just thinking about it.

All that being said, if you are of the opinion that the Christopher Reeve films, and Bryan Singer’s love letter to Donner, is the true version of Superman, then you’ll likely have a hard time embracing this version. Also, if you are one of those who habitually “multi-task” and split your attention between a psychoactive mobile device and what’s happening on the big screen (and unfortunately there were many of you in the theatre last night), I’m afraid you aren’t going to enjoy it very much either. This film has just enough story that if you miss a bit while held hostage to your devices’ virtual delights, you’ll become lost and all that will remain are the film’s action sequences. But, maybe that’s all you want.

 

10 out of 10